As I often do, today I got up when the sky began to brighten, and made fresh coffee. I then slipped into the pool just as the first orange rays of morning sun illuminated the upper branches of the trees.
The water was warm enough to be comfortable, but cool enough to refresh and finish the job of waking me up. I sipped steaming coffee and watched the morning light move down the tree trunks and the stones of the back wall. I felt the air stir and the temperature begin to rise.
A flurry of wing beats gently broke the silence and several doves settled near the pool. Startled to discover they were not alone, they eyed me warily for a moment or two before edging closer to sip deeply from the water. More flutters signaled the arrival of additional birds, who apparently taking comfort in numbers, joined their fellows at the water's edge.
I leaned back and watched the sunlight, now glancing off the water to cast rippling reflections into the shadows. Moments passed. When I looked once again for the birds they were gone. My attention had been so captivated by the light show that I didn't hear them take flight.
I savored the bitter richness of my hot drink as a pink dragonfly began to trace a rectangular pattern overhead. I put down my cup and floated on my back. With each pass the insect came lower, and then suddenly it began to dip into the water, making a small splashing sound with each contact.
"It's drinking," I thought. But the dragonfly continued to splash, time after time. I counted twenty, thirty, thirty-five impacts, often within an arm's length of my bobbing head. Sometimes when it rose it seemed to shake itself; fine droplets of spray flew in all directions. The tiny dragonfly certainly can't have needed that much water. Was it bathing? Does a dragonfly have the capacity to do something for the fun of it?
I am reminded of a passage I read several months ago that has stuck in my mind ever since:
"At such an instant, it seems as though no other day will ever attain the impossible splendor of this one. Already, I feel a nostalgia for today even as I live it."
The passage was written by Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland in his book, How We Die. He was writing about noticing the incredible beauty around him one morning as he drove to visit a patient who was about to die.
The morning earlier this month that my mother died, I took just a moment away from our vigil and went outside. I noticed the blue sky and white clouds, and the way the leaves of the live oaks shimmered silver-green in the breeze. I took some deep breaths and realized that it was a marvelous day. I went back to Mom's side and about half an hour later she was gone. It was a very difficult and sad day, but I always will have that memory of it also being a very beautiful one.
I think one of the most important lessons I've been learning recently is that if we consider death our ally, it teaches us how to live. If we acknowledge that there is a definite number to our days, we make each day count to the greatest extent we can.
Each individual finds his or her own way to do that. We each find our own meaning. It's up to us.