Friday, May 17, 2013

More Than a Nod of the Head

“It’s a beautiful day,” I observed to the older gentleman helping me at the quiet little store.

“When you get to be my age,” he said decidedly, with a piercing gaze, “you’ll realize that they are all beautiful days.”

We had never met before, but this sparked a lovely conversation. The gentleman, in his status of elder, clearly wanted to share the distillations of his lifetime of wisdom-gathering with someone willing to listen; I, with some time to spare before I had to be elsewhere, was happy to hear what my new friend had to say. This is what he told me:
·      Recognize the blessing of each new day; the blessing is always there, whether or not you see it at first.
·      Be sure to have goals, but don’t get caught up in thinking that attaining them is all-important: it’s the journey toward them that matters most.
·      Keep your body in good working condition; you’ll need it.
·      Listen more, and trust those around you.
·      Recognize a good friend when you’ve got one.
·      If you connect with your soul mate, count yourself immeasurably blessed.
There is nothing new or revelatory on this list; anyone reading it probably nods their head in agreement with a “yeah, sure, of course” attitude. The very fact that we know these things is what allows us to mentally acknowledge and then dismiss them.

But after 84 years of running and going, raising a family and doing business, all the desires and dreams and frustrations and sorrows to which this mortal coil is prone, it is these simple truths that my elder friend has distilled. They are simple, yes; that means that they are not complex, but not that they are not profound. There is more about really living contained in these simple words than a simple nod of the head can begin to acknowledge.

Thoughts of this conversation stayed with me as I went over to a routine doctor’s appointment a little later. My doctor’s office is housed next to the hospital where my husband David died, and the two share a parking garage. As I got out of my car to walk to the elevator, I thought about the 17 days in that other May, 9 years ago now, when I more or less lived in that hospital, when walking through that parking garage was a journey of heart-wrenching pain and unbearable love and felt like the most important thing that I could possibly do. I thought of my new elder friend’s words, and I stopped for a moment to recognize the blessing of those days, and this one; to remember the importance of that journey, and how it continues; and to give thanks for the immeasurable blessing of a soul mate whose love is always with me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sunshine and Serenity: In Memory of Rita

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! The time has come for you to find your path in the reality of the spirit.”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

I didn’t see Rita the first day she came to our church, but she saw me. I was speaking from the pulpit about my mystical experiences, those times when the scales fall from my eyes and I see and feel God quite literally in everyone and everything around me. Rita later told me that she recognized her own experiences in what I was saying, and they gave her an immediate connection to this place she had never been before. Her exact words were, “I knew I was home.”

And she knew she had found a friend and soul companion, too. Rita and I formed an immediate connection. We didn’t spend as much time together as either of us would have liked, but when we did our conversations were often intense and profound.  She talked about her deep study and subsequent teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, and I told her of my readings in world religions. We shared stories about our husbands, the ways in which we had lost them, and the different kinds of letting go that these losses required of us.

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! Now you have arrived at what is called "physical death". You are transitioning from the physical reality to the spiritual reality. You are not alone; it happens to everyone.”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

Among the things I loved in Rita was her gift of effortlessly combining passion and serenity. An actress in her younger years, it was clear that all endeavors that give expression to the deepest and wildest of human emotions – theatre, dance, music, art – called to Rita at her core. And yet such calmness she carried with her at all times, and offered to others. This was a product of her Buddhist training, I am sure, but also of simply who she was. 

It was that same serenity that Rita carried into a response to her illness, and an awareness of her impending death. “I’m not afraid to die,” I heard her say often. “This is where my practice has led me, and what it has prepared me for.” Rita’s serenity calmed those around her, allowing them, too, to face the coming loss of her earthly presence. Although it happened much more quickly than any of us expected, it happened with Rita serenely greeting death as a welcome friend about whom she had become curious.

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! Your physical breath has stopped; the perfect clear light of the Infinite Potential of the first phase of your transition into the spiritual reality has begun to manifest. Your immortal, infinite spiritual awareness begins to awaken, clear and empty…”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

I had the great privilege of being one of those who accompanied Rita in her last days, and to be present as she met that welcome friend. I heard her last words, telling me that she was so very ready to go, and stood and chanted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead with others as she took her last breaths. In those holiest of moments, we watched with awe as Rita departed this life with the same grace with which she moved through it.

Rita’s mother Sarah told me that when Rita was small, Sarah used to say to her, “You are my sunshine.” When she got older, Rita told her mom that maybe that was a little too much pressure – but when she got even older than that, she wanted her mom to start saying it again. Rita brought much serenity and sunshine into this world, and I am so very glad to have felt those rays.

Readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, trans. John WorldPeace
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