“Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft.”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg from “A Swallow in the Hand”
Stumbling across death on the farm is always startling. The farm teems with life 24 hours a day: frogs croaking, dawn bird chorus, insects buzzing and crawling, cats stalking, coyotes yipping, raccoons stealing, dogs wagging, horses galloping, owls and bats swooping. Amid so much activity, it doesn’t seem possible that some simply cease to be.
An ancient apple tree mysteriously topples over one morning, a beloved riding horse dies of colic, another dies of lymphoma, an old cat finds her final resting place in the hay loft, another old cat naps forever under a tree, a newborn foal fails to break free of its amniotic sac, another foal delivered unexpectedly and prematurely lies still and lifeless in the shavings of the stall, a vibrantly alive dog is put to sleep due to a growing tumor, an old dog passes during an afternoon nap, a predator raids the dove cage and leaves behind carnage, our woods bears its own tragic history.
Yet, as often as it happens, there is a unique particularity about the end of life. The stillness of death permits a full appreciation of who this individual is, the remarkable care that went into creating every molecule of its being.
The sudden presence of absence is a stark and necessary reminder of what I myself want to leave behind.
In truth, we will glow with residual celestial heat, still warm even after our hearts cease to beat. We are distinct individuals in our own particularity: living and dying at a particular time and place as a unique creature, given a chance in the cosmos of infinite possibilities. The Creator knit us together specially, every feather, hair, bone and sinew a unique work of His Hands, and what we do with what we are given is the stuff between our first God-given breath and our last, handed back to Him.
May we not squander our particular role in the history of the world.