Tag Archives: death

Stupid, Useless, Guilty! A Tribute.

My friend died.  I hadn’t seen her in awhile as we travel in different directions most of the time. She had spent much of the last years caring for her sick mother and sister a few hours away in Birmingham.

I took a too rare trip to my yoga home a few months ago and she was there.

“It’s been too long, how are you?”

“I just found out I have stage four cancer! Can you believe it?” She waved her hand over herself. “Me!”

She didn’t whisper as people with horrific news often do. She shouted it out as if to dispel it by force. We are all friends there after all.

She was astonished by the possibility of a clean life fostering that disease. She is a calm and capable and happy woman. She teaches restorative yoga and heals students with singing bowls. She is a painter, an artist who lives an artful life. Who lived an artful life.

She had digestive issues and found there was cancer there that had metastasized. She felt so fine I think she believed she would denounce that cancer and send it running. I believed that.

She suffered through chemotherapy, lost her hair, kept going to the studio and kept teaching her own classes. Her hair grew back. She had another art show.  She had departed from her signature work to something more formed, brighter and simpler. She offered a spread of the same favorite foods she always served. Other than the show being in her yoga studio rather than the usual gallery, all seemed status quo. She was lively, resplendent.  I thought she was mending.

A month or so went by that we didn’t cross paths again.

I got the news by a group mailing. At first it seemed untrue. Surely I would have known a different way. She and I had shared yoga time and painting time and healing time together. My bookmarks are all the birthday cards she made me over the years.

She had been on my mind daily as it’s the Jewish holidays and she is an observant Jew, one of my few Jewish friends who feel what I feel right now. This is a heavy holiday as it heralds a week of reflection and forgiveness. I can’t say why I felt it portend to something heavy with her but I did. She died on the Jewish New Year.

I chanted all I could remember of Yizkor, the Mourner’s Kaddish for the dead. Yizkor means remember. I lit a candle beside a wool basket she had made me filled with her signature painted sculptures.

I called a friend who was her student to tell him. He already knew.

I said, I don’t know what to do. I feel stupid and useless and guilty.

Chris, always a wise guy said, hey that’s a great hook for your business card.  

I was grateful for the laugh.

And the perspective.

I have the flu. I thought I was past it but a night of grief and memories left my lungs with lead weights and a brain sodden and spongy. I will blame my self deprecation on that.

I am not stupid or useless. And maybe I’m guilty of not living a life as full of potential as she did and as she saw in me. And maybe I was guilty of believing she would live and not sending her flowers or cards as I did my last friend that died in a similar way. I had a heads up with that friend that she was not for this world. I had heard Kaaren was challenged again but I knew she was still teaching and wrongly assumed she would go on.

It’s still hot in Nashville. There’s a dry breeze in the slowly dying trees that tells us things have changed despite the temperature.

I slowly walk my dogs on fully stretched leashes. The puppy is pulling me forward. The elderly dog holding me back. This feels like limbo and I note the irony of my observation.

So much more time is behind than before me. To move directionless is wasted time. It is a prison.

What could be crueler than to be a being conscious of your own inevitable demise? We are all on death row. We know the history of death. But all of nature screams keep moving and to scorn that is to scorn life itself.

When loved ones pass they leave us the gift of gratitude for each free breath. Yizkor also upholds that the soul gains additional merit if the memory of its, of her, good deeds spur loved ones to improve their ways.

Kaaren Hirschowitz Engel, you continue to inspire me as you always did. Though life ends, the legacy of you who nourished everyone you touched lives on with us.

May you rest in peace.



Filed under family, Healing, meditation, nature, new age enlightenment, social commentary, yoga, yoga wisdom

Powerless: Full Moon Monsoon or the New Normal?

Nineteen states besieged and battered,

eight million- plus left powerless.

Rescuers, first responders and reporters calling the shots,

a presidential race goes on and 49 babies born.

