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Feeling good is not the point – it’s being connected so that the highs and lows don’t matter. You spend less time at the mercy of all those heavy negative thoughts. – Krishna Das

My brothers were born four years apart and five years later I was born. They slept in a bedroom together and I slept alone. I don’t know when the terrors started, but I had a very hard time getting to sleep. In the new house where we moved when I was three, I was on the opposite side of the house from my parents. I would call to my mother, sometimes frantically, and she never came. I cried myself to sleep every night and sucked my thumb until I was eleven. I didn’t like being alone every night in that solitary room, where the lights from the traffic would shine across my wall and keep me awake.

One time my father came to my bed and asked me how I was feeling. I talked to him about how my legs hurt and he told me they were growing pains. I shared my deepest secrets about how afraid I was of the teachers and how I could not go to sleep at night. He taught me a self-meditation technique to help me sleep; I still use it to this day. Although he came to me only one time, I remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder if they consciously considered whether to talk to me or let me learn to self-soothe. I doubt the latter, because there was little conscious conversation in my home growing up. They just didn’t have the capacity. My fears escalated along with my anger.

I began to refuse to go to school; my teachers were too scary. My mother pretended to call the truant officer to report me, so I reluctantly went. Tough love. My mother was tough and distant, emotionally. It wasn’t until my 50s when she was dying that I actually realized she’d always loved me. Some people never know, so this is not a complaint or a tragedy, it’s just what often happened growing up in the 50s.

Being born in July had its advantages; we lived on a natural lake during the summer. It was a simple, intimate lake, before it became a resort area. I was happy there and so was my family. However, being born in July when the sun was in Cancer meant I had the potential to be hyper-sensitive, moody, and overly dependent/clingy. A clingy child and a touch-me-not mother created quite a challenge for compatibility and connection. The casual lifestyle at the lake nurtured my more positive traits: spontaneity, athleticism, in a community that loved nature. I didn’t fear being alone in my bedroom at the cottage, but when we moved back to city life each year my whole body contracted. The isolation, the inactivity, the stark school with the scary teachers were overwhelming.

My pillow was my transitional object and I kept it until well after I was married. During my early life, I avoided being alone at all costs, and the costs were dear. I clung to unhealthy relationships much too long. I did, however, experience a great deal of self-love when I finally had the courage to leave. Finding the courage to leave unhealthy situations seemed to be the edge I needed to meet what some call the Great Aloneness. There is an expression – we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone. That used to sound sad to me, but once I was able to hold grief long enough to fully feel it there was a shift and I was able to finally feel safe and to begin to love myself, deeply. I see that only by feeling everything, instead of feeling good, can self-love really be acquired. One must grow into it. I certainly had to.

It was only through experiencing the Great Aloneness that I began to understand that in our core we each want the same thing, to feel loved, and when we mature spiritually we begin to know that we are loved. If we follow this thought and are able to stay with it, our Awareness grows and we find that we are Love. When we internalize this, we open to the Knowing that we are all one. I was working at a community mental health center in Louisiana when this awareness began to take root. I remember the timing clearly, because my supervisor asked me to propose a password for the state computer system. I offered, “Allone,” imagining that in our area of the state of Louisiana, at that moment in time, everybody would be using Allone as their password to enter the mental health system! I love that irony/synchronicity. Don’t tell anybody, but this is still my password, or variations of the theme.

The moments I have felt most connected to my heart, connected to my Beloveds, connected to the Universe, have been the times that I Know that we are all inextricably linked, all one being, and that we are only separated by the belief, a mental construct, that we are separate. Many people fear loneliness, but loneliness is never about another person. It is and has been only through the felt-sensation of Oneness that I know this to be Truth.

I don’t for one minute believe that one has to be facing the end of their life to enter this Knowing that we are all one and we are all in this together. Crises can accelerate this awareness. They have a way of cracking open the defensive hardness that appears to separate us. By practicing empathy and forgiveness of the self, the boundaries of protection fall away.

Then, all that is left is Love. And, it is love, that we truly are all in together.

