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Falling
by Jim Rink

A reading from the Book of Bambi:

The leaves were falling from the great oak at the meadow's edge.
They were falling from all the trees. One branch of the oak reached high above the others and stretched far out over the meadow. Two leaves clung to its very tip.
"It isn't the way it used to be," said one leaf to the other.
"No," the other leaf answered. "So many of us have fallen off tonight we're almost the only ones left on our branch."
"You never know who's going to be next," said the first leaf. "Even when it was warm and the sun shone, a storm or cloudburst would come sometimes, and many leaves were torn off, though they were still young. You never know who's going to go next."
"The sun seldom shines now," sighed the second leaf, "and when it does it gives no warmth. We must be warm again."
"Can it be true," said the first leaf, "can it really be true, that others come to take our places when we're gone and after them still others, and more and more?"
"It is really true," whispered the second leaf. "We can't even begin to imagine it, it's beyond our powers."
"It makes me very sad," added the first leaf.
They were silent a while. Then the first leaf said quietly to herself, "Why must we fall?..."


Why must we fall? Indeed. The question posed by Felix Salten in the children's classic Bambi (1929) -- this is NOT the Disney movie, is a question we all ponder at one time or another in our lives. Perhaps at no time is the question more meaningful than when we are very sick or very old; so much closer to separation from the Great Oak to which we have become so attached.

Modern religion attempts to explain what happens when we die. We go to Heaven or Hell, depending on whether you're Baptist or Protestant. If you're Catholic, you have a third choice--Purgatory; kind of a "waiting room" for Heaven, with lots of magazines like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens. Actually, my sources now tell me that they have eliminated Purgatory. "They" being the official rule-makers in the Vatican.

Now my initial reaction is, "How can you just eliminate Purgatory?" And how does that sound during a staff meeting at the Vatican?
"So Bob, what about this Purgatory thing?"
"I don't know...I'm kind of in Limbo about it."
"Should it stay or should it go...I don't know...
" "What'll we do with all the people there?"
"Where?"
"In Purgatory!"
"You think there are actually people there?"
"Well, souls then."
"If we don't believe in Purgatory then there are no souls there."
"But what if They're wrong...what if there is a Purgatory?"
"Well...I suppose some sort of massive airlift would be in order. I'll have to check with the Pentagon."
My sources also tell me that They're thinking of doing away with The Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). They're thinking of adding a fourth--Mary. Now, They can play Bridge. It is, apparently a kind of appeasement to those who think women should be allowed into the priesthood. Imagine THAT conversation:

"Bob...about The Quadrinity..."
"Oh no, not that again."
"Yeah...well, uh, I think we're on the right track there, I mean, don't you think it's time we acknowledged women and their accomplishments?"
"Listen, I'm a little scared about the number four--in fact, I think I have Quadrophenia."
"The CD by Peter Townsend?
"No."

Purgatory and The Quadrinity aside, Death is no easy matter. As Woody Allen said, "I don't mind the idea of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Zen Buddhists have an interesting take on Death. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, "Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in life."

To illustrate this point, Suzuki relates a visit to Yosemite National Park, where he witnessed the mighty grandeur of the large waterfalls:
"The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams...And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this.

"We have many difficult experiences in our life. But, at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when it is separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling.

"Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by wind and rocks, then we have feeling. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back with the original river!"
Leaves fall, rivers fall, we fall. But, by most accounts, in the act of falling, we are somehow lifted up. And that sounds OK to me.
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