Mahatma Gandhi: “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant but it’s very important that you do it.”
A year ago this month my elderly father took his life ostensibly without letting others know what’s up. Yet, the morning my brother told me, I realized that my dad had been telling me as much for the last two months during our frequent phone calls. He told me not in words of course, but in the spaces in between. In his non-ordinary messages—those things communicated without words or para-verbals or physical analogue. He told me in energy. Women know about such communications more often than men. Nonetheless he’d been telling me and I remained oblivious.
He’d taken as much as he could stand. His death, and its cause, prompted (as soon as I hung up the phone) an immediate and involuntary response where my body dropped to the couch in loud explosive paroxysms of sobbing that were all too brief. Regrettably, my expression was interrupted and I couldn’t recapture it for six months. In the interim, my body expressed its sadness and grief and anger with four months of bronchitis. What needs moving finds its way irrespective.
The thing is, when grief rises, it all comes. All of them. The ones I’d long forgotten, and the existential ones—those I didn’t know I had. Along with these were angers and rages issuing from early childhood development breaches and ouches lying unexpressed beneath the compost of familial and cultural mores and other restrictions on my nature. This year I had the good fortune of having a good guide and workable maps to navigate the terrain of moving my emotions. To say the year has been difficult is an understatement. Though I talked about my dad with one of my brothers, and my sister and mom a day or two before the anniversary of Dad’s death, the anniversary itself passed unnoticed. I’m not yet through my many griefs and angers but this year, for the first time it seems, the gift my dad gave me in his death has enabled me to get to the bottom of things I’ve wanted to remedy for a long time. He hadn’t seen or met me in his life. He never knew me. He saw instead what he projected. A pandemic circumstance I think. One worthy of our healing efforts.
I was prompted by a dream in July to go to the Alvord Desert in Eastern Oregon. I went there by myself for four days in August. People who know me know that I’ve a mystical thing going on and have non-ordinary experiences, and use non-ordinary forces in my work. Suffice it to say that in the desert I had a significant intellectually indefensible experience culminating in an integration and a reorganization of whatever I am, for which I am wholly grateful. I’ve been utterly changed, and so too has my work.
Before leaving to work in Taiwan this fall I felt I needed to go to Kaohsiung in the south of the country, a port-of-call during the Vietnam War. Though the city’s skyline was unrecognizable, the mountain scape was. Attempting to put words to my experience this time round seems something I’m incapable of doing: all I think I know is that something moved and began finding its way back to me. Equally unexpected, the next day I had lunch with a Vietnamese woman and we talked of the war. I had no awareness that I had felt so betrayed in my involvement in that “Police action” as history euphemistically regards it. My dad had been in WW11. My grandfather in WW1. Something moved for each of us this autumn and I am grateful for the changes.
As to the healing power of illness, well, my wife’s recent foray into chemo infusions remains quite a teacher. Lesson one: don’t carry what is not mine. Two: stay centered and grounded here and now. Three: sensibly manage where I put my focus and attention. Four: Keep love in the foreground.
What sheltering Grace this life gives us. What Grace!