March 16, 2013

The Greatest Affirmation of Life: Embracing the Inevitability of Death. ~ Sarah Rosenberg

 I read the news today—oh boy.

The phone call came late in the afternoon, from a friend whom I’ve known forever but rarely actually speak with. It went straight to voice mail. When I finally listened to the message, her voice was somber and muted. There was bad news. Someone had died. I probably already knew, but call her anyway.

I called her immediately. It was a mutual friend, a guy we had padded around with when we were all in law school a million years ago. A sweet, big, hairy bear of a guy. Always smiling. A full-on hugger. Never took sides. Deep, gravelly voice like a cartoon character. Married his college sweetheart. Became a successful lawyer and founded a firm specializing in collaborative divorce law and mediation. Had two gorgeous little girls. Developed esophageal cancer at 40 and beat it twice. This last time it took him. Took him from his girls, from his wife, from his successful career, from his once-brawny and adorably hirsute body recently sinewed and balded.

The photo of him posted on his firm’s website took my breath away. It was exactly as I remembered seeing him just a year ago when I went to get his counsel for my own post-marital issues. I went to his office on a high floor of a fancy elevator building and waited for him in a small conference room. I hadn’t seen him for years, but he was receptive and warm when I had called to ask for a meeting with him, as if we had just hung out and studied for a law school exam together the week before.

His spirit preceded him as a wave of love opened the door and greeted me with a giant bear hug, the likes of which I hadn’t enjoyed for 20 odd years since our law school days. He looked fit and extremely well with a shiny bald head. I asked him about the new ‘do he was sporting, and he just smiled and gave me a look that reminded me it was impolite to ask a 40-something Jewish guy about his spreading male pattern baldness and subsequent decision to just shave the damned thing off altogether.

He didn’t look sick. He didn’t act sick. He looked and acted like a 6’4” bundle of human love in a well-dressed and well-groomed package.

At the end of our meeting, he chided me not to let so many years pass again before we saw each other. Let’s go to lunch soon, he offered.

Foolishly, I assumed soon would last longer.

I have the link to his website open on a tab in my browser with a photo of him looking exactly as he did the day I went to visit him at his office—big, sincere, toothy smile slightly crooked, pronounced nose, warm, loving eyes, clean, bald dome.

But it’s the eyes I keep returning to. Several times a day, each time I close a recently opened browser tab, his face comes back to me, and each time it surprises me; then immediately soothes me to see his face again. I stare into those eyes. I feel the warmth of that smile on my face and shoulders. I hear his cartoon laugh and his raspy, loving voice. And each time I cry. Sometimes just a single tear. Sometimes a well of them. Sometimes I sob uncontrollably. Sometimes when the tears subside, I sigh and smile back at him.

“He fought with the most inspiring dignity, grace, and positive attitude . . . he will be remembered for so many things, but especially his kindness, counsel, and loyalty . . . he wanted all of us to celebrate his life, not mourn his loss.”

I know what he knows. We all do. Most of us are just afraid of it.

A crowd of people turned away. But I just had to look . . .

Why does death surprise us? Torment us? Threaten us? Why, when it’s going to visit all of us, every last one? What is the point of fighting it, running from it, denying it? If we put as much energy into living as we did into not-dying, what would this world look like? If we redirected our fear of the inevitable future into love of the fleeting present, how would our experiences of life be altered?

I read the news today—oh boy.

I am reminded of feelings that welled up inside me just a few months ago following the shootings of the 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut. I had an immediate response to hearing the news of that event, and this response has stuck with me.

I grappled and writhed internally with how to come to terms with such a seemingly senseless act. How would I digest it for myself? How would I explain it to my daughter who, when I heard this news, was still in the middle of her school day, unaffected by the maelstrom, surrounded by love and the daily normalcy of her eight-year-old experience? For this person, whom I love beyond the bounds of my own existence, I would do anything in my power to protect her.

Then it dawned on me: I do not have the power to protect her from this world. I don’t even have the power to protect myself from this world. So how would I explain these events to her? How would I console her when she had fears?

And somebody spoke. And I went into a dream . . .

Then, as if I had stepped on the lid of a treasure chest buried just under the surface of the earth below me, I discovered it, and my power became instantaneously available to me.

None of us will survive this bodily life, nor will we be given the choice as to how our exits will manifest. But while we cannot choose how we will die, we can choose how we will live, and it is in this choice where all of our power lies.

I knew then what I would say to my daughter when I picked her up from school.

I would tell her that each of us has a life, and that each of our lives is born of love. We are fashioned from the fabric woven from infinite threads of light and love and beauty, majesty and grace. We strengthen that fabric when we live in gratitude and respect, when we bask in the light of our beings and project that light onto all that we come into contact with.

I would tell her that love is the only gift that keeps on giving, the only currency that you can spend more than once, the only nourishment that will make you feel full even when there is emptiness all around you. I would tell her to feel gratitude for what she has, to offer smiles freely, to hug and to kiss and to tell those she loves with her words and with her actions and to love everyone she meets because we are all the same when it comes to love. I would tell her that if she spent her life giving love, people would watch her and would learn from her, even when she didn’t know anyone could see her, and that she would spread her love just by living in it.

I would tell her that, if she made giving love a priority in her life, at the end of every day, she would go to sleep knowing she did her best and shone her light on this world. I would tell her that if she lived her life like this, she would have nothing to fear because in her life she would have grounded and surrounded herself with love, and on that last day, all we have left is how we have lived our lives.

We cannot protect ourselves from pain or tragedy or death however it may come. But we know what the present holds, and if we live each moment giving love, and if we show our children how to shine their light on their lives, it will be enough.

I do not know what the future holds for me or for my daughter. But each time I visit this photo of my cartoon-voiced, bald-domed, bear/man friend, I know that I know what he knows.

We all do.


And, in the end

The Love you take

Is equal to the Love

You make.


Sarah Rosenberg runs with scissors, eats with her fingers, and lets her dogs kiss her on the mouth.  sarah lives and breathes as the grateful shepherd of her nearly-nine-year-old daughter whose old soul belies her young bodily incarnation.  sarah’s writing creates fissures in her seemingly hard surface, allowing slivers of brilliant light to shine out from within. She is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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