Writing without the deeply personal is not the whole story of grief. To give the whole story, to give as many handholds as possible in the steep climb of grief, we need to hear personal stories. Each Friday, I’ll post something from my own experience of grief and love.
I’ve always had an omnivorous spirituality: I find all traditions fascinating. My own faith, my own practice, is culled and curated, drawn from all the traditions I’ve experienced so far. I lean towards the mystics of any faith, and I always have. Matt, however, was raised Catholic, and had a deep love of the core of that tradition. By the time we met, he’d been drawn to Eastern traditions, finding the places inside of him where those two practices met.
Our discussions ranged all over the place, and it was pretty normal for us to span several faiths at once, as we talked about life, and how we live here.
Just the day before he drowned, Matt and I were talking about Jesus in the Garden – how, even though Jesus had deep, full faith in the world around and inside this one, it still stressed him out, knowing what he had to do. Even having witnessed amazing miracles, proof of the existence of things far beyond usual sight, he was still scared, and sad, and lost.
Even knowing what was to come after, he still begged to not have to drink this cup: he still wanted that outcome to change. His knowledge of eventual redemption didn’t make it any less hard.
Rumi, the great Sufi poet, was destroyed when his teacher, Shams, died. Well, disappeared. Shams was abducted and presumed dead. Rumi wandered the countryside, sobbing, screaming, searching.
Yogananda (one of Matt’s favorites) was destroyed when his teacher, Sri Yukteswar, left his physical body. Yogananda wrote: “beneath a hollow smile and a life of ceaseless activity, a stream of black brooding polluted the inner river of bliss for which so many years had meandered under the sands of all my perceptions.” Even with his faith that his teacher had joined with the cosmic beloved, even with a faith way deeper than my own, when the one he loved died, Yogananda went dark.
With everything Rumi and Yogananda knew, everything they had learned and witnessed and experienced, they were DESTROYED by the death of the ones they loved. It was only the tangible, physical evidence of their relationship continuing that brought them back. It was only in knowing, fully knowing, that their love still grew, that they could go on to finish the work they were given to do.
For Yoganda, it was seeing the resurrected form of his beloved friend. For Rumi, I don’t know how it happened. It’s written that someone asked him if he was still looking for Shams. Rumi smiled and said, “why would I go looking for him? He is right here, inside of me.”
Even with everything Matt and I believed, even with as often as we talked about “leaving at any time,” even for as often as we talked about the nature of this world, even with his friendliness towards death, even after I first told him he had a nice body and he said, “thanks. It’s a rental,” even with the deep faith and love we had, I had, even with all of that – I was not prepared for this.
No faith could have made me ready.
No matter how many times someone tells me, and told me, I had to “have faith,” or to “lean on” my faith, the reality is not that simple. Being enlightened, practicing toward enlightenment, wherever you are on that path – it’s not a ward against anything.
It doesn’t take away sheer pain.
If Rumi and Shams and Jesus, and loads of other teachers from lots of different traditions, if these people, with their faith far beyond mine, can get stuck in the net of believing all is lost, if their own faith can be so shaken, what chance does my own faith have.
What chance do I have to stay rooted, to stay connected with my own all-that-is.
It’s not really a question. It has to be enough. It helps to know that stronger faith than mine got shaken, and went dark.
Edge of the Roof
According to the old Knowers
If you’re absent from the one you love
Even for one second that ruins the whole thing!
One sign of the other world in this town
Would be enough.
You know the great Chinese Simurgh bird
Got caught in this net…
And what can I do? I’m only a wren.