Thursday, September 7, 2023

Don and Death (YOU are in here)

“If you’re waiting for that famous last moment, before someone dies, to say the things you should be saying all your life, well, you better have great timing,” Morrie Swartz said to Mitch Albom, in  a line from the play, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ It’s phrasing to sink into the soul. We find it so hard to say the things we feel, sometimes. We can sense the threshold of the maudlin, the sentimental, the gushing, and even the thread of interdependency in our words of love and care to someone else. It’s sometimes hard to let go. It’s sometimes hard not to let go. And so, with friends and family and acquaintances, we perpetuate the usual acculturations we’ve been taught. For a lot of us, less is more. For another lot of us, more and more creates a sense of it all meaning less. Words matter. Feelings matter. How best to convey ‘the right thing to say’ at the many moments of life, let alone at someone else’s ‘end’.

Don just died this morning at 8:30. ...Very peaceful and so glad it’s over for all of us. ... our doctor was just here, and all is taken care of,” wrote his wife.

It is so sad a note to receive, and yet so real. Who among us has never received news of death? And who among us has not wished we might have said something to the person we loved, cared for, thought about? For some of us, we’ve had a chance. We were told about the possibility of imminent death. We were given opportunity to write, to visit, to speak. And at other times, with the sad news of someone’s death, we were taken by surprise. We did not know that the person was ill, was in trouble, was in a state of distress so dire that death would overtake them. And we had no chance to tell them how we felt. It would’ve been ‘nice’ to relay our feelings. It would’ve been ‘good’ to let them know about our appreciation, if only....

In the passage of our lives, at any age, there are the boxes we are given to ‘tick’. Have we been kind, considerate, thoughtful, compassionate? Have we been generous, given time, given friendship, given care? Have we shared our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts, our souls? Have we been honest, truthful, careful, and inclusive? Have we allowed them ‘to be’? And then again, is that tick list all about our self, or is it about another? Have they been those things to us? All of those things? And in the end, that ‘end’, which of those things in the tick list might we not apply? Surely the person hearing them might feel guilty for not exhibiting all those elements towards oneself. So too, might we not feel guilty for not demonstrating those same qualities toward them!

“Every day, have a little bird that sits on your shoulder, that asks, is today the day? Am I being the person I want to be?” advised Morrie. Well, in that ‘wanting’ lies much of awareness and insight and action.

My friend, Don, has a long history with me. His boxes are ticked. His life had great import. His love meant a great deal. Our communication, sporadic, intermittent, intense, and meaningful, was imbued with the essence of respect for the other, appreciation for the journey, and care for the other’s interests.

Another longtime friend, at the news of Don’s death, wrote succinctly: “You will miss your friend.”

Such is the truth of living.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Perfecting Peace


Happiness is so temporary. Dependent on external factors, one feels it in time-bites. We depend on the weather, on our looks, on our hair, on our relationships, on our abodes, on our gardens, on our phone calls, on our... we are happy when things are ‘right.’ Yet the state of ‘being happy’ is easily fragmented. In the long haul of life, we all know just how very many things have made us ‘unhappy’. We are not at peace with ‘this’, or with ‘that’. Indeed, as Yeats puts it, “...peace comes dropping slow.”

‘Peace,’ as a slogan can be a call to action. It can be a phrase intended to calm down the fight between children, between armies, between religions, between couples, between nations. The word can appear trite, temporary, and false. It can lose the essence of its meaning as one unhappily shakes hands, calls a truce, endures the draconian dictates of a family, a cult, a religion, a political system, a world order. One can be hard put to feel peace when one’s fundamentals are threatened, cauterized, curtailed, and jailed. In the long haul we are victims to the times. "Grant me the wisdom to know the difference," is so true.

Perfecting peace comes at the price of letting go. Attaining peace is not so much a sublimation, or a discarding of one’s wants and desires and interests, as it is about developing an appreciation for our circumstances, our things, our relationships, without being attached. ‘Attachment’ breeds dependency, whereas ‘appreciation’ frees one to love.

“I LOVE it!” is a ubiquitous phrase. Blurted at the banquet of things, feelings, sounds, sights, smells, and touch, “I love it,” is married with happiness. Yet one can become, if not ‘out of love’, then ‘used to,’ familiar with, or even ‘bored’ by the very thing that once created that sensation of love-happiness it evoked. We each have had so much in our lives, young or old as we may be. And it is not just Birthdays or Christmases that give us the presents we love. The surprise of a sunset, a harvest moon, a bird on the wire can bring about such feelings too. All these things are, however, impermanent. And so can be our ‘happiness.’ 

Yet ‘love,’ in the long-haul sense of the word, at ‘best’ is entirely a feeling one gives, always, a sense one has, always, a non-attachment to Everything, always. Appreciation is distinct from Attachment. As such, in the integrative, assimilative, absorptive, inclusive, and personal peacefulness of appreciation, as a verb, as a thing one does, it frees one to love deeply, profoundly, and as permanently in awareness of Everything Else, so long as one is ‘working at’ it. After all, one’s acculturation, habituations, lessons of the past, experiences along the way, and even the expectations within the groups one becomes involved with, creates these divisions of attachment between what was, is, and may yet be. To be attached is to depend. To appreciate, is to be free. Indeed, “...peace comes dropping slow.”

But what about the accidents of life? What about the pain and the suffering and the horror and the abuse and the torturous and the vile? What about the unfairness and the betrayal and the unexpected? What of the controls and the dictates and the censures? What of the bullies and the lions and tigers and bears? How do we accept them?

Acceptance comes at the price of compassion. And compassion arises from having ‘been there’, from recognizing in oneself, however minimally, the instincts to hate, hit, hurt, kill, and smash that which opposes our immediate sense of ‘happiness.’ Who among us has never killed an insect? Who among us has never felt anger, disappointment, vengeance, greed, or.... Well, those Seven Sins raise their heads. It is in discourse that we stand chance of nurturing evolution. And while we each ‘grow up,’ there is much of enlightenment to learn in the passage of our own passing through. Indeed, perfecting peace comes slowly. Yet in attaining it, however small the measures, one knows there is always yet more to be had. Such is love. Such is peace. And curiously, so may we include happiness too. “Peace be unto you,” is heartfelt. So too is ‘Rest In Peace’. But it is the now for now where peace is best realized. Now for now.