“Grief’s not how you feel. Grief’s what you do. Grief is a skill. And the twin of grief, as a skill of life, is the skill of being able to praise, or love, life. Which means wherever you find one authentically done, the other is very close at hand. Grief, and the praise of life, side by side, the honored guests…and they’re toasting you. Grief…and the ability to love life…they’re clinking their glasses and toasting the living. So here’s to your health. Until the time comes we come to get you…live well!”
~ Stephen Jenkinson, Griefwalker
I came across this beautiful and moving quote while recently watching Tim Wilson’s documentary film entitled Griefwalker, about Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard-trained theologian and former program director of palliative care at a major Canadian hospital, who has made it his life’s mission, “to change the way that we die.” He says that, “The crucible of making human beings, is death.” That we haven’t fully lived until we’ve experienced and fully embraced death…including our own. I highly recommend taking the time to view the film…which you can see here.
It’s quite thought-provoking…that grief is really a gift. Perhaps the last gift that we receive from someone we love, and lose…but quite possibly the most precious gift that we’ll ever receive…if we’re open to it..if we become skillful at it, as Jenkinson suggests we must. It can enlarge our lives…if we pay close attention…not shrinking from it…but fully embracing it. Grief can teach us to live well.
It is written in the stars. Down through the ages, people have looked to the heavens…for explanation…as well as for inspiration. Comets were seen as harbingers of great events…and we’ve all heard of star-crossed lovers. With the advent of the industrial age, along with electrification, our night skies have been growing dimmer…losing their explanatory powers.
The word disaster comes from the Italian disastro, meaning an ill-starred event. In his book, 365 Tao, Ming-Dao Deng tells us that, “Disaster strikes at its own time. It is so overwhelming that we can do nothing other than accept it. It alters the very course of our days, our work, our very thinking.”
Disaster can collectively visit a multitude of people…a planeload of unsuspecting souls vanishing from the face of the earth…or a force of nature indiscriminate in its awesome fury. It can equally visit individuals through the unexpected loss of a loved one…forever changing their perception of the world and the days ahead.
Deng continues with an admonition, “Disasters may well change us deeply, but they will pass. We must keep to our deeper convictions and remember our goals. Whether we remain ash or become the phoenix is up to us.”
In her book, Loving What Is, Byron Katie writes:
If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, “Meow.” Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. You can spend the rest of your life trying to teach a cat to bark.
I’ve been ‘arguing’ with reality the past few days.
Last Thursday night at seven o’clock (coincidentally, my birthday), I received a call from the animal hospital where Belle, my 13-year old Pomeranian, was being cared for after suddenly becoming ill the day before…the vet thinking it might be a heart problem. I had visited earlier in the day, holding her in my lap for about an hour…having the feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out well. I left her to rest, hoping that she would feel better in the morning.
But later that evening, the vet called to say she wasn’t doing very well…her heart was racing…and she was gasping for breath. I jumped into the car and drove into town. In the darkness, I knocked on the side door of the animal hospital, and was let in. Belle was lying on an exam table…huffing oxygen from a tube held in front of her little nose. The vet spelled out the options for me…none of them really good…most requiring more suffering on Belle’s part. I tearfully gave the word, and within a few seconds…as I softly stroked her head and back…she was gone.
Born in Arkansas…Belle came into our lives when we lived in Florida on the Gulf. She moved with us back to California…walked the cliffs at Santa Cruz…saw the desert as we passed through Arizona on the way back to Florida…and then on to the Carolinas. Her journey is over now. She was a sweet and gentle spirit. I miss her…and the house is very quiet now without her.
We experience grief when we’re separated from something that we’re attached to. Over the past few years, I’ve continued to learn that arguing with reality doesn’t do any good whatsoever. But…it doesn’t make it any easier. And, it still raises a lot of questions in my mind…questions that I’m not sure have any satisfying answers…at least not in this life. I’m trying to love what is…because that’s all we’re really given.
