Recently, at a mead-making workshop, someone related the story of a precious bottle of ancient honey wine, unearthed and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As the bottle was carried to its new owner, it slipped from the tray and shattered on the ground.
“Ah,” said my mead-making friend, “that’s the tooth of the gods.”
I had never heard this term before and asked for elaboration.
“The tooth of the gods is the sacrifice that life demands,” he said. ”Bottles shattering, for instance. Or a promising life ending too soon. It’s the immensity of living on the knife’s edge, never knowing what might be taken from you.”
I listened, taken aback by this concept that loss could be a holy thing. And yet—walking home tonight from a late meeting, I was absorbed in thought, absentmindedly watching for oncoming cars on my dark, curving street. Suddenly a sharp smell raised the hackles on my neck and set my heart pounding.
Instantly I came fully awake: the stars spun in perfect clarity against the sky, each leaf of each tree was etched against my peripheral vision. In this new, crystalline silence I heard the unmistakable WHOOFing sound of a bear.
It could not have been more than ten feet from me. And this tooth of the gods—the chance, for once, to remember that I am prey as well as predator, the chance to feel the sharp finitude of my life—set me firmly into a very real understanding of who and what I am.
I am here for a short time. I am a human, both fragile and immense. There is beauty coursing always around me. Do I see it?
On Saturday night the contra band I’ve been playing with performed alongside a more established group from Virginia. The music that came from the fiddle was haunting; it raised my hackles as surely as the scent of the bear. It, too, set my heart pounding and drew tears to my eyes. What is this life, that it can draw so much from us? Music, a feral musk, a lost bottle of precious wine.
Recently I was introduced to the work of James Hillman, a psychotherapist (and critic of psychotherapy) who contends that much as in the time of Freud and Jung it was pain that we repressed in our subconscious, now it is beauty. We don’t allow ourselves to feel beauty anymore.
I want to bring it all alive. I want to notice everything, paint it, sing it, write it down. It could be taken away at any moment. I see now—loss is holy. I understand.
(this is not the fiddler I played with–but this is the song. )