I’ve been thinking lately about how so many of us have lost dear ones in recent times. Of course this is always the case, but it feels like not only have we lost our dear friends, but we have been losing some very special heavy lifters lately - respected elders of an ilk that don’t come along very often and seem rare in any generation. Those who seem to have so fully embodied and embraced their true callings, and with joy and grit throughout generous lifetimes of service. I think of people like Barry Lopez, whom we lost this time last year, and more recently Robert Bly, Malidoma Some, Desmond Tutu, E. O. Wilson. There are of course many others, but these are just on my recent radar. People who served the world community by answering their own deeply personal callings, or should I say destinies. Something was clearly written in their souls the way it is written in salmon to swim back to their source waters. And somehow the stars aligned and circumstances allowed for them to follow the stories written into them.
I am reminded of a lesson I learned by making images as a young artist. That the more personal our message is - the more deeply we are able to share it - the more universal it is. Only when we reveal our true selves do we see the truth in others, and how deeply we are all related. An image comes to mind now. If we each dig down as far as we can, we will reach the center of the earth together. To dig deep is to really search one’s soul. We reach up in search of God. We reach down to find ourselves, and in doing so find the essentials of all our brothers and sisters. We can meet each other there.
Are we reaching up toward God to escape our brothers and sisters - and ourselves? Maybe our ancestors are “out there” with God. Maybe we reach into the river of time that has always existed in the cosmos, looking for them. But to reach down is to reach into what is only becoming. In all its messiness it is only just coming into being. This makes it unsteady, awkward, sometimes horribly difficult and yet extremely vast with the potential that exists inside of a tiny seed of the largest tree in the forest.
I am a simple person - a lazy one at that - and so I marvel at these elders. How they had the courage and resolve to persevere with such depth of heart, to carry out and carry forward with grace, and in so doing to allow their deepest ambitions to reach the broadness of the universe. That without concerning themselves with an outcome, they took every step in the direction of their calls and steadfastly carved paths to true elderhood and being world-changers. I marvel at them because while people could see their greatness, they never seemed concerned with it at all. They simply went about their authentic work in the world. I don’t know what kinds of things challenged their resolves, but I imagine they weren’t small. How do these kinds of people make greatness look so simple. What draws them along their threads? What makes their vision so singular? Because of them, I want to do better, to be better. As they leave the planet, so precarious at this time, there are no replacements for them.
But this isn’t quite right to imply there are only a handful. There are so many of these people on the planet. We just don’t ever become aware of most of them. I am aware of those I am inspired by who are in the view of my personal story. Maybe someone I look to as an elder has been closely tied to some of them, maybe I have just oriented to their starshine. But there are countless among us. We just haven’t learned their stories. I think of my father, who was a pioneer in his field but so humble I never knew until a colleague of his said to me, “you know he’s the best in the world, don’t you?” I think of a friend who gave a kidney to a stranger in need. I think of a number of quiet healers whom you’d never notice, of children who burn brightly and leave too soon, a wake of awakened hearts behind them.
I was thinking about those dear souls who have recently left us here, to our own devices. There is something that happens when they go that somehow focuses us with some degree of potency. It can be only a fleeting potency and it seems to me it should be acted upon. They were larger than life and we looked up to them, as well we should have, and saw them somehow as uniquely extraordinary, visionary - irreplaceable. And now what? How can we not lose hope as they will not carry on?
And what I feel is a deep reaching tingle of awakening responsibility - not a need to carry on their work, but to be more deeply committed to courageously carrying on my own. It is cowardice and smallness that imagines or believes I don’t have a worthy calling and tries to let me off the hook from showing up as wholly as I can in the world. No, it’s not too late, ever. As Michael Meade often says, “the calling keeps calling” all the way to our last moment here.
Time being what it is, we should never underestimate the magnitude of a single moment fully inhabited. An atomic bomb detonation happens in a moment and so small in its beginnings. Falling in love comes out of nowhere and takes us over for a lifetime. An idea born in a dream can change the world. What if in each moment any of these is not only possible but only depends on our willingness to imagine, to take a deep breath - an inspiration - and relax into it. I think it is a great letting go that allows grace in. A letting go of rigid beliefs and stories. A letting go of the shore and allowing ourselves the gift of flowing freely down the river of grief that would deliver us to a warm ocean of remembering, to a shore where the sun would dry us off and light the way, illuminating others who are emerging and things that washed up with us as reminders and tools for the way ahead. What remains? What do you see around you? Who are your people? What is remembering itself to you? For what is your moment alive?
If we are especially lucky, we get to glimpse the unique soul signatures in the people who grace our lives. Losing personal friends, especially soul friends, I am even more keenly aware of the unique qualities I admired and valued in them. And then I slowly realize that they were teaching me. I find myself wanting to be better because of knowing them. To cherish the gift they were in the world - in my world - I must nurture and tend to these places in myself. I can grow a garden in my soul, planted with their seeds. I can nurture these unique seeds and in fact I can do this with all those I love, not just those who have departed this world, but those who simply walked through a season of my life. Maybe they left a depression in me - perfect for planting a seed to be watered with the tears of grief. Only to notice after some time passes that it is in myself I can let them flourish.
One of my closest friends left last summer. It was unexpected and just after I had returned from a long journey that I was looking forward to telling him about. We shared our soul threads with each other, dreams and stories and art, and reminded each other from time to time of pieces we each lost track of. I came to appreciate how He tended and cared for my threads, and to depend on him for that. Even started to imagine that he would help me gather them into a proper collection of stories someday not too far off. He was a good editor, and I was counting on that. But I will have to endeavor to tend my own threads with such care and love in the ways I learned from him, a gentle, quiet witness, a generous vessel. People aren’t meant to serve roles in our lives, but to remind us of our own many roles we would be well served to tend.
I’m only in my 50s, but I have already lost too many close friends in my life. And although none of them was a famous, they each changed the world remarkably, especially mine. Each one made me want to be a better person, made me better. Because the truth is, that soul code written into each of us is perfectly and uniquely meant for us. We are all world-changers. Here to bring our essence into the world in a way that only we can, without which the world suffers. So many of us fumble around trying to do what seems right or hoping to figure out definitively what the heck we are doing here for what feels like far too long. Seems the lucky ones just know where they are pointed and go about getting there, and yet I know this is only an illusion. Only they know the steps that forged those glistening paths.
No matter what, I am digging deep with my brothers and sisters. I am giving way to the grief. I will see you there. We will know each other by the dirt under our nails and the sun warming our tired bodies. We will love each other for the signature twinkles of the souls looking out through our wide open eyes toward the horizon.