**This essay is dedicated to Kirsten Schreiber, my dear friend, sister of all ages, who nudged me to finish it.

There is a feeling we have sometimes of betraying some mission we were mandated to fulfill, and being unable to fulfill it. And then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it. And that the deeper courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you find yourself. – Leonard Cohen

People are usually surprised to hear how I really feel about living my life under such extreme circumstances: being unable to move from the neck down after being a competitive athlete my entire life, living in a body that can barely keep me alive, having difficulty speaking audibly when tired and barely being able to whisper. It just boggles people’s minds that I could live my life with so much gratitude for being, so much gratitude for having as much independence as I have, defying what our medical establishment is able to tolerate due to the excellent, compassionate, spiritually-driven circle of women and men who surround me and care for me. The paradigm we have co-created has allowed me to focus on what I truly value – connecting deeply with the people I love and helping them to allow more Love in their lives.

I live an interesting paradox. My body is in hospice, but my mind and my Spirit are experiencing the most joy I could ever imagine in life. How can that possibly be? I could never understand it without living it. It is true that I cannot move, eat, eliminate, without complete dependence on others, however, there is so much I can do that I would never have been able to with a fully, functioning body.

My life has always been about service–service through my psychotherapy practice, service through my interracial gospel choir in New Orleans, service through my nonviolent communication groups and my caregiving and women’s circles, not to mention service to anyone who enters my house, including the UPS man. There’s nothing that gives me more joy than helping someone recognize and allow more beauty and love into their lives, especially self-love which is from where all love emanates. It is only through love that world peace can be achieved.

With my body slowly dying from a neurological illness, the progression happens gradually; I lose one function, one ability after another. Everybody goes through this process during aging, mine is merely accelerated. To me, death will be an adventure when the time is right. After allowing myself many years of grieving, I began to see the brilliance of this curriculum. Suffering is minimal. I believe that grief only becomes suffering when it is not fully felt. My suffering has been mostly emotional. If I’d had too much physical pain to bear, I might be having a different conversation. Earlier in the illness, I broke many bones during accidents: sternum, toes, patella, femur, but they have all healed. Unlike most people with end-stage illness, I am fortunate to have little neurogenic pain. Everything is firing from the neck up, so I am able to strategize my circumstances to avoid pressure sores from becoming septic, aches from becoming chronic, my mind from becoming stagnant, and to free my heart to continually emanate and feel love.

When one is moving toward the end of their life, often dreams can become more vivid. Upon awakening, recounting the dreams of my sleeping state often reveal inner work that is yet to be addressed. Sometimes my dreams merely clear emotional material that is clouding my clarity; dreams are always regenerative teachers. Lately, I have been experiencing my dreams as a bridge to the Spirit world, perhaps to aid my transition.

In one such dream, I was painting columns of an antebellum home a particular color well known to Southerners – shutter green. Shutter green is the color many shutters are painted in Louisiana where I lived and raised my children for 30 years. I frequently dream of the turn-of-the-century home where I raised my family. The house in the dream was clearly a variation of that home and magnificent property. We lived off a highway called Military Road where confederate soldiers were rumored to have marched, thus giving it that name.

In the dream, I was painting these columns with the woman who owned the house. I knew her name clearly. It was Monique (or Monica) Marie Crane. I remember feeling that it was essential to me that the woman feel good about the work I was doing. Her husband would be home soon and I wanted the column he would see first to be meticulously painted. Doing a meticulous job felt almost like a spiritual calling. There was no duress, no external pressure.

I remember looking into a full-length mirror and seeing a very pleasant black man! I can remember moving my arms to see if the reflection would move with me. It did. I was clearly the man in the mirror. The love I felt looking for the man was profound. I can still feel it today as I recall the dream. There was no sense of time, no feeling of enslavement, no sense of victimization. Pleasing others with my craft was deeply satisfying.

After I woke up, I felt such love for this man that I told my friend who is a hospice chaplain about the dream. She affirmed its significance and offered her own perspective. She saw how this man’s life appeared to parallel my life, that I’ve lived life’s circumstances with much gratitude and no feelings of enslavement, despite the lack of freedom of movement. As she described this, I felt the kinship with this man. I felt deep love that I cannot understand cognitively.

We live many lives in one life and perhaps we live many lives in many lives. The I who is, is constant. The I is forever.

