In honor of our latest memoir, Zen Encounters with Loneliness by Terrance Keenan, we are sharing excerpts from our memoir collection this month. This week's morsel comes from Katie Willis Morton's The Blue Poppy and the Mustard Seed. After the death of her six-week-old son, Liam, Katie embarked on a courageous search for solace and understanding. In the selection below, she compares her son with the Tibetan blue poppy, and learns how to use this comparison for comfort.
Living a life, I learned, while waiting for death was like living in the spacewhere one breath ends and the other has not yet begun; it was like sleepwalking through my worst nightmare feeling more awake, and acutely aware, than I ever had been in my life; it was like drowning in thin air; like standing on a deserted shore in awe of a squall that was pulling back and gathering its force to crush me. I learned I could be, at the same time, overwhelmed with natural great love formy child who was teachingmemore than I could have learned in thirty-three lifetimes without him, even though the one I gave him was rushing by quicker than most.
Liam had an equanimous presence, and was astonishingly beautiful, like a Tibetan blue poppy, a sublime and rare blossom, once thought to be mythical. I am told still by the handful of people who met him that he compelled them to think in a way they never had, and that he still comes to mind even though it was a short time he was here and it’s been a long time he’s been gone.
The poppy’s petals, an uncommon blue, evoke with its hue the cloudless sky, the vast ocean, or the true nature of the mind that abides in equanimity despite unrelenting waves of illusion and always-changing clouds of desire and attachment. In the center of the poppy’s cupped-petals are mustard-yellow stamens—a bright, happy contrast to the profound, solemn blue that surrounds them. In the center of that SomethingWorse summer there was, despite it all, Liam. And there were some things to learn. It’s natural that two aspects of one thing so different in shading, like joy and sorrow, exist side-by-side, one within the other. And the blue poppy’s beauty is undiminished by the true, sad fact that it won’t last forever, maybe not very long at all.
When Liam died I tried to hold on to that new appreciation for accepting all aspects, the light and dark, of any situation, allowing for the joy that was the gift of his presence to take root in my life, instead of the pain and anger that his loss left.To bloom in mid-July, blue poppies require cool temperatures; they need the cold if they’re going to flourish. That summer brought a cold reality of existence to life for me; I had to accept the hardship and pain with the beauty and happiness.
To see a gift amid my devastation could not have been a harder thing for me to do. But I wanted to believe it wasn’t impossible. I hoped it wasn’t an anathema to embrace that gift, as repugnant as it may at first seem to others to see my devastation as a teaching, a source from which to grow, and a chance to change my mind about what it means to be blessed with a rare human birth. A changed mind came to me for having known Liam.The less-awake person I was before passed away. I learned I knew how to stand—grateful—in the rain when he was with me, when I was filled up with sorrow and delight.
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How to cite this document:
© Kathleen Willis Morton, The Blue Poppy and the Mustard Seed (Wisdom Publications, 2008)
The Blue Poppy and the Mustard Seed by Kathleen Willis Morton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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