Here in Paris we completed our Retreat in the Heart of Life on Sunday, Nov. 1, the Day of the Dead. Although it was unintentional, it turned out to be a perfect occasion to join life and death right where we were, sitting together on a stunningly warm and sunny autumn day.
On my way to the sitting day, I passed the town hall in Montreuil. There, on the battered marble steps leading to the entrance, hundreds of red, pink and white rose petals were strewn. In that instant, in the brilliant morning light, the deadness of the fallen petals was vibrantly alive. Gone were the newlyweds who most certainly had been joyously showered with the floral blessings of their family and friends. Gone was their wedding day, forever and ever. Gone were the fine clothes, the smiles, the photographers, the happy kisses and hugs. All that remained now were the dead petals and the bittersweet poignance that they instilled in me as I, too, moved on.
Later, in the afternoon, the other retreat participants and I took a silent walk together instead of sitting, making our way through mostly empty streets to the Père Lachaise cemetery. It was the Day of the Dead, after all… The cemetery was teeming with people, mostly families bearing flowers to leave on the graves of their deceased loved ones. We walked among the living and the dead for awhile, and then, as the sun made its downward arc, we stopped near the crematorium to sit for a meditation session on benches – surrounded by flowers.
‘Flowers fall amid our longing,’ Dogen writes in his Genjokoan. And so they do, and so they blossom, too. Always right here, always right now, always in the heart of our life and death.