Saturday, 25 April 2015

Preparing to die

It has been an odd period recently. A funeral. An ancient ceremonial walk. A cave. A camp. Huge tides.

Last weekend we were at one of my favourite places: Kilbride, on Skye. We walked down to the stony shore where for a thousand years people gathered cobbles and pebbles to take up to An Ard Achadh (High Pasture). There is every imaginable kind of stone on that beach. I borrowed three: a round, grey skull-like pebble, another greenish and triangular, and a white, square piece of quartzite. I carried them up the stream, over the boggy watershed, wondering what it would have been like to have a whole creel of stones on my back.

At High Pasture I placed them in the spot we decided to use as a fireplace, and then we clambered down into the cave. It’s one of the most beautiful places I know. Pure magic: dark but dazzling, pristine yet mysterious.

Back when the place was used for ceremonies, thousands of stones were heated in a fire and used to heat water, then, when they had cracked, tossed aside. The accumulated stones formed a huge burned mound. It is interesting that they used the stones from the beach, not the limestone found at that spot.

I imagine what was going on was a kind of ritual cleansing before the people went down into the cave. Perhaps bringing stones from one liminal place (the shore where sea meets land) helped to strengthen their ability to cross between our daylight world and the underworld of the cave, between life and whatever comes before it and whatever comes after.

I heard today of the death of Marjorie, my Godfather’s mother, at the amazing age of 106. A celebration is surely in order for such a life. But last week, we were at the funeral of Bill’s brother, and the week before, there was the funeral of a neighbour, who died tragically young.

It felt good to light a fire at High Pasture and to sleep there, with the music of the stream as it vanishes down into its subterranean channel. It seemed right to create a small ritual and to dwell on questions that have surely not changed at all in the intervening millennia, about how we all cross from being into non-being.

So, I am thinking a lot about the end of life and finding myself preparing to die. Not because I have any intention of doing so just at the moment, but because I feel so strongly that any day could be the last and I must live it to the full, treasuring every minute. I’m grabbing every marvellous opportunity for a thrill, like going down a cave or cruising out on the ocean, and I’m making time to listen to that special piece of music, choosing a really important book to read, making contact with the people I love.

Plus I’m trying to tidy up a bit, because I don’t want my loved ones to have to wade their way all through my filing cabinet in search of the papers that actually matter. Along with metaphysical wonderings, I have the very mundane realisation that I don’t want to leave an administrative mess behind me. So, before any further musings on the afterlife, it’s time to chuck out some more paperwork and get on with the accounts. Then watch out for the next adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Long live to you Mandy ;-)

    I love your post and put Kilbride on our 8th Scottish itinerary.

    AmitiƩs. Mairiuna