Sunday, April 3, 2016

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Death

This morning, my daughter and I baked bread. I pulled out an old family recipe, transcribed decades ago by my thirteen-year-old hand, because it was quick and easy. Such requirements matter today because we were baking not for ourselves, but to help feed a family in bereavement.

Only a few hours ago, my kitchen was fragrant with yeast, the oven warming as the loaves finished their second rising. In another season, that flour was not the sifted pale powder in my kitchen -- it was thousands of whole grains waiting to be milled and processed. And before that, it was growing in a green field until it was mowed down by the combine, gathered and collected. Seeding and growing, reaping and harvest.

Death is often referred to as a Reaper. Look at him in the image—a pale rider on a pale horse, children and kings and priests alike falling before him. There is certainly a frightful aspect to the card, and to all losses, especially those of people we love, who have loved us. But there is also a promise. In the tarot, Death may be a reaper, but he bears a reminder of the season of renewal as well—the white rose on the banner, the symbol of the soul and rebirth. For this card describes not a singular moment, but a process. One step in the cycle.

Many years ago, I explored the Death card in a pilgrimage to Antietam, the site of the bloodiest day in Civil War history. I expected to feel some kind of horror there, some pervasive sadness, on that once battlefield, now farm. But the sky was blue and the fields were green and the corn in the field grew high and strong. That night, I dreamed of the Death card, and I wrote about that dream in my journal the next day:

"It is an unsettling card, Death—the black robes, the complacent relentless skull. In the dream, though, I flip it over and reverse it, and the image is now a chalice, overflowing with water, emptying and receiving simultaneously. Death is not static. It moves too, with time, a point on a continuum that really isn't a point, that is as fluid and forward moving as life. The two are inextricable."

And so my daughter and I baked bread this morning, the sun barely risen. And we gave thanks for life and for the harvest, kneaded that gratitude into each loaf. For everything there is a time and place. Tomorrow I will write. I will connect once again with the work that nourishes my soul. And though I will not eat any of this bread I have made, it nourishes me too.

I have heard it said that love is attention. As writers, it is our job to pay attention, so this week, do it well. Be grateful big and be grateful small, for both the expanding edge of the universe and a fresh new page. For the rising sun and the cup of coffee. And for whatever love surrounds you, for surround you it surely does.

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