I was compelled the story of the night I died from time to time. Sometimes people would ask me to tell the story, and sometimes, being with someone who is facing death or a great loss, I would feel compelled to share it. I wasn’t sure that I could dispel darkness with my tale of light and love, but I had to try. I felt like I was carrying a live ember and, when called upon, I had to share it to kindle fires.
After I described my experience, I would add a self-deprecating little postscript about not knowing all that much about what happens after we die. It was as if I was confessing to not really knowing Paris, having just spent a weekend there. Over time, however, I came to realize that I know quite a lot about what happens after we die. We all do. We don’t just die once, and we don’t just die physically. We die again and again. We must let go of old hopes and plans again and again in this life. But the reality that appears in the wake of that letting go turns out to be richer and more satisfying than anything we could dream up.
Allow yourself to remember a friend or neighbor or a mentor who has died. Sometimes, the memory of a difficult person arises. In all cases, notice the feelings that arise. Notice that we tend to remember moments of connection–or the painful lace of it. How extraordinary it was to be really listened to, really seen, to feel as if one really matters. How painful it was to be misunderstood or mistreated or ignored.
Death is very clarifying because it instantly verifies what great beings like the Buddha and Mr. Rogers were constantly teaching, which is that it isn’t the big achievements and prizes and fortunes that matter -but qualities like kindness and patience. As the Taoists say, the softest things overcomes the hardest. It turns out that a person can be a bit of a mess, leave much undone, and yet bring something to this suffering world, and to us personally, that is so needed. We need to know that we are worthwhile, that there is an awareness, a feeling, call what you will, that is responsive and expansive and good.
We die and die and die in this life, and this dying shows us how to live and what really matters. If my heart had not been broken, if my dreams had not been dashed, if I hadn’t lost that job or that relationship I wouldn’t have been opened to receive love and give love. I wouldn’t have dared to give up all hope of being other than what I am.
Years ago, at a funeral of a friend, people spoke about how he had been changed by the death of his daughter. One person described him as being like a great warm campfire that people were drawn to sit around. You didn’t have to try to present yourself in your best light. You could relax and warm yourself. He emanated acceptance and a kindly interest in the mystery of life. He allowed people to consider their own unsuspected depths and possibilities.
Allow yourself to remember how it felt to be around someone. Write down impressions, moments, memories, but allow the remembering to have warm, intimate quality, like sitting around a campfire. If painful memories arise, notice the warmth of your own heart. There is an awareness inside you that remembers that is still present here and now. Notice how it feels to let go of particular memories and trust that presence.
3 thoughts on “The Campfire”
Tracy, I am moved by your writing and sharing. I’ve just been exploring websites and blogs and I find so many that are full of advice about how to be happier, more relaxed, simpler, less cluttered, more spiritual. All of this is fine, but for now I’d rather hang out in the mystery, discover all that is learned from living here today amidst the death of this moment, the vast silence, what we discover when we let go over and over again. I love your questions about, “what we might actually acquire when we suffer loss.”
Thank you, Jasmine. I love your comments….”Our longing is our pledge” — I keep thinking of that. Tracy
Far too often we don’t take time to have a simple conversation with our neighbors and fellow travelers. I often wonder if there really are chance encounters and chance events. More and more we are being told that we are creating our own reality, that the quantum mind is real and that human consciousness cannot be explained.
What is unfolding before us it seems, is nothing less than the mystery of all creation. A mystery that takes us far beyond our own imaginations and into the very heart of the divine. We are working with such divine energy every day of our lives. We can literally create our own futures.
But, without the experience of sorrow and loss, without fully understanding that the desires we cling to can often lead to such sorrow and the feeling of separation this brings, how will we ever learn that lesson? How will we ever learn that the power of love and compassion transforms sorrow into joy?
In her great work “Revelations of Divine Love,” the English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1413), wrote that sin (let us name this sorrow and separation a did Paul Tillich) is “behovable, playeth a needful part.” And then she adds in chapter 27, “But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; (Synne is behovabil) but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Centuries later the poet, T.S. Eliot, uses this phase quite effectively throughout his work “The Four Quartets.” In the final chapters of “Little Gidding,” he writes.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives – unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation – not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us – a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
What is old is made new again and again, from out our deepest sorrows, come our deepest joys, grounded in the mystery of love.
“If God, as many believe is love. Then I believe
it must be that our love added to others, is helping
to fashion his one song of creation.
And that if we ever stopped loving, really
stopped loving one another, then the world would
truly end suddenly and sadly with no warning at all.
This is why Christ gave us his two greatest
commandments, and Buddha taught compassion,
because they knew and wanted us to know too.
As long as one single person remembers how
to love and forgive anew each morning, like a child,
then the world is saved again and again.”