My place. Friday, 4.10pm
In a freshly dug hole at my feet is a young wallaby. Dead. It’s a female with a tiny joey still latched onto the nipple in her pouch. It too is dead.
I’m leaning on my shovel. And sweating. It’s hard work digging a grave. The sun, curious about my work, peeks into the hole and glints off a still-open wallaby eye.
If this was a movie, and the wallaby was my wife, or my best friend, or a valiant innocent, I would reach down and close those eyes with two fingers. I would curse death. I would rail against the unfairness of one so young dying. Then, if the movie was American, I’d turn abruptly away to go do revenge things.
But I don’t. This isn’t a movie. This is life. And you cannot do life properly without realising everything dies. Life is death.
(Okay. That just came out. Sure, it sounds like twaddle from a middle-aged Byron bloke with a ponytail, bald spot and open vest over bare chest. But, it could be true.)
Even though it upset me to see the dead wallaby in my driveway, I’m not crying. I’m not contemplating a righteous revenge or a manly drinking binge. (I mean, I don’t own a gun, and even if I did, how do you shoot a tick?)
I’m not doing anything. There’s a stillness…
Has the wind stopped? Have the birds taken a minute’s silence? I lift my eyes. Even the sun, committed to a meeting with the purpling western range, seems to have stopped for a sec.
In this stillness I confront my fear of dying. I confront my anger towards to the ignorant who take the lives of others.
Around me, death is calling out to life. Around me, life is answering. This death has cut to my living bit, slicing through the religious and social conditionings that, by keeping death at bay, have kept life away as well.
This wee wallaby has died and the whole valley knows it. The wriggly gum bows its head and a crow calls. The soil reaches up between my toes and holds me.
I never realised.
Not far away, a male wallaby stands and looks at me, a blade of grass in its mouth. I wonder if he was her mate? I wonder if he knows what’s going on?
Of course he does.
I’m the one who doesn’t know what’s going on. I’m the one who lives in constant fear of death, distracted by busyness, scared of quiet because of what it will say. I’m the one raised blind in a world of light. I’m the one with an iPhone in each ear, deafened to death’s silence.
I’m the one with a tear welling. Now I know: Death is what makes life sacred.
I want to go inside. I want to go inside my shack under the cliffs at the end of the world and turn on the radio (deaths in Nepal, Indonesia, the Somme). I want to check my emails. I want a glass of wine.
But the wallaby at my feet keeps me here.
For once, I belong exactly where I am. The sun rubs my neck. The silence hugs me. I smell the freshly turned soil.
I am alive, at home, and properly sad. I, like the trees and the crow and the sun, acknowledge death and grieve in the silence it creates. All death is felt; is shared.
I never realised. This makes life sacrosanct.
I slide the shovel under the pile of dirt and flick the soil onto the dead wallaby. Near the hole, a potted macadamia awaits its planting.
We must never waste a life. No-one’s, ever.