“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Last Sunday I visited the Everglades. It has been a while since I went, but it took me back to a time I went there with my parents, along with two of my children. I remember sending my daughter into the Visitor’s Center to collect some ‘freebies’, a selection of brochures and flyers of things to do in South Florida. She came back out a little puzzled; she couldn’t see any ‘Frisbees’. Of course that became our new term for giveaways!
But along with the sense of liberation you get whenever you escape the concrete jungle and find yourself enjoying the wide open spaces of mother earth, came the sense of those who had visited that space with me. I don’t know if it is just something I do. But when you live most of your life apart from loved ones, when you create a new family, but have left an old one behind, you find ways of staying connected. I used to take my parents to the mall, whenever they visited. Often we would window shop more than actually making purchases. Of course we would plant my father (which man loves to window shop?) in a comfortable seat somewhere, and if we did buy anything, he was in charge of the bags. So in the times when I was missing my parents, a trip to that mall would remind me of going there with them. A way of feeling attached.
It is not much different when we lose someone. A visit to a place they loved, or a place you traveled to together can bring such a strong sense of their presence that they feel a little closer. I have often wondered about the desire to visit the place where a person was last alive. For those who remain, they look for a sense of closure by visiting that place of departure. Being unable to find that location (that mysterious plane crash in the Indian Ocean) adds to the tragedy and loss.
But what is it we look for in these places, these sites where our loved ones have been? I thought about snails, and their slimy markings that reveal their travels. I thought about the evidence high in the sky that remains after a jet has long since gone, the contrails. The condensed water vapor lingers, spreading out into teased out clouds, reminders of the plane’s journey. Is it so impossible to think our spirit leaves a trail wherever we go? Is it ridiculous to feel someone’s presence years after they last were there?
I had a friend who lost a son, this was years ago. He had died horribly and suddenly, with no warning. She told me that an uncle had told her to look for signs of his presence. This is not uncommon. There are those who see butterflies as messages from loved ones. This friend said that whenever she found a new penny she felt a message from her son saying he was ok. So on a day when she felt particularly low, if she saw a new penny on the ground she would get a lift, and feel better. Don’t tell her, but I used to secretly drop a new penny around her desk from time to time. My way of passing on the message from her son.
The first time I visited Jamaica after an absence of fourteen years, my spirit soared so high along the mountain ridges that I knew I left a piece of it behind. The beauty of the place gave me such joy, that I felt lacerated when I left. For weeks after I returned to Miami I kept seeing flashes of Jamaica from the corner of my eye; the bright colors, the green hills, the dazzling waters. I did not feel complete until I returned, and reconnected with those missing pieces of my spirit that had caught on the branches. Since my father died, whenever I visit I feel enveloped by his spirit, as if I carry him with me around the island.
So last weekend as I visited the Everglades, I also visited with my parents. I saw my kids as they were over 25 years ago, remembered their spirit of adventure, of joy and exploration. I was reminded of my youthful self, not as carefree as I should have been, perhaps too concerned with what others thought of me. It is good sometimes to reflect on your journey and see the ground you have covered, the growth of your soul.
Is it possible we leave spirit trails where we go? Can others see or feel messages from these trails, and feel comforted, warmed by the memory of absent friends? Why not?
This Friday morning I hope you catch glimpses of spirit trails as you go on your way. And if you do, celebrate the lives of those who have gone before. Remember them in some special way and keep that spirit alive in you. And drop a new penny on the ground for my friend. I’m sure it will cheer her up!