As I kid, my friends told me you couldn’t see the air. They lied. One day when the weather turned cold, a strange thing happened. I could see the air that I breathed. I was fascinated to realize that a thing not seen suddenly took form and became real.
Especially after living in a very hot and humid country, seeing your breath is a bit of a wonder, so stepping off the airplane onto the jet way in Milwaukee last week I was again surprised by seeing my own breath.
It’s a blatant reminder of the change in temperature, and for me, the cold snap of the reality of the passing of a loved one. First, it’s the shock of the chilly air, and the realization that I’m in Milwaukee because of the passing of my grandmother, and second, it again was that recognition of a breath of air manifested into a physical form that took me by surprise as a kid.
I was always confused by the idea of a soul as a child. How exactly could a thing exist that we can’t see, that I couldn’t touch with my hands, that I couldn’t stuff in my Dukes of Hazard lunchbox, or cram under my bunk bed? And if it did exist, was it in the heart, or was it in the mind?
I did know one thing though as kid. When our dog was killed running across the street in Iowa and my dad took my brother and I to a barn to see where he was laid to rest, something hurt deep inside. It wasn’t just my heart, it wasn’t just my mind, something ached for something lost.
I came across a poem by Robert Frost last week when I was home. It’s the same poem I read six years ago, and committed the last stanza to memory.
Robert Frost “Reluctance” written in 1915 (4th Stanza)
“Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?”
I encourage you to read “Reluctance” in its entirety.
To me, the biting cold of winter is like the pain of loss, a reminder of a warmth that has left us. But do we only ever see our breath when the temperature drops below 32 degrees? Is a thing unseen only manifested in the absence of warmth, only in pain or loss?
It is true, the soul is a mysterious thing, as is the nature of life, as is the reality of death, as is every element of the design of the Creator. There are two things that bring me closer to understanding the things of life and death and breath – first, this video below:
And second, that the dead leaves scraping across the ground of winter came from the trees that proudly displayed their brilliant colors in the fall, leaves that matured during the summer from the heat and rains of summer, a delivery from the bloom and growth of spring.
If winter is the death of warmth, then why does spring come?
If a breath is only visible in the exhale, from where do we draw it in?
If a soul is extinguished in death, then where did it begin?
. . .
I believe less in beginnings and ends, and more in the simple movement of things. Maybe the soul in its journey of life and death is just a change in address.
Last week we passed by 415 Staver Street, but I don’t believe grandma and grandpa live there anymore.