I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot him either. – Annie Oakley

We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. – Brene Brown, PhD

What a gift human life is with all its challenges and opportunities for liberation through adversity; as a snake needs a rock to rub against to remove the old skin, humans need ordeals to evolve. It is through adversity that humanity acquirers empathy, increasing its capacity for love. This is one of humanity’s deepest teachings. Love is. Anything in the way of that knowing is, I believe, what we are here to learn from and transform, to turn lead into gold, poison into medicine.

Living a human life is not for the faint of heart. If we dig deeply enough, most of us live with an insidious amount of unworthiness, or shame, imprinted during childhood whether this imprint is conscious or not to our adult selves. In my opinion, one of our greatest accomplishments during our lifetime is to chip away at this shame – the belief that in our core we do not matter or are in some way deeply flawed, that if someone gets close enough, this secret will be revealed. Often this imprint gets projected outwardly as a defense against feeling the unworthiness that dwells in our beliefs about ourselves, the unknown hitchhikers in our individual personas that wreak havoc in our personal lives. With such a belief operating in our core, intimacy, with ourselves and others, can become difficult to allow. It is through intimate relationships that healing takes an accelerated path and poison can become medicine.

Our most unlikely, yet beneficial, allies during our lifetimes are the ones who, often unknowingly, take us into that core, the faulty foundation where untruths mold our beliefs just waiting to be transformed. Of course, we don’t see these messengers as great teachers at first, but over time as we develop the capacity for self-reflection and often through grueling repetition we begin to experience a level of liberation. In my experience, it is only when I am able to feel the shame completely, without turning away, that self-love is restored. This ability may be unreachable for some people, but I believe this is the hope for humanity.

My husbands have been the Trojan horses that provided the grit necessary to take me into the deep, recurring, faulty beliefs that caused me tremendous suffering. They exposed these beliefs often unconsciously and sometimes with cruelty. Learning to not shoot the messenger was key to taking responsibility for my childhood imprints and finding liberation. Often we can become distracted by trying to derail the messenger, in an attempt to invalidate the message, propagating an illusion that we can somehow avoid feeling the shame. Developing the capacity to sit with the pain of “not enough,” is the only way to release its hold over us. To do so requires practice, increasing empathy toward the self, and not taking what seems to be criticism from others, personally.

To look at these messengers with equanimity, we realize they are doing us a great service. I believe the messengers can become more harsh if we resist the greater teachings. This is not to be confused with being victimized by another’s unskillful projections. Discernment is necessary to courageously unwrap the projections and determine what is the grain of truth that is useful for one’s liberation. Multiple marriages can be seen in this culture as a failure, but people are changing quickly and one cannot determine what others might require. Each of my three marriages has been like a different incarnation, one building upon the previous. What ever brings awareness is exactly what is needed by the determined soul. After all, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. By my second marriage, seeing the repetitive patterns, I understood that I was the common denominator. Once aware of the pattern, I could choose – shame or self-love.

I have had communications in the last months with all three previous husbands to varying degrees of connectedness. My first husband I call my greatest teacher, because he was creative, intelligent, and brutal in his younger years. In my 30s and while in therapy, it had become apparent that I had embraced a level of victim mentality. With his help and my courage, determination, and a lot of therapy I was able to release myself from the grips of this insidious form of self-hatred. Not everyone needs this level of intervention, but I had been a willful child and not able to change, otherwise. An identity of victim is one of the most excruciating forms shame can take. When embraced with empathy, this pattern can be transformed to self-love. Recently, my daughter asked me to contact her father, my first husband. Over the years, I have forgiven his hurtful behavior and begun to see him as soul family, someone who had agreed to provide this ordeal out of love, to bring us forward in our evolution. I know, this is a generous shift in beliefs, but if one could choose our perceptions, why would anyone choose otherwise? Because of this shift in my perception, he was able to tell me that he loved me, he had always loved me, and he will always love me. Intuitively, I knew this, but the medicine this acknowledgment brought to myself and my daughter was immeasurable.

Shame is an insidious poison that can rob us of our birthright to feel loved and loving in a Universe where Love is the only Truth.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

balance

I have been practicing Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal work on nonviolent communication for over nine years. Recently, I have been remembering his statement that every communication is an expression of either “Please” or “Thank you.” No matter how skillfully or un-skillfully the communication is delivered, all communications are either requesting something one needs or expressing gratitude. We don’t always get what we want or need from people, but we can always choose a response that is more conscious. A more conscious response will move the conversation closer to love and forgiveness; forgiveness of other, and more importantly, forgiveness of self. A less conscious, more impulsive reaction would likely keep the expression of pain going. It requires much skill to interact consciously with other human beings; I believe that is why we are here, learning with and from each other.