Without energy, without power, without clout,

we wait in the dark as cold settles in;

candles burning, milk slowly souring in a tepid fridge.

But not for that are we powerless!

or the dead metal boxes lying un-resuscitated on tables beside impotent outlets

but for silent screams that fall on deaf politician’s ears.

Save the suffering, slowly suffocating in deep shifting waters

where fallout settles and temperatures rise.

One degree more can take me to bed.

Should I be surprised that it alters our mother?

The wind screams and incites the water to battle.

Can you hear?

Born of this grit and wind and water rising as material from the material world,

will I need someone else to give me the news that I am dying or will I know?

And what about this place that raised me?

Do I dare to know what I know?

I feel the food that feeds or frets my cells,

remember the taste of clean air and free water.

It matters, does it not?

Powerless to stop the well-heeled gatekeepers

who pollute the skies, tarnish the food, and degrade the seeds.

They poison the livestock with hormones and wrong food and vile habitat;

poison our children nourished by that.

Powerless to protect ourselves from ourselves:

We paved this ghostly road away from home.

Guardians press back while others sniff at the folly of facing the rising seas.

Romney manufactures a benevolent twinkle for the viewers’ eyes;

Obama, you poor silly Don Quixote.

Don’t talk of climate change when we are homeless. Just ensure our minimum wage.

We are frightened of what we can see.

Keep us that way and we won’t notice the rising sea.

Powerless, running through the pitch and silent night, empty of commerce’s hum and roar,

noticed only by its absence.

Powerless to progress, powerless to return: Is this the rut we rest in?

There’s no glory in that.

By this candle’s light in the gloaming of disaster, in the wake of apocalypse,

there is nothing left but a reflecting pool.

Many miniscule choices of many people matter every minute.

This is the power, not flashy but magnificent.

We have choices and we do care.

Eyes adjust

to see in the dark.

re-posted on Rebelle Society, www.rebellesociety.com


Filed under new age enlightenment, poetry, politcal action, social action, social commentary, Uncategorized, yoga

Crashing The Funeral Line

……It’s the sharp knife of a short life
Well, I’ve had
just enough time – “If I Die Young”, The Band Perry

It’s neither rush hour nor school closing time so I’m surprised by the swell of traffic as I head down the road to class. I’m in my usual hurry. I don’t linger in cars. On a wet grey day in Nashville it’s mandatory to use headlamps so I don’t think see anything unusual about the stream of white beams. I look for police lights in the distance to signal an accident or stalled car but see nothing. I think the school I’m approaching may be having an event. I need to get across a couple of lanes to take a right turn and cut through the traffic to discover I’m in the middle of a funeral procession.

I’m horrified that I just disrespected the dead and grieving and more than a little chagrined to note that I’m driving a car that marks me in a red Subaru with RBLYOGA plates and Active Yoga plastered in a sign across the back window that was a gift from a student long ago. Nice, I think, look at the yoga teacher crashing the funeral line:  Very nice.

Nashville takes its dead seriously.  As the deceased makes the final tour, traffic stops in both directions and waits for the last car to pass.  A police escort leads the procession but does not stop traffic. It just stops. It’s the only instance I can think of where strangers routinely stop short in their tracks for an isolated moment of collective silence. The bond of being a lone observer whispering, “Rest in peace” to a passing stranger amongst a random scattering of other strangers doing the same, has a profound effect on me.  I ‘m alone and connected; both stranger and comrade in a moment of tender respect that I imagine even the newly departed can feel.

I pay no mind to the strangers that pass me in cars every day, all day but the gravitas of one passing once gone, stops me in my tracks. And why is that? Does death make us bigger than life? Where people are ambiguous in life, they seem most definite in death.

