1. "LET IT GO THROUGH YOU."
I was 25 when I lost my older brother (who helped raise me) after a painful and prolonged battle with Leukemia. I was devastated; what I thought would be the greatest loss I could ever bear happened to be my first loss too.
I remember breaking down in bouts of crying, randomly: Like one day I was getting ready to go out, a Saturday early afternoon, and I was looking at the white towel in my bathroom; I just burst into crying.
I was driving home one early evening, during that time when it’s half light, half dark, and I noticed a new Judo studio that had opened in our neighborhood in El Cerrito. (This was during the 08-09 financial crash, so there was a proliferation of cheap businesses to start - a Judo studio requires just a space and some mats, and an instructor.) Huge sign said: "Free, First Judo Lesson." I stopped and went inside.
The gimmicky demonstration, to get you to sign up for their membership was this: They asked me to stand against the wall. They then had 4 judo masters push me into the wall: one pushing my right shoulder into the wall, one my left shoulder, one my right thigh, and the other my left thigh. They then said, "try to move!" You try so hard, but you can't even move AN INCH because four judo masters are pushing you back into the wall. After 10-15 seconds of struggling, the master instructor calmly said: "Ok, stop now. Stop." I stopped trying. He then said, "Now, instead of pushing back, just take a step to the side." It was INCREDIBLE: I took a step to the side, and the four masters fell into the wall.
The lesson was: Don't push back, struggle, against the force. Just step aside, and let it go through you.
My dad passed away this past February. He was sick for much of the past 2 years. Knowing that his passing is coming, I had asked my counselor for books on forgiveness. He recommended a few. I read them, but didn't get it.
I did my own research, read articles, watched youtube videos; I still didn't get it.
My dad was in the hospital for 6 days total. On day 3 or 4 -- he was already almost fully out -- there was a moment when I was standing, along the foot of the bed. I was looking at my dad, so skinny, so innocent; just a man in a hospital gown, in a quiet room. I suddenly got it: I forgave, not just my dad, but EVERYONE -- all of the world. I *got* forgiveness; I understood it; I felt it.
I am being fully serious: When I felt the forgiveness, I literally lifted my shoulders up; I realized there was a weight on my shoulders, my whole life. I felt lighter; I stood taller.
When my dad passed, I was not only the closest to him I've ever been, but I was as close to him as I always wanted to be.
3. "DEATH IS AN ARBITRARY EVENT."
My mom, understandably, was devastated by my brother's death -- death of a child, I understand, is among the hardest things; unnatural, against the laws of nature.
Through years of talking to my mom about it, we arrived at this perspective -- I said to my mom: "God, or universe, or whatever you call it or believe in, gave you 35 years total with my brother. Now, it's completely arbitrary that he died before you, or you died before him, or what date he died, etc. The day he died is just that -- JUST A DAY."
We often superimpose extra sadness on a "sad" event because -- what did we expect? That people live forever? That things never end, or change, or begin anew? It's this extra, unfounded "expectation," that entangles with our natural, understandable sadness, and makes the healing and growth process confused, convoluted, and prolonged.
Things don't happen TO US. Things just happen. One of my favorite Mad Men quotes is, "The universe is indifferent." Things happen. It is us who give meaning to them; and it is us who control whether we give the right, appropriate meaning, or whether our expectations, victimhoodness, or unresolved issues complicate things.
Things don't happen TO US. Things just happen. The universe is indifferent.
4. "HEIDEGGER ON DEATH."
I am lucky that I studied philosophy in undergrad -- it's something I wanted to do and stood up for. I am extra-lucky that I got to study Heidegger — who has profound writings on death -- under one of the foremost Heidegger scholars, the late Hubert Dreyfuss.
Heidegger's writings on death are astoundingly positive -- and ring, very true, to me.
Heidegger says about death, and anxiety (two topics he was fascinated with) -- not that they're not uncomfortable, or sad, or difficult; but that, precisely because they are all those things; precisely because they are such heavy, disorienting, disconnecting events -- they are IMMENSELY IMPORTANT, and IMMENSELY PIVOTAL opportunities to re-orient ourselves; to grow; to better ourselves; to appreciate life; to love; to hug; to forgive; to cry, to laugh, to sleep, to dream, to reminisce.
Heidegger calls these "horizons of possibilities." You're standing on a cliff's edge, looking at the vast, open, massive horizon of possibilities. This is your chance; this is your moment.
5. "DEATH AS A POSITIVE EVENT."
There's so much death and grief around us these days. When I tell folks I lost my dad in February, understandably everyone says, "oh, I'm sorry." But I think, "There's nothing to be sorry about!" I spent beautiful days with my dad, in life and leading up to his final moments. I was closest to him I've ever been, BECAUSE of his dying. Because I knew he was close to his final days, we went on an unforgettable Hawaii trip last year. One day, actually, while my mom was napping, my dad and I hugged; cried in each others' arms; and I said my goodbye to him. "I'll miss you, dad," is what I said before he walked away and we ended that moment.
When he was in the hospital for 6 days, all of our family gathered together. We rallied. We replenished our bonds. We fell in love with each other all over again. I saw everyone in my family step up at different points. I saw new dimensions of personalities, new admiring qualities, I'd never seen before.
Sad, is not Bad. The universe is indifferent. Time is arbitrary. The day of death is just that; a day. Horizons of possibilities.