Mourning and the call to fulfill our destinies
When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.
There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
You must learn one thing. the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
- David Whyte, The House of Belonging
It has been quite a month. On Presidents Day weekend, I mourned the loss of two ancient redwood trees and of two of the most important women in my life, my godmother Carol Granger Bennett and one of my most significant teachers Debbie Ford. Today also marks the 12th anniversary of my mother's death. Needless to say, it's been a powerful, deep and insightful time as we celebrate spring and Women's History Month.
On February 16th, I had the great honor of sharing the day with Megan Hollingsworth, my dear friend Mark Dubois and sister Trish Noble. Starting out at 6:30 am, we hiked the 7 miles from my home to Big Trees State Park to mourn the tragic loss of two of the oldest beings on the planet - the Discovery (grandfather) Tree and Mother of the Forest (grandmother) whose lives were unceremoniously cut short in acts of greed and shortsightedness over 100 years ago. After a beautiful ritual of grieving and blessings for the lonely stump of the grandfather tree, we walked to the grandmother tree whose bark was stripped off up to a height of 116 feet, leaving her unable to withstand the massive injury. If you look up at her charred remains from a particular angle, you can see that she looks as though she is screaming a loud, long "Nooooooo!" at the injustice of this cruel act.
We went to honor these sacrificial trees in the hopes that future generations may witness what we are capable of and make other, better choices. Little did I know that this ceremony, this ritual of grieving the trees which have been lost forever and so much else which we stand to lose forever, would be the harbinger for my personal grief two days later.
On Sunday, just as Megan and Mark were preparing to leave, I learned that my dear godmother, Carol Granger Bennett, had suffered a massive heart attack Saturday morning - during the time we were in ceremony. She was deeply sedated after having three stints placed in her heart, and the doctors weren't sure she would survive. So, after many phone calls and much deliberation, I decided to ride to the bay area with Mark and Megan so my daughter and I could make the six hour drive to Ashland as early as possible Monday morning in case she wasn't likely to make it. It felt good to be mobilized and close to my daughter.
Early Monday morning, however, I got the call that they had taken her off of life support and Carol had died peacefully with her loving sister and nieces by her side that night. I was heartbroken. I had so wanted to be with her, to see her one last time and tell her I loved her before she left her ravaged body. I spent some time allowing myself to feel the guilt of not having rented a car to drive up the night before, of not having called her more often, of not having gone for a visit over the holidays. There was so much more I could have done to let her know how very much she meant to me. It also brought up the sadness that still sometimes washes over me at losing my mom Wendy, Carol's best friend, confidant and soul sister, nearly 12 years ago on March 15th, 2001.
Then, a few hours later as I was riding the train to return to my mountain home, I read that my teacher and mentor Debbie Ford had lost her long battle with cancer that same night. I was overwhelmed with grief and shock. Debbie was truly one of my greatest teachers and in many ways I struggled with our relationship. A true dichotomy - a fierce tigress with laser-like ability to cut through the bullshit of the ego, and a fragile little girl who just wanted to be taken care of, she challenged me, called me out on my shit, and pushed my buttons pretty much like no one else. She also supported me and thousands of others in finding freedom in embracing our deepest shadows and creating the lives our dreams. Debbie embodied Love in only the way she could - with passion, directness, humor and the deep compassion of a Bodhisatva.
Debbie, Carol and my mom were courageous, fierce champions for the triumph and freedom of the human spirit, deeply committed to everyone around them remembering their divine connection to themselves, others and all that is. They exemplified that triumph by showing us that the only way to live from our divinity was to be brutally honest about our humanity… to own the ugly and ridiculous in order to allow the beauty and brilliance to shine through. None of them could ever have been accused of living small lives.
As I continue to be with the passing of these three very special women, I have been musing about the trajectory of my own life now that I'm well into my 51st year. Debbie Ford was so young when she died - only 57. But she loved big. And wide. She touched millions of peoples' lives. My mom was only 60 when she succumbed to her illness, but she lives on in the lives of everyone who knew her as the colorful, big-hearted matriarch of our community and a pioneer in so many ways. My godmother, Carol, was 78 when she passed away, but she was deeply loved for being the "mama" of her 12-step community, for being unabashedly expressed and for having a huge heart.
In my musing, I have come to the conclusion that my desire to live past 100 is not so much because I want to have more adventures or make my mark - which mom, Carol and Debbie did so beautifully. But it's because I want to have the time to create as many opportunities to love as possible - which they did wholeheartedly with utter grace. To be of service to Love as long as possible is my greatest wish. And, when I really tap into that desire, I come to the conclusion that my life will be as long as it needs to be for me to do that.
Last night, as I was thinking about her, I heard Debbie say, "Stop resisting what you are here to do. Write this blog, finish your book and Be Love. Fulfill your destiny. All who are grieving the loss of me can say that I gave and taught you so much, but you let me. In the end it's not about me. It's about each of you."
How right she is. We may think we're grieving those we lose because they gave us something or taught us something or changed our lives, but the truth is we did that. We let them in. We said "yes" to their love. And when we say yes to letting someone in, our hearts expand to make room for them and everyone and everything else. Our grief is for the holes that are left in our lives because they are gone. Our grief is for what we haven't done to live better and love bigger.
So, I wonder today, as I write about these three remarkable women - Wendy, Carol and Debbie - and as I remember that day of grieving for the trees, how am I contributing to the world? Who will have felt their lives made just a little bit better by my presence in it, remembering that it's not now, nor was it ever, about me? What will I do with the rest of this one wild and precious life to Be Love in the biggest, best way possible?
As hackneyed as it sounds, it's not about how long we live... it truly is about how well we live.