It is essential that we understand the feelings we are experiencing during conflict and that we understand the unmet need triggering the feeling. Identifying our feelings can take much spiritual maturity, because allowing oneself to be vulnerable during conflict is like what Stephen Levine calls, “opening your heart in hell.” Once one is feeling and need literate, conflict is easily reconciled. Here are some common examples:

Wife – You are always working, it’s like I’m a single woman in a marriage!

This is an expression of please. This is where the real work begins. The wife might only feel anger, but sadness or grief is always under anger. She might not even realize she is sad and missing her connection with her partner. In our culture, acknowledging our vulnerabilities is grossly undervalued, perpetuating an illusion that we are self-sufficient islands. Allowing one’s vulnerability, in my opinion, is how we can achieve world peace, one person at a time. At the core of this existential shift is the ability to find empathy for the self. To me, this is the prerequisite and the gift that neutralizes conflict and increases love of self and others. Once empathy is achieved, there is more self-reflection, and her communication might be, “My need for connection with you is not being met and I’m really sad about it. Would you manage your time so you can spend more time with me and the children? With practice, one can move more swiftly to vulnerability and affirming one’s love for the other can render more love.

Husband – I cannot do enough for you. All you do is nag nag nag.

This is an expression of please. It is important to hear beyond the pain. What he may be unable to express if he is not feeling literate is, “I feel so much pressure to provide financially, emotionally, and physically. I feel like I’m dying on the vine. I need some help here.”

The most difficult work is identifying the feelings and needs. Cultivating empathy for one’s self, leads to empathy for the other and will ultimately lead to feeling less isolated. This is the power of duality, or interacting intimately with others; the power of community.

Once self-empathy becomes natural, one can respond to these please requests with gratitude, rather than the automatic reaction of withdrawal or acting out our pain. Whether the communication is skillful or not, we can feel gratitude, because the other person is willing to express their unmet needs. Moving out of one’s own pain through self-empathy allows one to hear the other’s pain. Here is where love and connection can be restored and please can become thank you.

Recently, I reached out to a significant person in my life who has been disconnected from me, disconnected from my heart. As I move toward the end of my life, I know this is not truth. I reached out asking if we could reconnect. (Please.) I was met with a very cold, defensive response. I knew that we were not both in the place of reconciliation and I needed to honor that. In the past, I might have pushed for my needs to get met and it would not have ended well. I recognized the opportunity to honor where the other person was and more importantly, not to sacrifice my own well-being, knowing how open and vulnerable I am in my life right now. My reply was merely, Thank you.

And I meant those words, completely. “Thank you” to her for letting me know where she was. And, “thank you” to me for letting go, for having the wisdom to know that because we are disconnected on the physical plane, in another vibration where love is the only truth, we are connected forever.

All statements express please or thank you. Vulnerability is the key to open communication and inevitably leads to empathy. Empathy is the balm that changes poison (pain) to medicine (intimacy). You cannot give to others with an empty internal reservoir of love. This reservoir needs to be attended to constantly and consistently. This is the basis of most spiritual practices and the hope of heart-centered psychotherapy.

Marshall’s books can be purchased on Amazon, found in many libraries and YouTube videos are available online at no charge.

World peace can be achieved, one person at a time.

StephanieStephanie–the Way of the Bodhisattva**

On Sunday, my dear friend Stephanie left her body after a lifetime of illness and activism. She developed a worldwide network to support people with PJS, or Peutz–jeghers syndrome, a genetic birth anomaly that often leads to cancer.

Stephanie was an AIDS and cancer activist, a natural death proponent, and an educator, encouraging living life to the fullest, no matter one’s circumstances or longevity.

Stephanie reached out to me more than a year ago after reading all the archives of my blog, no small feat. Stephanie heard deeply the themes in my essays. She recommended readings including academic papers to support my theories. Stephanie met me where I was and this is one of her many gifts to humanity.*

Three days before Stephanie left her body, she wrote to me, “I love this time of grace when I turn from this world toward a bigger world where I live now. I am giving up my computer to move toward God and moving closer toward the door called death.”

