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Passages in Village Life

Published April 22nd, 2011 in Community Perspectives

In 1959, Pete Seeger wrote a song adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” King Solomon, who is credited with writing the original poem 3000 years ago, was waxing philosophic about there being a season for all things: birth and death, planting and reaping, weeping and laughing, war and peace—you get the idea.

I think it’s cool that a guy who lived 3000 years ago could pen the lyrics of a rock song that topped the charts in 1965, but that’s not why I raise this historical anecdote. I’m thinking about seasons turning right here in the mountains of Oregon, and times for every purpose under heaven.

Seasons turn. It’s winter as I write this. Snow lies thickly in the boughs of the trees and upon the land to the river’s edge. Just past winter solstice and the holidays, these are among the shortest, coldest days of the year. But I know that spring is a hundred days out, and I will count the blessings of that season when it comes, just as I have counted this season’s blessings.

A time for every purpose under heaven. Jamshed died last fall. He had lived for the last 22 years as a member of our community, filling many roles in service to our guests. You might remember him best for his jolly greetings at the parking lot gate, welcoming summer visitors to the springs. He rode the cosmic orbit around the sun 70 times before getting off the planetary merry-go-round last October. We buried him at the edge of the forest in a simple box fashioned with boards milled from a fir tree that lived its entire life at Breitenbush. Jamshed, by his own reckoning, lived his best years here, too. Of the several extended communities in which Jamshed participated—Sufis, Radical Faeries, Red Road, Breitenbush—all were represented at the good-bye celebration/ceremony. There he lay in simple elegance, dressed in his finest robes, his granny reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, looking sage and serene as ever. Being buried on Breitenbush property and returning to the earth to become food for others in the great circle of life had long been his wish, when time came for him to depart this life. He spoke of it many times over the more than 20 years I knew him, though I didn’t hold out much hope for it because there is an unfinished debate on this subject within the community here. But, he got his final wish anyway and there we all were at the last, making a casket, digging a deep hole, talking with county officials and clearing the bureaucratic hurdles (the legislature has made it easy for home burial recently, to their credit). It was a beautiful moment. Thank you, soul of Jamshed.

To everything there is a season. When he crafted the song, Pete Seeger took the liberty of contributing a message of his own to an ancient king’s musings. To Solomon’s listed purposes under heaven, this wise modern voice added there is “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” That can be taken a lot of ways, of course, from personal to planetary. For a start, I take it to mean that, to experience peace, I must myself be it and seek it in others. Beyond this personal practice, we are called to understand that all who live have needs, and that, inevitably, cooperation is a superior survival strategy to competition or the zero-sum game. We humans have a long way to go to succeed in this evolutionary imperative, but it’s where we’re headed.

Peace is a rare treasure in a complex life. For me, Breitenbush is certainly one of the great places to seek it, within and without. If that is true for you too, then we’ll merry meet and merry meet again on the path.