The Buddha teaches us that we are bound to lose everything that we love and are attached to. And since choosing not to love appears to be a pretty dismal option, we humans are looking at a parade of losses as we march down the path.
Thinking again of my heroic grandmother and her reflections at the end of her life about losing too many of her compatriots and how lonely that felt, I have to admit that as I survey the 60’s, now gone, and the 70’s, stretching uncertainly out in front of me, I feel more and more the pain of people being taken from my world. I recently lost two friends, one after a valiant battle against cancer, and the other following a routine surgery to fix her knee. Sometimes death surprises us by showing up in camouflage, and sometimes it looks pretty old and familiar, like a comfortable sweater that tells a life story.
There are so many other losses that spill into my mind: my loyal and devout Golden Retriever Francesca who stayed by my side for over 15 years, a dear old friend called Charlie who I traveled laughed and traveled with, who taught me that drinking red wine didn’t have to kill you off (in fact, he lived to be 95), Robin Williams who left such a deep dark hole in our world when he hanged himself, my quirky cats Reiko, Little Noise, and Pawsuta, who all filled my life with beauty and wisdom, my tragic mother who drowned her self loathing in booze, my fragile and quiet father whose heart was always frail and who died too young, my giant of a grandmother who exited this life with dignity and courage, and who gave me most of the tools I now possess for leading a helpful and conscious life. There are friends, too, who have traveled on, moved away, and left a tear in the fabric. I cast my mind back, and I see that there are many more departures of the four legged and two legged beings, and as I touch each loss, I notice a quivering and aching in the heart, and I understand how fragile this human life really is.
There are larger losses, too, and they are more terrifying … those of civility and human kindness … as we see racism and fear raise their ugly heads during these months of politicizing. How deep and how far back do the roots of this terror go? The culture as a whole is suffering from deep and traumatic losses, that seem to emanate on the one hand from that dark day in September fifteen years ago when three planes came out of the sky to crash and burn; and on the other hand, the roots of our fear reach farther back to the time when our country was torn apart by the hatred born of greed and slavery. So cruel and blind and deep is this legacy that, instead of our people banding together to understand one other and mend the wounds, many in the population have been tragically splitting away from one another in fear and judgment. Soon we will be called upon to cast votes to choose a leader who can serve all the complex human needs in this country, and there is anger and insult and mendacity in the air, and a sense that the noble purposes of being a responsible citizen are lost to us. Sad, sad, sad.
The losing of one’s dear animals and family and friends, if we honor those passings, will help to expand our human heart, so it may experience more love, compassion, and communion with others. This is what happens if we attend to our grief, speak it out, spread it around. It must not be shrouded in the darkness, but must be given the light of day. We are all creatures of darkness and light, sadness and great joy…
The path is there, but it is uncertain. Our time here not guaranteed. We must hold in our hearts all those who are dear to us, even those who have gone on to the next adventure in the great beyond. We are all part of one another, and it is, in the end, all about love, isn’t it?