Stephanie said goodbye and encouraged me to shift my attention when I am ready to make this journey. Always the teacher, always the lover of life.

We connected in our love of life and of helping humanity in whatever way we could. We recognized kindred spirits and we were amazed at the depth of love we shared in this unconventional, cyber way.

Godspeed, Stephanie and I will see you in a flash.

* If you would like hear an audio interview of Stephanie, http://tns.commonweal.org/podcasts/stephanie-sugars/#.WDRk66PMyYU

**She has carried many and now she is being carried. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzPTHstpJ2I

Here is a video made by Stephanie’s friends: https://youtu.be/JaaNVKIsffQf

“Our holy grit… it’s the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious.”  – Jacqueline Small, on Shadow

Lake Winola

Lake Winola

Karen turned sixty this month.

I grew up on a glacial   lake at the end of the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania during the summer months. Karen lived with her parents and three brothers in the cottage next-door. My best friend, Cathy, rented the cottage behind them, at least her parents did. The circumference of the lake was approximately three miles, so children knew each other for long stretches that were walkable from their cottage. The lake was a friendly community where families looked out for each other and their children.

Being born in July, this lake was my first home. Sometime during the 60s my home became a state lake and everything changed. But prior to this, the lake was serene, the people familiar and it was a safe, aesthetically beautiful place in nature to grow up.

Our neighbors became extensions of our family. Karen lived next door and since we grew up together, I didn’t notice the developmental delays. Karen was mentally disabled, but we all thought she was odd. From a child’s perspective, there was just something different about her, damaged, maybe. Children were unkind to her, but not her brothers. Karen always liked me. One day, however, I joined the heartless descent as she walked in front of the trajectory of the swing I was on. I didn’t stop abruptly as I could have. I knocked her down. Fifty years later I remember that moment and I cry with so much shame. Perhaps I can understand the other children’s cruelty by understanding my own. Karen was an external manifestation of the damage I felt inside of me, the damage the other children must have felt, as well. Christians might call it Original Sin, Jungians call it Shadow, the unlikable parts of ourselves we hide until we have the inner resources to heal these parts and integrate them into a more forgiving personality.

Cathy’s family was very religious. Her mother, Lucy, told me children like Karen were sent here by God and reported back to him about how others treated her. Now, from my perspective, I can believe some of Lucy’s story/parable. Karen and her sacred curriculum was a mirror for people to look at themselves through. Not everybody liked what they saw.

Soon after that, Karen no longer lived next door. She came home on visits and loved to go for a boat ride with me. Karen never held a grudge. Her older brother became a minister and I worked with disabled children for a couple decades, as a teenager and an adult.

I wonder if Karen knows how much she affected the others around her or how much she taught people something about themselves, that they probably didn’t want to see.

Karen turned sixty this month. Happy birthday Karen. From my end-of-life perspective, I now understand the careful selection of the costume you chose for this lifetime and I know you are what some call an angel and I know, without equivocation, that you were my and many other children’s sacred teacher.

**One of my very favorite books on the subject is: Expecting Adam – A true story of birth, rebirth and every day magic by Martha Beck.

 

“When you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.” Nietzsche

SpeechlessRecently, a caregiver asked me with a slightly horrified tone, “What if you can no longer speak?” Actually, there are times now, during the day when I cannot speak, like when I am on the stationary bike, when I am on the stander and late afternoon when speaking in groups, of which I am in ten per month. This particular disability has been happening gradually for the last four years, especially since I returned to high-altitude and It has become much more pronounced in the last six months.

I have learned to accommodate yet another disability, dysarthria– motor speech disorder caused by muscle weakness with neurological illness. I have learned that if I pause or whisper for a few sentences, I can often get my breath back and project a little more to make myself heard. Summer and the heat it brings exacerbates this symptom.

The potential for having this disability has been obvious to others, but being unable to speak and the ramifications had never occurred to me. I tend to not project into the future imagining what abilities I might lose next. This has probably been an effective strategy for lessening what is called “anticipatory dread” and, therefore, decreasing unnecessary emotional suffering. This represents another way my personality has evolved. I used to be accused of seeing the cup as half empty, as opposed to half full. Ironic that with this terminal neurodegenerative disease I’ve become more optimistic.

