Monday, January 30, 2006

Integrating Death and Life

I started to respond today to the anonymous comment posted earlier, as I think s/he made some important points that I wanted to explore in the context of my life a bit.

But today threw me a bit of a curve, and right now it seems more important to address the curve tonight. I'll respond more fully to anonymous later.

I got an email today, attaching the obituary of a woman who worked for me a couple of years ago. We parted when the company we both were working for was sold. Rather than continue her work as an employee benefits paralegal, she and her husband, finally empty nesters, had decided to move to New Mexico to buy and run a bed-and-breakfast. So she made the career change, taking an early retirement. And this month, she died at the age of 54.

The obituary, as is the custom, I suppose, says nothing about the cause of death, but does note the identities of the surviving family (and, in her case, a pre-deceased child). So I know nothing about the circumstances of her death.

The email caught me at mid-day, enmeshed in revising some complicated documents. I stopped my day and forwarded the email to several of those who worked with my friend and me previously. I paused for grief no longer than a few breaths.

And I went back to poring over my complicated documents, changing definitions, looking for consistencies and inconsistencies among the various papers, sorting out stylistic edits, substantive issues, client preferences, and negotiation points to persuade the other side to accept our changes.

And it wasn't until this evening's yoga practice -- until Half Pigeon, a pose that I start as a backbend, and then fold forward -- that I even remembered that my friend had died. Some part of my body remembered, I suppose -- a part where I could store my loss of my friend while I churned intellectual mental tangles. And, as is remarkably common in my yoga practice, on my yoga mat I found myself crying for the loss of a friend. The teacher saw my unarticulated grief and rested her hand on my back as I descended the pose from backbend into forward fold, her touch a focal point to my feeling. A reminder of companionship, that I am not alone in my mourning. An extension of compassion.

Following the practice this evening, I encountered one of my teacher training classmates in a corridor. For the rest of this to make sense, I should point out here that sometimes in the class, I feel immensely older than some of the other students. I recognize that that is my issue -- a curious blend of my own ego and my own disappointment with myself -- not my classmates' issue. Some of it is my view of my own middle-aged body shape. Some of it is just a function of having too many loved ones die too recently -- it makes me want to feel old, lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself. At any rate, seeing each other in the corridor, we said hello, and she asked how I was doing. I mentioned my friend's death, and this person who knows me only slightly looked me in the eye and expressed profound sympathy, offering whatever support she could provide. Looking into her eyes, the ego barriers that keep me thinking myself separate and apart -- different -- than my classmates became translucent, and I could see, in her eyes, the light of pure compassion. She offered that letting go is a practice that is very hard, but necessary. I allowed that I thought she was right, but that I wasn't yet ready to let go. She again offered whatever support I might need. I thought for a moment that what I needed most was a hug, but I felt awkward about saying so. I reached for her hand and clasped it, grateful for a human touch.

A minute later, I hugged my teacher -- my friend -- and walked through the evening back to my office, feeling re-enlivened, as I almost always do following yoga.

Whatever the structure of one's spiritual beliefs, moments of grace or enlightenment or connection to the Divine seem to come in curious and unexpected ways. And as I walked back to work this evening, I drank clear, cold water from a bottle I carried. The water replenished some of the sweat I had shed during the hour-long practice, some of the tears. It seemed a sacrament in honor of my deceased friend, restoring the life in me, shaped by hers.

I suppose that there are lots of understandings of "namaste" in the world. I like best one of the first that I learned a long time ago:

I salute the Divine that is you
that is the Divine that is me
that is the Divine that is all things.
And it is in this way
that we are One.

In a way that I did not expect, but deeply desired, I am becoming a part of a community.
I bow to my deceased colleague, to my teacher and friend, and to my classmate this evening: namaste.