Last week in our Spirit Play class things started a little haphazardly. I was running late for one and my teacher friends were running even later than me. There was a little chaos as we gathered in the hallway together and then moved into the classroom in a big bunch to sit on the rug. Somehow everyone decided to sit in one corner instead of on their square. Name tags were missing. None of us were “ready” to begin class. Someone brought over a book. Someone wanted to sit on my lap.
One persistent child has been asking for weeks if we would please talk about death today. I have been telling her that in some way, all stories of change are stories about life and death, but she did not want to deal with metaphor. She wanted to talk, straight up, about death. This was our second week of life cycle stories so I assured her that yes, we would talk about frogs today…and death. Before I could get us organized, another child piped up and wistfully said that she really wished she was Jesus so when she gets dead, she will come alive again. And that’s all it took. The conversation was out of the mouth. Someone chimed in that they know that, yes, all things do die. Someone else wondered what happens after someone dies. Another child said that things die, but maybe not her. Yet another child insisted that their mother told her that everything else might die, but not her. I smiled amused and echoed that yes, everything does die. That’s true. And then, someone wondered what we would be when we came back. Would we be ice?
Now this question captured me. A few years ago when our cat was killed, my son asked to hear stories about kids who had died and come back. I did a lot of research on near death experiences and so that reading entered my mind at the thought of coming back after death. When I talk to my kids about death and they ask this question about coming back we trace the mystery….no one knows, but some people think we are just gone when we die, others think we come back again maybe in a new life. But ice? I had never thought of coming back as ice. So we thought about it together.
“Maybe” I said. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me likely that we are indeed ice at some point in our lives and after our deaths. “Did you know”, I said “that your body is mostly made of water? Actually, if you live in St. Paul and drink water from the sink, most of your body is made out of the Mississippi River.” The room exploded with exclamations. “No! We aren’t the river! What?!” “Yes”, I said “We are the river and that water moves through our bodies all the time. Was there ice on the river this winter?” The children said yes there was ice on the river. “Then it’s probably a sure thing that some of the water that has made your body was ice before it was part of you and will be ice again after you die.” Again, loud exclamations erupted. “No way! That can’t be true! I don’t believe that!” It was a delightful exploration that ended as we found our way to our squares marveling at the amazing things that were just said.
This reflection has sat with me this week. I often contemplate breath in my own practice. The breath is a transient part of our body and aliveness. We share the breath with all things breathing that have ever lived on our planet. The words for spirit and breath are the same in many languages and the action and metaphor of the breath can hold deep meanings for our reflection….but water. I don’t think of myself often as a water cycle, but I am. Water is coming and going through me all the time. It is a resource that is finite on our planet and shared among all living things. The water was yesterday part of the river and today is nourishing me and then will move back into the river, be evaporated into the sky, fall as rain on a pond and nourish the frog and the fish and the plants. It makes me wonder as much as meditation on the breath, where my edges are? If I am water am I everywhere at once? Am I the oceans? Am I the clouds? Who am I to feel separate and alone if we are all one wave together or one fog or one sheet of ice? What an interesting version of eternal life. How do I care for the water in me, for the water of our planet so it is pure and healthy and not degraded and fouled? How do I honor the connection between us that is so much more than the difference? I am contemplating this as I drink in the Mississippi River, as I walk in the rain and look for the greening of spring, as I look into your eyes.