Little pieces of deep happiness. I am watching the late afternoon of the sweet, tiny phoebe, swaying on a small branch, flashing after insects. In between her darting sorties she is simply resting, abiding in the soft late spring day. Now that she has eggs in a former robin’s nest attached to the back of my house, the annoying, raspy calls of “phoebe” have stopped. Surrounded by risk, she is fearful of attracting one of many predators—the rat snake who suns himself on my nearby wood pile, the savage broad-winged hawks from the valley, the red squirrel who whisks around in the nearby in the poplar woods. All are surely keeping an eye on this precious nest and its contents. And so she is silent now. Silent. Silent in a very risky world. And yet I can see that she is fully alive to this bright moment.
Watching her, what comes to me now is Anita Moorjani’s arresting question in her book Dying to be Me: “What if this is Heaven?”
What if it’s true? I ask myself the radical question. What if Heaven is now? What if I’ve been drowning in busyness and missing the intense pleasure of these precious, simple moments? Watching the sun dazzle in the new maple leaves behind the phoebe, I want to drink in every moment of delight and joy. The dipping flight of the hairy woodpecker, the sun on my stiff back, the almost unbearable beauty of this year’s billowing apple blossoms. And often I do savor these.
And yet, and yet. I admit that most often I am not there. I am only teetering on the edge of equilibrium. Never has life felt more precious. But equally I am surrounded by the burning lessons of loss and grief, my own and my friends’. The first time I heard myself laugh during the dark days of my husband’s dying it shocked me. Surely being happy and playful in the face of such anguish was wrong. Eventually I have had to accept the paradox. (Mostly.) How to stay constant in the face of such suffering? How to remember to savour delight? I suspect that this middle path of equanimity between heaven and hell will be my challenge for my remaining time.
Recently I read essayist Edward Hoagland in Sex and the River Styx “Loving the earth as it has been, I’ve believed that heaven is here and the only heaven we have.” Now, I do believe in a heaven after death, but for now this afternoon, this interlude sharing the private world of a small, brave bird is all I can fathom.
I don’t want to miss a minute.
Now I move on to stand beneath a blossoming wild apple tree where the petals are trembling with an astonishing variety of bees. The very air is fragrant. Behind me the brown thrasher pair are calling outrageously. In the Singing Meadow beyond me, the grass is beginning to ripple with the travelling wind.
“Right here. Right now” as revered Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh counselled. On such a lovely day, it is easy to see that heaven is right now.