Living and Dying and Everything In Between
I'm looking out the window, down four stories to the Brooklyn streets, where life is always happening and it is never quiet. In NYC, where people are 'doing' like crazy, I wait.
This year, three of my friends died (young) and another is newly diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Each of the three who died had a profound impact on me.
One whirled in and out of my life over a short period, and the time we spent was magical. He celebrated life and made me, and I believe those around him, feel as if we were in the VIP section or inside the velvet rope. He and his partner entertained in their home with fabulous food and drinks. Champagne was always in order. We loved something intrinsic about each other right away. He was passionate about life and love. He indulged himself and those he loved in the pleasures of living. He exuded confidence and style. I believe he wants me to be happy. I believe we can only spot something in someone/something else if we have it. If I have just 2% of his gift to make others feel special, I want to share it. I like to imagine our glasses clinking in a toast and our boots stomping on the earth claiming 'we are here'!
Another showed me how seemingly different worlds come together through us, our human connection. I sparked his interest in astrology. He worked very hard, dedicated to his dentistry practice. Many dentists, especially those involved in academia are very scientific (evidence-based). My friend was successful, caring and enthusiastic. He valued my insight into areas that are not so tangible, some beyond definition. I learned that I'm an astrologer no matter what job or activity I'm involved in. A title does not define who I am. I believe he would want me to take time to enjoy life. Sometimes he would tell me about taking the longer route home on his bicycle, just for his peace of mind. I believe he was learning to take care of himself. He would want me to remember the 'long road home'.
The third was one of the first people I met in NYC. I was 3,000 miles away from the city I'd lived in my whole life and everything was new. He was one of my partner's best friends. He and his wife befriended me, making me feel welcome. He was already battling stage 4 lung cancer. Over the next few months we spent increasing time together and he gifted me the honor of participating in a very close friend and family community gathered to support him. We walked him to and from appointments. Some of these walks were very slow and we'd stop to catch our breath and rest. We talked about life and death and the transition between. Towards the end, he was in the 'tween' places often. Right up to the end, he would have moments of clarity and character, sharing ice cream, posing for polaroid pictures, teasing his buddies and hugging his wife with tenderness. He was a successful finance business man, but good times with his friends and family seemed like his greatest joy. He loved sharing their beautiful home with its spectacular view of the city. He taught me about surrender to what we cannot control, for ourselves or others. In his most humble and painful time, he welcomed and loved to his capacity. On his last day alive, I had a conversation with him in my head. I imagined him promising to let go into death, surrendering to the transformation. I promised to live more, surrendering into life.
My friend recently diagnosed with breast cancer is a warrior. She is beautiful, glowing and full of life. She recently intimately supported her best friend through a long battle with cancer, ending in death. One of her greatest gifts is compassion for the dying and the grieving. She touches many lives with her horse workshops, writing and healing. In our relatively short time as friends here, she shows me how life can be what you want it to be. She follows her dreams and manifests them. She finds and shares beauty in everything. She lives from her heart, exposing her strengths and weaknesses. Now, in her own healing process, she is sharing her personal journey, teaching all of us about healthy emotional boundaries and what it means to truly support someone else and ourselves. My friend is making choices for herself, trusting her own wisdom. She challenges me to own my feelings around her sickness and the pain and suffering of others in general. She and every other person in the world need me to take care of myself first, feeling my own grief, fear, excitement, anger, pain and joy as they arise. Other people and situations may trigger my feelings, but my reactions and emotions are mine. Attempting to ease or cover up someone else's discomfort to ease or escape my own is not truly serving. None of us need to be fixed. We're all living our lives, which includes many versions of hurting. Living also includes happiness, love and presence. My friend is a living example of how to be with others and ourselves, vulnerable and open.
I'm sitting with myself today, reflecting on the amazing people who have been, and are in, my life. It's difficult to sit with myself waiting. I have no excuses. I have support. I have love. I'm questioning my own integrity; my own alignment between head, heart and body/action. I judge my lack of action in a targeted direction, my procrastination. I created all this space and opportunity for the next phase in my life and right now, I'm collapsed on the floor just inches from the wide open door. I'm sittting down just feet from the 300-mile race finish line.
Transforming and transitioning through any death, be it physical, mental, career, relationship, identity...any ending and new beginning, is intense. It requires letting go of what we know and not knowing what will come next. To honor where and who we've been with kindness requires grace. To move forward and really find out who we are and where we're going next takes courage.
I have very brave friends and family. Individuals who have faith in themselves and in their beliefs. Individuals who make clear choices, even in the face of judgment and adversity. Individuals who choose to live life the way they like it. Individuals who work hard to provide what they need and enjoy. Individuals who bend, twist and stetch, but do not break. Individuals who are not satisfied with the status quo. Individuals who create their lives based on what they value and what has meaning and purpose. Individuals who are constantly finding new ways to love, express love and be Love.