Slowing into Softness

These slow mornings are a gift. The whole world is soft – even when soft means a difficult beach run. My feet sinking deeply into the sand.

A hard run on a soft morning.

There was duck at the very edge of the tide, so out-of-place there – and dying slowly.
Rolling slowly, helplessly, with the water.
It’s the kind of thing that stops you in your tracks.

When I run this beach I nearly always see dead birds: seagulls, swans. I used to take photos of them – my own memori morti practice, I think – until my sons told me I was being morbid.

But witnessing death as a fact of the immediate past is not the same as being present with death. Acknowledging that death is inevitable is an intellectual act.
Experiencing one’s helplessness in the presence of the death is a physical act.

I’ve not been at a person’s deathbed. I can only imagine. I’ve never heard anyone say they want to die alone.

I was with my border collie as she died. I held her. My body had something to do. I stroked her. Talked to her. My body was kept busy enough to vent some of my energy. My living body a comforting distraction for me, and I assumed it was providing a comfort to her.

But we are not able to be that intimate with nature. One cannot reach out and comfort a dying bird without causing more suffering.

Empathy can seem meaningless.

Death wasn’t taking her with sharp teeth, but rocking her back and forth in the cold water. Watching this duck in a coil of struggle and rest, I was overwhelmed by my own uselessness.

I looked down on the duck. And realized my body was casting a shadow over her. I moved to the side. I wondered if my presence was distressing the bird. I wondered if she was in pain, was frightened. I wondered if I should carry her up to the dunes. If a death there would be kinder than a death in the water, if my hands carrying her would shock her into a heart attack -and whether such a sudden death would be kinder.

Eventually Leonard’s curiosity was peaked, so I pulled him back alongside me and we continued on our run. On our way back, I kept nearer the dunes and saw two women then standing by the bird.


I don’t know how long they kept vigil until they, too, were perhaps overwhelmed by their uselessness, and perhaps found a reason to be “busy” again.

It was another 20 minutes back to the car. My thighs were tired, my jaw aching. Leonard lagged behind, his harness kept sliding up around his neck, cutting in behind his forelegs. I’d been running faster than usual.

Taking things slow is hard.
But taking things slowly makes the whole world softer.
I think that’s a good thing.
It’s a lesson in authenticity at the very least.

(If you have time – this is a beautiful film about what can happen when you aren’t too busy to take the time.)

2 Replies to “Slowing into Softness”

  1. I’ve encountered dying creatures in the wild, and yes–there’s helplessness…you’ve captured it exactly.

    I’ve accompanied dying people on that “last journey,” too. It feels less helpless, more like the way you describe being with your dog as she died. If all we do is hold the person’s hand or touch the person’s dying body, we are doing nothing to “save” them or forestall death. But human beings are animals that need their animal community. Usually. But I do wonder if our attending to the dying person is more for ourselves than for the one who is dying.

    1. I haven’t had that privilege or that pain. It is humbling to grasp how little of of human experience each of us has – even when we consider it so much to have endured. Maybe that moment is so incredible because it is where it all becomes so distinct – for whose benefit becomes kind of a mute question? Or is that too esoteric 😉 ?


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