The Funeral

Nin woke to an odd sound. At first, as he was roused awake, he thought the deafening noise was some kind of oncoming storm or hurricane. But as his senses came flooding back to him, he recognized the sound to be the beating of wings—hundreds, perhaps thousand of them!

In his mind he imagined a great centipede, where, in place of legs, upon each stump beat a pair of mighty, calamitous wings.

But what he found was a great flock of birds, birds of every kind—great bold eagles, yellow canneries, tiny finches, blackbirds, ancient crows and ravens. They flew together in one great mass, so thick and dense that from a distance they looked like a dark storm cloud upon the horizon.

Nin hopped and ran along until he was directly astride the great procession. He spotted a small group flying lower than the rest, their wing-tips barely grazing the tops of the mountain pine. “What news?” he called in the language of birds.

Heeding his call, the group broke off from the cavalcade and swooped down towards him. “A general armistice has been called,” explained a lone dove.

A mangy vulture landed beside Nin. “Today all birds are of one heart and one mind. Soon the world will be darker place,” he said. “We are gathering to mourn. The great hope of all birds is on his deathbed.”

“Who?” asked Nin.

“Eastern Wing.”

“The Soaring Sage.”

“The bluebird.”

Nin was shaken. “Take me to him at once,” he said, “for I am his friend.”

The vulture nodded, then wrapped his talons around the prince of rabbits. His clutch was tight yet gentle, and with one mighty flap of his wings he took to flight, Nin cradled safely in his claws.

Nin was afraid at first, but only at first. It took him a moment to acclimate to the feeling, but as they flew, as the wind whipped his ears and tickled his whiskers, as he stared down at the earth passing by as a blur, as the vertigo spun behind his eyes, Nin thought, “So this is why no mountain can satisfy.” It was a simple pure experience.

It was divorced from the ego of effort, the usual ego of a mountain climber, the expectations and rewards of a struggle.

They flew on. Over cities and steppes, up and up, until they came at last to a plateau resting just beneath the clouds.

Here the procession landed and assembled. The bluebird was resting; it was clear from his demeanour that his time was short. He spoke softly to his friends, thanked them for coming, advised them to remain on their paths and to spread goodwill wheresoever they might roam.

And then the bluebird sang his death-hymn:

Soon this body will change
It will be split into ten thousand pieces,
and those pieces will be scattered
in ten-thousand directions

What new sunrises will these particles see,
these things that are not ‘I’?

There was a brief silence and a long pause, and then the bluebird was dead. His body was given a traditional sky burial so no part could be enshrined or venerated.

“His spirit will live on in poetry and in song,” declared the officiator. “If you wish to pay your respects, I ask that each of you gathered here today compose a short verse. Spread that song with you as you travel. In this way his wisdom shall live forever.”