Actually, my first thought upon hearing this question was of recently having seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film about a man with “locked in syndrome” who, after sustaining a severe stroke, could not communicate after having been a robust communicator all his life. Somehow, I trust I would get my point across, even if I need to blink my eyes three times as he did. Sometimes I practice that while laughing about the irony with my caregivers. Fortunately, I don’t take this ordeal very serious much of the time. I don’t tend to marinate in fears of the future, at least not these types of fears.

What I have learned in accepting this “curriculum” is that if I become unable to speak, there is a greater teaching in the symptom. I have no doubt that my focus would need to go beyond the cortically-based area of the left brain where speech arises, exploring areas much deeper than the fears of becoming speechless. I bow to this anomaly and will accept it as my next teacher.

In my humble opinion, nothing is arbitrary when I have accepted such a rigorous path and it becomes more clear that I have, in fact, entered the Holy ground.

House 3On my last post, I had technical problems with an incompatibility between Word press and Dragon, my voice software. Hopefully, Lauren can work her magic on Friday, but I added a quote at the beginning you might enjoy.

I got the following personal comment from my son Jordan I wanted to share. Realize, Sid is his father.

 

Really nice new blog article, mama. The scuba metaphor is a beautiful one. It reminds me of a lyric my friend calls his favorite lyric of all time by the smashing pumpkins —

A pure soul and beautiful you, don’t understand
Don’t feel me now, [I will breathe, for the both of us]
Travel the world, traverse the skies
Your home is here, within my heart

I love you so much, thanks for writing the blog. Your writing has really gotten very good. This article felt ethereal.

So much love,
Jordan

Sent from my iPhone

 

Love and grief are two sides of the same coin. – Derived from talk by Stephen Jenkinson 

GriefThe hint of a life-threatening illness when I was thirty-five years old was almost too much for this young, vibrant woman to bear. In retrospect, I have deep compassion for my younger self’s initiation into this accelerated curriculum and I now know how essential it is for my soul’s evolution. Coming to terms with my mortality at that age was a tall order, living a mortal life while being in touch with its transitory nature was almost more than I could bear and has taken me more than a decade to integrate.

When I really think about it, how can we live fully if we cannot contemplate our impermanence? How can we fully live if we can? The human condition is quite a paradox. This is why mystics acknowledge that being human is not for the faint of heart. There is crescendo and there is de-crescendo, inhaling and exhaling. How do we  be with this human condition that feels so out of control to our egos without becoming completely overcome with fear? How do we not connect these fears with the cultural epidemic of our time – fear of death? How do we hold death with equanimity, as truly a part of life?

What I have come to understand is the only way to hold both is to feel  it all. Feeling the difficult feelings in our culture is not encouraged. Numbing or distracting behaviors are pervasive. Allowing oneself to sink into the grief of this illusory existence, to essentially face one’s fears of death is not an easy undertaking. The pun is intended. In my experience, only by following grief and despair to completion can the heart lighten and the healing power of humor emerge.

Grief is better tolerated than despair, in my experience. Despair implies hopelessness. I guess the question is: “What are we hoping for?” Are we hoping for immortality? It is painful for me to be with someone who is dying, but wants to live at any cost. The ego wants to convince us that if we succumb to these feelings, we will never get out. There are so many archetypal dramas in literature that demonstrate this primal fear. When one finds the courage to bear the grief, liberation is assured. Allowing oneself to fall completely into grief is the only way through this dense, vibrational field. Despair can be treacherous, becoming an impenetrable wall if you are at all ambivalent about your leap. I liken it to bouldering. You cannot have ambivalence when jumping from one boulder to another; you cannot look down, you just leap focusing on the boulder ahead.

Stephen Jenkinson, once the leader of palliative care counseling at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, has written extensively about the prevalence of “death phobia and grief illiteracy – how they distance us from one another, our planet and our world crisis.”

Grief can become a wall or it can be a portal to a deeper way of Being. Once we have come to terms with the illusory nature of the personality as our totality, the fulcrum tips. Only by leaping fully can our toe touch the boulder of the numinous.

