I have always felt a sort of melancholy when hearing about the journey and ultimate demise of the Coho Salmon and their trip upstream from the ocean where they lived to the spawning grounds from which they came. It’s always seemed terribly unfair that they have to work so hard on the final leg of their journey through life, only to procreate and then die, their bodies savagely disintegrating even before their ultimate rest. But today I was granted a new perspective.
When I was told the Salmon run up a river near where we now live, I felt drawn to witness this incredible feat of nature firsthand. So, after Oliver boarded his bus this morning, I readied Nicco and headed westward for an adventure.
We walked down a moss-covered path, under gigantic old-growth trees and down to the rocks overlooking the river. The fish were hard to see at first but then we spotted them, dark black figures just below the water’s surface. They were huddled together in front of a rock and appeared surprisingly motionless. It took me a while to realize that this was a resting place for the tired bunch before they made their attempt to jump up the rushing waterfall ahead. They rotated, one at a time, swimming a few feet ahead and then giving in to the current and turning back to the group.
We sat there for a long time watching this game of leap-frog (fish). And then it came over me… a deep feeling of solidarity as I realized that I know EXACTLY what it feels like to be a Coho Salmon. And so, do many other special needs parents. Swimming upstream, relentlessly fighting the powerful forces of people telling us our children cannot, will never, don’t understand, don’t deserve. We swim against our own grief and sadness, our disappointment and fear. We swim, despite the unbelievable fatigue we experience… an endless exercise of 1 foot gained and 2 feet lost. Outsiders may deem us insane for participating in such an exhaustive upstream battle. But we are driven by an innate instinct, a drive far more powerful than that of any intellect, to protect and nurture our children.
In the moment of this realization, I felt at one with these extraordinary fish, staged in front of their rock, summoning every last ounce of energy to make the final push. I felt the fatigue of their bodies in my own and a sincere awe and respect for their perseverance.
As I looked upstream to the waterfall, it seemed impossible that they would ever be able to jump past the raging waters. Again, the parallels to our journey came to mind. The intensity of downward pressure each hospitalization applies, each diagnosis, each disappointment and how they all seem like they will surely drown us. But of course, they usually don’t… permanently anyway. And eventually, we do jump past each obstacle presented and into calmer waters ahead, just like the Salmon.
For the fish, when all of the fighting and work and forward progress is done, they finish their journey into peaceful pools, allowing the exhaustion to take hold and they rest… giving in to everything their journey was meant to be.
So often, in the last 8 months, I have felt that level of exhaustion in my own body and realized that death, if it came in those moments, would be a welcome haven. Death… the most averse outcome, a taboo topic in our world. Why? Why does death command in us such fear?
Whether it be the death of our identity, our ego, of a relationship, of a dream we thought would one day be, or the disintegration of our human bodies, we think of death as the ultimate end, a ceasing of something we wanted to prolong.
On our journey as parents of fragile children, we navigate the waters of many deaths. We may first witness the actual demise and revival of our newborn. We swim through the murky tides of the loss of a family life we thought we’d have. We fight the difficult currents of supporting our child’s development with every last ounce of energy in our bodies.
For many of us, the worries over an eventuality of laying our children to rest plague our minds. But is this aversion something that needs to be?
Although these views are not shared by the majority, I find peace in the following wisdom… A death of any kind is really only a transition of energy, a next phase, a new opportunity to rediscover the depth that lies within our true essence.
In embracing this concept, the fear of finality loses its’ power over us and we are free to live every day with the knowing that, no matter what happens, we are following our most perfect voyage upstream, completing the mission of our lives.
As we drove home from the river today, this mix played,
The voice speaking over the melody says,
“You have to deal with the fact that who you are as an essence, has been here before and then you realize that you’ve been here once or twice before. Why not a thousand times? Why not 10,000 times? Why not many other places? Not just this earth. The story you put out there, the heart you put out there, is a way to handle what you stated is a problem.
It’s not what happens. It’s how you then react to it. It’s not what happens. It’s how you then react to it.”
Although the idea of incarnating in different forms has always spoken to me, I don’t pretend to have any idea what actually happens after we take our final breaths on this earth. But I do know that the fear of death in any of its’ forms, inhibits the living of life. And I’m all about the living of life.
I’m all about feeling the breath that flows through all beings and is obscured only by our own attachment to dualistic ideas. In truth, life and death are just punctuations on a continuum of experience. They are one. And today, I was at one with the Salmon… understanding their epic journey through the lens of my own and gaining a new appreciation for the perfect unfolding of their life’s path… one that to the unknowing observer, might seem rather tragic.
From spawning ground to stream, and stream to estuary, and estuary to the open waters of the sea, a life unfolds. Adventure is had.
And then the cycle reverses and from where life came, it is drawn back.
Completing the flawless circle of life that we resist.
Today I leave you with a quote from Hunter S Thompson,
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
The perfect words to sum up a Coho Salmon’s exquisite expedition of life.