The other night
You came to me
Like an angel you appeared
And we climbed
The endless sky
Held each other near
And there we’ll stand
Looking out upon the world that we’ve known
All fear will be gone
When we reach the shores of Avalon
~ Tina Malia, Shores of Avalon
I’ve developed this theory over the years…that the human brain is just an interface of some kind…something like a band-pass filter…that tunes in to a very specific frequency of reality. And that when we sleep…the selectivity of the filter widens to include, other possible versions of reality? Parallel universes that exist beside the one that we normally experience? I’ve always been amazed at the creativity of some of my dreams…dreams so intricate I couldn’t even begin to explain them. Where is this creativity coming from? There are nights when I inhabit vast, complex cities, and participate in other, strange lives…difficult to rationalize as being of my own creation. What is going on here…the random firing of neuronal synapses? Or, something even much more astounding?
Stuart Hammeroff, an anesthesiologist, asks the question…when people are anesthetized, where does their consciousness go? They’re not in a dream state. Hammeroff speaks of microtubules in the physical brain…that may contain the essence of who we are…our consciousness. And even more amazingly…of a quantum consciousness…an entanglement of atoms, that, at death, may separate from our physical body…and continue to exist in the universe. Our soul, perhaps?
Sitting in my darkened living room…music softly playing…a gentle voice beckons to me…Just let go.
Be Brave my love
The time has come
To cross the Tintagel sea
Hanging on the wall near my front door, is a poem by Mary Oliver…The Summer Day.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
My eyes are getting dry and blurry at times…probably a natural result of the aging process. But, every time I read the last few lines of this poem, for some reason…tears come to my eyes. Probably, a rebuke of how lightly we tend to take this miracle of life…this ‘one wild and precious life’ that we’ve been given. But, as I go out the door with my tear-moistened eyes…everything is crystal clear…and it’s always a shock to see how beautiful the world is as it lies before my eyes. Every dew drop…every leaf fluttering in the wind…the crystalline blue sky. Nothing focuses the mind as much as pain and suffering…and loss. Perhaps it is a gift of some sort…a gift that we do not fully understand.
It’s been especially apparent on this spectacularly beautiful autumn day, here in the Carolinas. I’ve spent a greater part of the day sitting on the front porch, taking it all in. What makes a sweet gum a sweet gum…an oak, an oak…a dark green mysterious juniper, a juniper. I hear the wind rushing through short- and long-leafed pines…the sound of a distant surf…or the cascading flow of a phantom waterfall. I see ladybugs flitting about…feral chickens grazing on the grass…a wren belting out its song from the trees…the call of a red-shouldered hawk soaring somewhere above…dragonflies…yellow-jackets…phoebes…crows. The list goes on…profligate beauty and being…all in this one, tiny corner of the universe.
Sometimes I think that our main purpose here on earth is to be a witness. A witness to creation. We all like to share our insights and experiences with others. It must be a real need. Hence, our books…and our blogs. This creation is much too special to go unnoticed. Someone needs to pay attention…to witness. Perhaps we are created because the Creator also has a need to share this…and to not let it go unnoticed. Perhaps we are the universe…reflexively looking back upon itself…and seeing that it is good. Very good.
I seem to have hit a wall lately…perhaps, a time of the interim as John O’Donohue describes…
…where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
~ from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
Recently, I’ve been listening to an audio series by poet David Whyte called, What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life, in which he speaks of the conversational nature of reality. A reality in which we inevitably must meet somewhere on middle ground…between what we expect of our lives…and what the world expects of us. A conversation that results in a relationship that occurs at the frontier of these two sets of expectations. We can, of course, choose not to enter the conversation. That may be where the wall appears…so I’m trying to ease back into the conversation…and at least catch a glimpse of what may be waiting on the other side.
By the way…If you’re not familiar with David Whyte, the following video is a wonderful introduction…