It's the first day of a new year as I sit down to write this, and the old one made it's exit in a dramatic way, when I lost my old friend, Ole, who I knew from my youth. We lived together when I moved away from home 17 years old, and he was a good and close friend. A support. Someone that I counted on and loved.
Then we drifted apart. I got married, moved to the States, had a daughter. Then moved back, had a son, moved to the countryside.
But the last 10-15 years we had rekindled our friendship. I got to know his wife and his children, they got to know my partner and our children. They visited us, we visited them. Some friendships last through all the changes, this one did. And we had just started talking about maybe investing in a summerhouse together. Talking about building community, extending our families to include old friends. To tie together loose ends ... and then he suddenly died.
One late evening before christmas I got a text from his wife. A text that I didn't read, because I was on my way to bed, but I imagined it had to do with the house, we were looking for. Maybe they had found something. That night I dreamt, that we were out looking at a huge old place, that was falling apart, but Ole said, that he could fix it.
When I woke up and read the text, I had to reread it three times to grasp what it said. Ole is dead.
What happened over the next few days and weeks was almost a textbook journey through grief. A journey that has far from ended. It started in disbelief, went through anger and downright rage and then deep deep sadness to moments of intense joy in life. Those first intense emotions have faded, but the ripples are still felt in my system and reverberate in all aspects of my life. The echo whispers:
How do you want to live your life? Now? Now? Now? Nowowowowow
Meditating and reflecting on what was happening with me I could separate my feelings into several layers, that I want to share with you here:
We don't believe. really, that we are going to die. We can not really relate to it. We know that all things, that are born, die. We see it all the time. Yet when it comes to our own existence and the existence of those closest to us, it seems impossible to grasp. So we continue to live as though ... as though that reality is never going to affect us. Untill one day suddenly it does.What was there yesterday, suddenly isn't there anymore. I can't call up Ole and say, that I'll come by for a coffee and to shoot the breeze. He isn't there anymore. Life in the form of Ole seizes to exist. That is deeply puzzling. I mean, I talk about this all the time, when I teach, but when it hits close to home the realization is stark and intense.
Anger and rage:
Has to do with unlived life, I suspect. The realization that albeit all my best intentions to stay awake and aware, I am still caught up in patterns of sleepwalking. Of not being completely here. A little parenthesis here is, that I remember discussing this with Ole long time ago, where he thought it quite harsh to say, that we were sleepwalking in life. We almost got into an argument about it. Him being so stubborn ... :-)
And suddenly we just die. The rage is just like: "Fuck, shit, fuck, shit!!!!" I want to roar at the world: "Stop sleepwalking!!! Wake up!" But only I can wake up and the rage is this intense waking up to the intense energy of life. I rage because I realize that I am not fully here. And death wakes me up and I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO SLEEP AGAIN! Maybe underneath the rage, there is fear. It doesn't feel like fear though. It feels very pure and very engaged and full of life energy.
Deep deep sadness: It's bittersweet. It's loss. It's longing. It's memories. The memories took me by surprise. I suddenly remembered things from my youth that I had no idea that I had forgotten. The memories flooded my senses. I woke up and they were fighting for space in my awareness, vivid, colourful, sensuous...the weirdest feeling - almost like the memories for a while were more real than the rest of my life. I was fighting to be here and annoyed with my surroundings (my partner) for drawing me back into everyday life. I wanted to nosedive down into those memories and sniff them in, cuddle up and lie real close with them. For a few days when I woke up, it would take me some time to fight my way back to this reality. I actually ended up cancelling classes to be able to withdraw and just be with those recurrent, detailed and enormously vivid memories.
A memory of sitting in our shared apartment in his room writing peoetry on an old typewriter( Yes, I am that old), his room, because it was bigger and cozier, and looking forward to Ole coming home from work and giving life to the apartment. Me, a little weird and teenagey and isolated. Ole a breath of fresh air.
Or the time when he visited me when my mother was dying, and I showed him my favourite spot in the forest, and we lay there side by side. Just being. Which was exactly what I needed at the time, and he knew.
But also the irritation. I used to get so irritated with him. He was so unplanned and uncontrolled and chaotic in his movements. Sometimes it felt like he was falling through life.
But the irritation fades to give way for the love. Loves is what lingers and stays. Love is what is remembered. That is so thought provoking, because what of the irritation I feel with the people who are close to me now? The urge to control. That completely falls away in the face of death. I want to remember that.
And I felt such heartache for the family and wanted to be with them and share their pain and ease it somehow ...
And I felt heartache for all my other losses.
Losses, that suddenly felt as real as this one. My mother, when I was 19. My father 10 years later.
My grandparents. My uncle. My cousin. A childhood friend. My aunt ... People, who were there, who aren't here anymore. Just the memories. Memories that were pushing on the gates of my awareness. Pushing them in. Pushing through them. What is really real?
And then taking in the losses of all the other beings in this world, on this earth. Through time eternal...What is this life? What is this death? Heart cracked open...
Joy in Life:
When death moves in and sits real close to us, we may wake up to the beauty of life. It has happened to me a few times. I was sitting in the church, the first one there, waiting for people to arrive and the ceremony to start. There was the coffin, white and covered in flowers, and this woman was hammering up and down the aisle arranging the flowers around the coffin, and when there was no more space, then down the aisle. Sun was shining in on the wall of the church, dancing light and shade a bit like light under water. And suddenly I grew very quiet, time stopped and I just watched the light and it was so beautiful that tears started welling up in my eyes. The simplicity of that moment. Just sitting in the church in the quiet, while this woman was doing her thing and the light doing it's thing. Life unfolding around me. And me just there. I can't describe the beauty of that moment.
This is the gift of birth and death. These to poles of existence can make us fall in love with life. Birth and death wake us up to the beauty of life. But they are only moments in the continuous unfolding. Only moments. Birth nothing to hold on to. Death nothing to hold on to.
Nothing to hold on to.
And like I said earlier the urge to control our lived and others falls away in the face of death. Or rather may fall away.
I am reminded of the zen contemplation:
Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain
How shall live?
There we have it. Again. I say this sentence to myself at the tail end of every meditation.
I say: "Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, how shall I live?"
And then ... I whisper to myself countless times during the day: "Relax ... nothing is under control..."
It is an invitation to contemplate what is important in our lives and be willing to do that every day, every time we remember. Is this thing that I worry about really so important? Do I need to get stressed and flustered? Are my hurt feelings so important? My grudges? My complaints?
Or can I surrender to enormous gratitude fed out of being content with what I have and knowing that in a moment I have to give EVERYTHING back? And then feel the joy of giving back now? When I am still here to be in touch the life that flows between my being and the being of everything/everyone else? The truth is that everything I have now is a loan, and I have to give it back. I don't own anything, not even my life.
If there is nothing to hold on to, then why on earth not begin to give back now? Are we too busy? Too preoccupied? Too bewildered? If I don't know how to give back, then I can start small. Give back to my immediate surroundings. Give back in the form of small acts of kindness. In the form of letting go of selfrighteousness. In the form of a smile. Just giving other people my face - no holding back. Let others see me. I don't belong to me anyway. I belong to the world.
And keep widening my circle of compassion.
I know that when death moves in close, this is what arises. The gratitude, the joy, the love and the sadness and the grief and the anger ... because one does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.