I learned the word murmuration one Monday in the group after meditation. James had held a lifelong love of words, so I was relieved when his advancing brain tumour did not take his language, as brain tumours sometimes do.
"A flock of hundreds or thousands of starlings moving in unison across the sky speaks of a profound intelligence, an instinct to trust,” James said, transmitting the kind of wisdom that flows into you and inspires your spirit. “We humans can respond as one entity, like a murmuration, if we trust one another enough. You speak your truth and my heart can't help but open in response."
James came to meditation most Mondays, catching the bus down Arbutus Street and walking two blocks with his cane, to the centre, past the school and gymnasium which was his last architectural project before he retired, just a year or so before his diagnosis of stage IV cancer.
“I’ve become the man I always wanted to be, through this experience of cancer. I’m softer and kinder,” James said, his eyes filling up. “And I like myself more now.”
I couldn’t imagine James being anything other than the warm, gracious, loving, giant of a man who graced our circle every week and taught us new words and said, "Thank you for being here,” over and over again.
When James was too ill to come to the meditation group, we went to him, sitting together around the hospital bed in his bedroom at home. His wife Lynn and pregnant daughter Nina joined us, as would other family members and friends, from time to time.
After the opening ring of the meditation bell faded, a deep quiet enveloped us, with only the sound of James’ breath whispering to us of the reality of his potent presence in the room that day, closely accompanied by his impending absence. The silence reassured us that we were a group of people who trusted one another to respond to life and death with our instincts.
When the bell rang to end what would be our last meditation group with James, my eyes opened to see dancing light and shadows shimmering across the bedroom ceiling, created by sunshine reflecting off the swimming pool in the garden below. I was reminded of the murmuration. James noticed it too and smiled in recognition of beauty arriving in unexpected moments, the ones he always called his 'bright moments.'
With his functioning hand, James slowly pulled up the hand of his paralyzed arm, to place both palms together as best he could into the gesture of Namaste, fingers pointing upwards and thumbs touching the centre of his chest. He then held the eyes of each person around the circle, one at a time, bowing his head in gratitude for the friendship and love. We bowed in return and knew that James was saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ to each one of us, this time without words.
To watch a murmuration: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k