April 1, 5:47 p.m., Boise, Idaho, time stood still. The 6.5 magnitude earthquake was centered about 80 miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, where I live. The earthquake went on for about an hour, or so I thought. Turns out it was 5 seconds.
It is pre-dawn the morning after the earthquake as I walk quietly in the neighborhood park. Being familiar with the trail and relying on my trusted old wooden cane, I am able to move with confidence in the semi-darkness. It feels like I am floating over the wooden creek bridge and amongst the trees, as I listen to the silence.
Just beyond the creek is the bench where I have sat for years and do so again this morning. I absorb the smell of dew on grass, observe the pre-dawn blur silhouettes of the children’s swing and slide, and listen to water running over creek rocks, interrupted only by the muffled sound of a distant police siren coming through the park trees.
The siren fades into silence leaving me with my thoughts in meditative surroundings.
Suddenly I sense I am not alone. There is a strange invisible, yet familiar, presence resting on the left side of the bench. “Are you a figment of my imagination?” I inquire.
“No, I have been around for a while,” a voice inside me responds. “But it was easier for you to ignore me in times past. You may have caught a side glance of me while looking in a mirror, or sensed me walking ahead of you in the rain, then disappearing. You have even put me in a dark corner of your mind as you did following a serious car accident when you were 19 years old. There were times you denied my existence, but as you know, I am persistent, and now that you are old I will be a frequent visitor.”
“This is weird,” I respond, “Who are you?”
“My name is Thanatos. I am a Greek God, the personification of death. Like the earthquake and police siren that interrupted your routines, I too can appear suddenly bringing fear, pain, and loss. And yet, I can bring meaning to life’s final chapter.”
I said, “I must admit you have been on my mind lately with all this Covid 19 stuff going around. It seems you are popping in and out of my mind with growing frequency.”
“That happens in days such as these,” responds Thanatos. He pauses, then continues, “I see you walk with a cane. As you experience increasing pain, limited movement, and, the slippage of clear thinking, we may reflect together on your past and examine how I can help bring quality to your daily living.
“Most people have some fear of me, but in time come to understand that as they age I can be a gift. It is not unusual for me to be feared less and less as people grow old. Thinking of me can bring peace to those who suffer, insight while walking in a park, and motivation to forgive and accept forgiveness. I can help people look inward to examine and find meaning in their lives.
“Take you for example. In young age your life focused on the libido, the creative, reproductive part of you while in old age libido must be balanced with me if you are to fully mature. Someone 77 years old trying to be 25 by filling the day with activities that never end, is missing the fullness of life that old age can bring. Creativity, while still important, is best supplemented by reflection, self-examination, and coming to terms with me.
“You may find in me a gift of freedom to be who you are, to express your opinions and thoughts while remaining a student. Most people your age find they do not need to be right so much as to learn from and discuss views other than their own. If you accept me as real, I will help you look at yourself through new and refreshing eyes.
“I can also help you fill your quiet moments with quality. I can provide opportunity for reflection and to put your life in perspective, acknowledging what is important to you. Whether you know it or not, this has been happening during your early morning walks.”
As I ponder what is important to me, the voice inside my mind fades away and I sit on the bench alone, at least for the moment.
The sun calls me to a new day. With the help of my cane I rise from the bench and walk slowly into the heart of the park. I am mesmerized by the gray grass turning green, songbirds that sing, and squirrels gathering acorns for the morrow. With a sparkle in its eye, the Sun, a body that is ninety three million miles away, almost a million miles in diameter, and boasts an internal temperature of over ten million degrees centigrade, has personally invited me to a stroll through the peaceful beauty of the morning.
Reflecting on my earlier conversation, I ask Cane, my long-time wooden companion, “What do you think? Am I crazy to talk to an invisible universal presence like Thanatos?”
And Cane replies, “I think he has some important things to say. He helps you bring clarity to thoughts you seldom expose to the light. You are better now than before you set down on the bench.”
I walk on, look down at the familiar knob on the cane as the sun hits it just right, and I swear I see within the well-worn wood grain, a smile.
I return to the condo with Cane in hand, joined by my shadow that refuses comment.
The moment in the park, like all moments, evaporates. And yet, the past leaves a mark informing and influencing the present that is also fleeting.
May the power of the invisible, the mystery inherent in the universe and life, and ancient wisdom found in myth that resides outside time, grant us insight and peace…as time goes by.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization. He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.
More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…
From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.
In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.