Funny when you’re dead how people start listening

I’m in a Bones workshop in an old church meeting room. There is an orange traffic cone sitting on the floor by the door. It says FUNERAL. We are lying on the floor urged to be as still as the waking dead. The teacher asks us to move thoughtfully. She tells us her teacher who created the Bones work, Ruthie Alon, says; don’t think you know this leg. You don’t know this leg! I silently agree that you don’t know much of this body or even this mind as it’s constantly changing and by that logic you don’t entirely know anyone else either, even those closest to you.

A friends’ twenty year old son died from a combination of alcohol and pills at a fraternity party last weekend.  He was twenty. I met him but I didn’t know him. I think of my own sons, of my friends sons. Don’t think we know these boys. We don’t know them. I can’t get the words of the death song out of my mind. The lyrics playing in my head all night are driving me crazy. I’m putting them here to be rid of them though this was not the intention of this writing when I began it.

It’s the sharp knife of a short life

Well I’ve had

Just enough time

My son’s friend and band mate, also the child of a friend of mine is INCARCERATED. He is twenty. He held up a friend’s mother with a fake gun after taking a bottle of anti-depressants. He apologized the next day and gave the money back but charges were pressed. He’s on the second of seven years. I spoke to his mother last week who says she isn’t sure she can stand her life anymore. She tells me she feels like a pariah. She’s the mother of a convict. People stay away. But they don’t know this beautiful woman. Don’t even think they do. The lyrics in my head accompany her story as she goes on.

Life ain’t always what you think it ought to be…

Sharp knife of a short life

Well I’ve had just enough…….

I tell her about the other boy who overdosed and say that at least her son is alive. She tells me she’s not so sure. She says she doesn’t even know him anymore though she sees him every week. She says that he’s a drug addict and she’s not sure that he’s clean in jail. She’s not sure his life isn’t over. She’s not sure he’s entirely alive.

He did not have enough time and you don’t know this boy, this sweet, creative, mess of a boy. We wrote letters to the blind eyes of the justice system. Don’t think you know this boy, you don’t know him.

I wasn’t raised with the bait of Heaven or the threat of Hell. Heaven was a life well lived and Hell was a guilty conscience. I don’t know much of death. My curious morbidity makes me choose the better way to deal with a loved one’s remains. I contemplate earth, fire and water and comfort myself that we are all of those and might do well do be consumed by any of them in the end. But I don’t know and I think I don’t know this life and I don’t know this death either.

Whether we’re uncertain how to make the most of ourselves to make the most of this life or what happens when we leave there are messages and messengers to help us. They beg our attention.

My friend Sandy has been called to help several friends pass from this life. She told me of the passing of a local musician whose wife had gone two months prior. Sandy saw his face slowly change as death began. She saw a light around him then and then there was another light and in it his deceased wife. She came for him and they were gone.

My friend Preston sat at his grandfather’s death bed with his hand on the old man’s chest. He asked his grandfather for a sign from the other side. Grandfather’s eyes turned a brilliant blue, and Preston says he felt his grandfather shoot through his arm and pass through him.

My own grandparents followed each other out of here in their 90’s a couple of years apart. I was not there for either of their last days and even much in their last years. But awhile after my grandfather went they came to me in a dream. It was funny to me that my elegant grandparents were driving a Volkswagen bus! They seemed really happy and although I remember being a little worried they were coming for me I later thought they were letting me know the bus would be there when I was ready. Just a dream but…..I don’t know. Most of us have heard some after life account or imagining.

Where people are ambiguous in life, they seem definite in death but it’s the definite of a clock that has stopped ticking. It seems definite because we notice it. It seems definite because we are no longer slippery or changing. But we are not definite at all. Don’t think we know this soul, we don’t know this soul! We are bigger than life. While we are amazed at ourselves in life, we are struck dumb with wonder of who we are in death. We believe in answers that we may never know.

When someone dies we stop to comfort the grieving whom we might otherwise take for granted until their passing! We stop to show respect for the life of a fellow spirit. But perhaps we mostly stop to behold the mystery.

roblindsaypictures.com - Radnor

(Published in Elephant Journal)

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