(Parables of Sunlight by Margaret Dulaney)
Every now and again I come across a book so luminous and lyrical, that I find myself telling everyone I meet – “Oh, I’ve just read the BEST book!” in fact, I gulped it in two evenings, even though clearly the reader is supposed to open it at random, read a few pages, and put it down to reflect on and to allow the gentle aroma to lift your spirits with a tender smile. It says something about our culture that these books are not the ones to receive awards or reviews. In fact, The Parables of Sunlight, by Margaret Dulaney, is self-published. (What a world! What a world!).
The book is about death and how we relate to dying, and also about the way we treat our animals and the humans on the journey of our lives. She is, as she admits, casual, even glib about this serious topic, (except when it comes to her beloved animals). It’s an attitude, she writes, that none of us could have adopted “if we weren’t convinced that everyone on earth will one day enjoy their own otherworldly vacations.”
And then she tells a story so lovely that all week I’ve walked around with a little smile at the corners of my mouth. I keep repeating it to every poor person who makes the mistake of crossing my path.
I’ll quote it, and then you’ll see why I ‘m so delighted by this book and by Margaret Dulaney, who deserves the widest audience.
I have a library (she writes) full of ecstatic visions, near-death experiences and the writings of the mystics. And, though I am no longer looking for descriptions of heavenly landscapes, if I am able to find in a story of return from death even a morsel of new truth, I feel it is worth the attention.
There is the man, for instance, who learned during his brush with death that none of his grand accomplishments—awards, successes, career advancement —could outweigh a small moment in the grocery store when he was particularly kind to the harried woman behind the checkout counter. There is the young woman who was reunited with (and could understand the thoughts of) a bird that she had as a child. Given the opportunity to communicate telepathically with this old friend, she took the opportunity to apologize with great remorse for the times when she had tossed the bird to the ground after it bit her. ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ asked the young woman of the bird.
’Are you able to forgive me for biting you?’ the bird replied.
‘Of course,’ answered the woman
‘Then I hope you will forgive yourself for tossing me to the ground when I did so.’
There was another woman who was greeted on the other side by an enthusiastic group of friends, none of whom she had known on earth, but whom, she understood, she had left behind when she had taken her plunge into her life. These dear ones raced up to her, apparently against their better judgment, which would have allowed her time to find her footing, and surrounded her. They couldn’t wait to hear about her life, eager for every detail.
The woman told about her life thus far, without sugarcoating the details. She had not always behaved as she would have hoped. She had hurt people. She was no saint. But interestingly, as she outlined the details of her life’s journey, the faces of her friends did not alter from their original anticipatory delight. Bright and fascinated, they would respond, “but you had a life! A life!’
They regarded her as if she were the bravest of the brave, an award-winning astronaut returned from a solo circumnavigation of the moon.
‘You had a life!!’