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Driving Home on a Snowy Night

Nederland, Colorado 2008

Driving home at dusk one snowy December night, I spot a coyote in my car's headlights walking in the middle of the snow-packed dirt road. He doesn’t dash or dart away like coyotes usually do when they see lights coming at them. Instead, he saunters fearlessly right towards the car. I stop the car to let him pass. His steel eyes flash in the light. His silver fur is dull and frayed. He looks old, like he is coming to the end of life. I feel reverence for his dignity and grace as he slowly steps across the road. I imagine he will find a place somewhere in the nearby pinewoods and rest his head and body upon a sheet of snow. Maybe he will look up at the stars and the moon one last time before he closes his eyes and takes his last breath.

The Native Americans say that the coyote is the great trickster, and whenever he comes into your life, you will learn an important lesson. While I lie in bed that night waiting to fall asleep, I think of him and feel my own mortality. I become deeply aware that this body is going to die. No matter how much I pamper and care for it, sooner or later, it will die. If I am lucky enough to live to old age and die a natural death, my smooth, glowing skin will wrinkle and shrivel. My silky soft hair will turn white, brittle, and thin. My organs will break down. And one night, these eyes will turn to look at the stars and the moon for the last time and then close. This body will take its last breath. As I think this thought, a vast expansion of peaceful awareness overtakes me and whispers in my ear, “You are not your body. Your true nature is unbounded, immortal.”

But then the great trickster takes hold of me. He grabs my neck and shakes my body. As quickly as the immortal realization has dawned, fear overwhelms the body—deep, innate, primordial fear that rushes adrenalin and cortisol through my veins. My skin, bones, and muscles begin to tense. Terrified, my body freezes, caught in the headlights of its own mortality. But I do not resist this fear. I allow my body to embrace the terror of death. I feel my heart beat fiercely. My lungs gasp for breath. And then I hear the whisper from within, “You do not need to worry any longer. Not about your survival or anyone else's survival. You do not have to worry about anything. Let go and trust in that power that is great. The body will inevitably die, but find that which never dies.”

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