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What’s keeping you lively these days?

I often ask this of someone when faced with the challenges of small-talk in Midwestern-niceties. I’m not very good at small-talk, for one, and I’m fascinated by what keeps human beings lively. So several years back, this became my version of “What do you do?” I do love the look of startlement that often accompanies the question. Hildegard of Bingen is an elder for me in this, with her notion of viriditas or “greening.” Howard Thurman brings a good depth and contemporaneity to it as well: “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I wound up binge-watching Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials this past week, spurred by a stray comment weeks ago, then a serendipitous meeting of a new friend, who has a daughter named Lyre, the main protagonist of the novels/HBO series. My stray comment was simply an observation that the energy between me and my heart-dog, Nala, feels like that between a daemon and a human being. "She’s like this extra soul-energy around me, which nourishes me as I get to nourish her," I said to Brian on the cruise. "She's like my daemon...Or I am hers, to be fair.” When the fictional series arose a week later, in a circle-retreat, I got curious enough to pursue it.

In Pullman's world, liveliness, a physical-spirit belonging, is the bond between human beings and daemons. The daemons take differing shapes, suggesting character and temperament of the human being. For instance, the aeronaut played by Lin-Manuel Miranda is a swash-buckling hero whose daemon is a rabbit named Hester. The church-men characters in the series have daemons that are spiders, reptiles, or guard-dogs. A small girl’s daemon is a masculine one, as a little boy’s daemon is a feminine one. If/when the daemon is attacked or killed, the human body contracts, wilts. Lifeless.

Season 1 was excruciating for me to watch, as one of the plot engines was sinister. Mrs. Coulter’s “research” aimed at severing children from their daemons for the energies provided, increasingly desired for technological and scientific pursuits. I fast-forwarded through scenes I could not bear to watch, feeling the vulnerability viscerally. Once I knew Lyre and her daemon were safe, I could watch more easily. Except the three episodes in Season 3 where she cuts into the Land of the Dead to rescue her best friend, Roger. Her daemon could not enter, so she had to leave him behind, an excruciating thing for them both. A betrayal that required forgiveness upon return, in a new Eden.

Intimate belonging, expressed in animal-with-human form. Soul-energy, physically sensed-and-heard sentience. Liveliness, gift of separation forgiven? I wonder…

Much is nourishing me these days, but I’m learning something specific here...have been Given something out of which to write…

So tender, I become. So vulnerable to loss, impending grief/praise.

So very lively, awake, wondering…

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