Yesterday I decided to take advantage of a free weekend and drive down to Portland to visit my daughter. We had a delightful afternoon and evening together, and now, this morning, I find myself in a hotel room, drinking a double short Starbucks breve and reading a book my friend Joanna recommended, entitled "Nothing Special: Living Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck.
Beck begins by saying that we spend much of our lives trying to protect ourselves from the inevitable realities of loss, change and death, desperately trying to create the illusion of safety and security. She goes on to describe some of the ways we do this, and I found myself really appreciating the originality and insight of her observations about some of the particular paths we choose in our avoidance efforts:
"We have many ways to cope with life...all based on the fear of encountering any kind of unpleasantness. If we must have absolute order and control...if we can have things our way and get angry if they're not...if we can please everyone...if we can be the star of the show, shining, wonderful and efficient...if we can withdraw from the world...if we can figure everything out, if we can be so smart that we can fit everything into some sort of plan or order...if we can submit to an authority, have it tell us what to do...if we can pursue life madly, going after any pleasant sensation...if we can tell others what to do... if we can be a mindless buddha... " surely one of these paths will protect us, so that no unpleasantness will enter our lives.
But of course it doesn't work that way. And yet, after reading this, I sat down to meditate and the usual thoughts were crowding into my head, both thoughts of how to "fix" my children's lives and sadness about my contribution to their brokenness (though at the moment both are doing well, I hasten to add); thoughts about how I pursue some of the above-mentioned avoidance mechanisms and then I could see myself slipping into those exact behaviors; thoughts about the changes in my life lately, and thoughts about how defended I still am against the vicissitudes of life.
Beck talks about the Myth of Sisyphus and what it tells us about life, and I could see both how it was true for me and how I was resisting the ordinariness and the inevitableness of it all. She talks also about the joy we find in the moment when we release needing it to be other than it is, but I didn't seem to be getting to that part.
My meditation ended with a peremptory beep from my cellphone; a text message from a friend acknowledging that I'd be unable to meet with her at church this morning (this trip was a bit of a last-minute decision). And then I sat down to my computer and, before embarking on the blog, checked my email. And for some reason my husband had sent me a pointer to a youtube video in which Big Bird comes to grips with the loss of his friend Mr. Hooper. It takes a while for Big Bird to understand that being dead means Mr. Hooper will not be coming back, that Big Bird will never see him again. "Why does it have to be this way?" he mourns. And the adult characters all look at each other, and then one comes over and puts his hand on Big Bird's shoulder.
"Just Because," he says. "Just Because."
"Oh," says Big Bird. And for some reason, maybe because one of the grownups says it, or maybe because when you are young you still know that some things in life are unexplainable, Big Bird accepts the explanation.
So here it is, death,one of those things we try hardest to protect ourselves from, and we are confronted again with the inevitablity of that. There is, after all, no way to avoid it. So I thought, if I'm going to be writing about this, what image will I find to illustrate it?
So, again, I went to my images from Italy, thinking a statue of some sort might work, and this is the one that jumped out at me. Of course! I thought. All this talk of death, of inevitablility, springs from the fact that I'm still grieving for Pippa. It takes a different form now, it's less obvious, but the fact is that her death has opened up that chasm again, and though I've walked away from the edge of the abyss, I can still see it looming.
But of course the hardest part of death is that emptiness we survivors are left with: we all find relief, I think, in the thought that our loved ones are no longer suffering. What if that's not all there is to it? What if they're not just "not suffering," but in fact have found a whole new life, somewhere away from us, a life filled with joy and laughter, color and music and delight? Would that make it easier for us here? Would the empty holes they've left behind, the dish that no longer needs to be set out, the place in the window seat that is now empty, be easier to bear if we could somehow know that somewhere they are rejoicing with new life?
I'm not sure. But I like this photo nonetheless, and I like the idea that it sort of leaped out of the computer into this blog. It's very NOT Pippa -- she was extremely shy and reserved and self-contained, not at all like this very male, very outgoing creature. But it's like the Ohio state motto says: "With God all things are possible."
The fact is that my grieving is really about me; it's not about Pippa. And the fact is that I will grieve until I am not grieving. It is what it is, and my task is probably just to accept that that is a part of my life, still coloring my thoughts and feelings and reactions. And there is a blessing, and a release, in just accepting that. It's all part of the music that is this moment.