“[Spirit] needed a player, someone willing to get on the field of action, learn the plays, take the risks, get injured, play through the setbacks and defeats and continue to grind their way to the goal line. NOT to sit on the bleachers as a spectator…” -Burgess Owens, cornerback for Oakland Raiders and Super Bowl winner in 1980 in reference to me.

Burgess

When I went to the University of Miami for college from Scranton, I had no idea the explosion that was about to happen in my life. After all, I only had one significant boyfriend for most of the four years of high school. He was my first lover and we naïvely began discussing marriage at sixteen. At that time, there was no doubt in my mind that this would be the trajectory of my life. As life would reveal, she had other plans. To say that I was an inexperienced sixteen year old was an understatement. My idealism and my family dynamics did not prepare me for a life of simplicity and joy. It did not prepared me for the suffering required for maturation. Although Miami was not a good fit for my heart, I made it work for the four years required as a prerequisite for the deep initiations I apparently “signed up for” in life.

Early in my freshman year I was walking with a girlfriend and I crossed paths with a young junior who, unbeknownst to me, would drastically change my life. I remember specifically stopping in my tracks and saying, “I’m in love.” Burgess was a starting football player on the University of Miami football team. He was also a marine biology student. I knew nothing about football, so his celebrity eluded me. All I knew was that he was handsome and deep, gentle and loving. I began to tutor him French and he helped me with my sciences. We would frequently drive to the Florida Keys on the weekend to snorkel and collect sea life for his tropical aquarium.

B and II soon became aware that this relationship would alter my life, but I had no idea of the degree to which it would explode open. I immediately called my boyfriend and told him what was happening. Our plans had been for me to transfer to a college in New York State that was closer to him, but my life was taking a whole new tract. Good or bad, happy or sad, I was being drawn into a tsunami and all I could do was let go.

The next two years were expansive for me. Unlike the focus from my family of origin, my first two boyfriends supported my educational/intellectual pursuits. I became the president of the freshman women’s honor society and received recognition from the mortarboard and several other honors. Left to my own devices, I probably would have taken the easier path joining the waterski team that was seeking me out after seeing my slalom abilities. Education had never been my focus. My older brother was the first person to finish college in my family. Escaping the pogroms in Russia and surviving the Depression while speaking broken English was more a part of my history than higher education.

I knew that Burgess believed in me and that gave me the courage to pursue honors programs and to graduate cum laude. However, there was a deeper initiation into the vicissitudes of life that would take me to my edge. Opening my heart to this young, charismatic, and idealistic man transported me into unknown territory. Crossing the “racial barrier” was an initiation that required a level of courage I did not know I had. I can remember looks from people imbued with much fear, fear of crossing a line. After all, I was in the South. I remember Michael telling me that prejudice in the North was just as prevalent as in the South, it was just more hidden. I clearly felt the pain of bearing a scarlet letter across my chest not unlike the yellow stars my ancestors were forced to wear. I felt the shame from the projection of other people’s fears. However, this was an initiation I was willing to undertake. After all, the feeling in my heart was undeniable.

I can remember that day I looked at Burgess and no longer saw a black person looking at me. This was the young man I loved with all my heart. I didn’t realize the depth of initiation I was undergoing.

And now, forty years later we have reconnected on a soul level. We are revisiting the influence that connection had in our lives during such formative years. Despite Burgess and me practicing completely different religions and ideologies, there is still a spiritual connection that transcends the social constructs that would otherwise force separation.

After forty years we are reconciling our differences and acknowledging both the idealism of our youth and the excavations we have courageously and willingly undergone building bridges instead of walls in our hearts. I know these bridges will filter down to our children and our grandchildren to affect a world that is more inclusive.

Sharing what we have learned over the last forty years and revisiting our limitations from the past is bringing a healing that would otherwise have been unimaginable to me. Saying the things to each other we were too immature to grasp at that age has brought a deep level of completion and clarity.

When I crossed the racial boundaries, I opened up a level of empathy for the vulnerability and potential terror a mother of African-American children feels; I opened my heart to the multicultural families I would work with in my career. Burgess and I raised our children to cross cultural lines as well, and to not just believe in diversity, but to live it, to marry people of different cultures, giving birth to grandchildren who have the courage to bring in the New World.

These personal communications between Burgess and me are not just healing our human hearts, but they are changing the world, or they are showing us how we have already changed the world.