Over the years of my Dad’s work at WHO (World Health Organization) in Geneva, Switzerland, he and Mom gradually renovated an old dirt-floor farmhouse in Fontaine-Vive, a tiny village nearby in France. One summer, when my daughter Hilary was 6 years old, we were on a rare visit to her grandparents. She stood outside under the plum tree on the flagstone terrace, and looked thoughtfully at the scene.
She saw neighbor Ghiselaine’s cows in the pasture, foothills of the Alps in the distance, and the gardens my parents planted, an abundance of fruits, flowers, and ripening peas, potatoes, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, and raspberries. She turned to my mother to ask, “What’s going to happen to all this when…” she fell silent, searching carefully for the appropriate words. “When,” she paused again; “when….you know what…?” From that day on, my parents referred to death as “you-know-what”. It became code for the whole family.
But “you-know-what” is not here yet! Now we are in the full blossoming of summer. What is given to us is to live this time well. Look around you — bottle the warm ocean, the heat and light, freeze your pesto, make your jam, enjoy these last long bright summer days to the fullest – for, as Albert Camus said, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Just as we charge the batteries of our devices, remember to stop for a moment, to pause and breathe in the timeless realm, gather in the energy of all this sunlit ripeness. Then when “you know what” comes — to us or to those we love — we can remember to turn to our practice, to all the quiet moments of being with the breath as it appears and slips away. We can find our true refuge in being present with all the sounds, sights, experiences of our life, endlessly being born and vanishing.
From the Diamond Sutra: “So you should view this fleeting world: a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.”
Image Credit: T. Goodman