I watch my husband drawing closer to the cliff edge as the opaque fury of pounding waves disrupts turquoise pools of trapped water. Jagged basalt runs from the cliffside to the icy ocean 30 feet below. Tiny daisies rim the green bank to the point it drops sharply away. Rugged land, restless sea and endless sky meet here to form a vista of beauty-upon-beauty on this wild Hebridean island.
The fear I hear in the sharp warning of our guide is echoed in my own hammering heart. After leading us around his home isle of Harris/Lewis for two days, he imagines losing a tourist; what I imagine must be suppressed.
I’m afraid of heights. I’ve always been sharply uneasy, my stomach flipping, when my husband or our children wander to the edge of an overlook to gaze into the distance or peer into the depths below. To my chagrin and despite my warnings, they do this often.
I understand the call of edges; I feel it too. An even more dramatic view of the horizon, the revelation of beauty and terror in the depths, can only be experienced by drawing closer. The seduction of edges is offset for me by the stronger fear of plunging over the bank. So, I hang back.
But there’s not always a choice: we all live on the edge these days. So much of what was once beautifully and vibrantly abundant has been greatly diminished or has disappeared in our lifetime: wide swaths of Eastern hemlocks, multitudes of lightning bugs in the summer nights, monarch butterflies feasting on milkweed along the roadside, great flocks of songbirds offering a dawn chorus, frogs, elm trees, sanderlings, bats, manatee, whales, sage grouse. The list goes on.
We are living at the edge of loss. It’s unclear if we can – or if we will even try – to slow our momentum toward the abyss. Already tragic loss is assured; apocalyptic loss is likely.
And yet, edges have always been places of possibility, fecundity, and flourishing. Places where ecosystems transition from one to another are important ecologically as a source of rich biodiversity. When the transition from one ecosystem to another is abrupt, it is called an ecotone, a completely different region. From forest to grassland, from flood plain to marsh, ecotones create stress for the beings that can only live in one ecosystem and yet reside there – an incredible opportunity for diversity, adaptation or, ultimately, extinction, new possibility or great loss.
Edges where land and sea, earth and sky, forests and plains converge are often referred to in the Celtic tradition as “thin places,” places where there is only the smallest separation between earth and heaven. Past and present are a breath away. We realize that sacred and matter are one. Everything belongs, and communion with the Divine is realized. Beauty, awe, wonder, and joy live on the edges – as do heartbreaking loss and intense grief.
Poised on the edge of loss, there is no hanging back, though every instinct may prompt us to do so. The edge has come to us. Huge boulders have already fallen from the cliff; only with our eyes squeezed tightly shut or our hearts deliberately hardened can we miss the unfolding tragedies.
Yet we have a choice about how we live on the edge. We can extend a hand to steady others on the precipice. We can sing, tell stories, love each other, be grateful for what we have, and take in the soft beauty of the wildflowers around us. This we can do for all the time we have left. And because we cannot know what will ultimately come to pass, we can seek to transform to more vibrant and dedicated edge species, diverse and creative, reweaving communities of deep connection, vision, and soul, offering wisdom to future generations who may someday help to rebuild what they can for love of all life.
The Spirit is always inviting us to engage in the soul work of reweaving connections and kinship. For four and a half billion years, our planet has been evolving into abundant, beautiful, frightening, disturbing, and diverse life in a cosmos that’s been evolving for nearly 14 billion years. Whether we know it or not, whether we claim it or not, we are all one; we are nature and nature is us. If we continue to allow the threads that bind us to fray, all beings are bereft.
Together we can face the sorrow inherent in these frayed connections and begin reweaving the fabric of kinship. The contemplative path beckons us to Love greater than we can imagine. Practices of tuning our senses, opening to gratitude and reciprocity, bearing witness and lamentation – all are needed for these times. So, too, are courageous and committed spiritual hearts, willing to listen and respond to the call of Wisdom in this broken, beautiful, holy world.