Though this is my first experience of one, I am suspecting that pandemics radically change perspective. I know it has mine.
In November 1995, the at- the- time love of my life drew his last breath while embraced within my arms. Thus, began an odyssey into conscious grieving that actively continues to this day. As I type these words, I can still hear that final exhalation of breath that carried him back into immortality. I can feel the astounding array of feelings that moved through my body. I can see vividly the light level in the room. The numbers 3:59 displayed on the digital clock. The faint scent of fabric softener on the hospital gown that I had placed upon him just hours before, after what I did not yet know would be the final bathing of that precious body.
I knew deeply that I would never be the same.
I knew that I had been privileged to walk with another soul to the threshold of eternity. Though I wanted desperately to move through that portal with him, I also knew it was not my time. I knew that I was to remain, and that something had become available within me as those digital numbers moved from 3:59 to 4:00 that would be foundational to my purpose and my service.
After the workers removed his precious body from what had been ours shared home, I sat in stunned silence upon the terrace. I had slept little in days, nor had I consumed much food. I was in shock, yet I was strangely vibrantly clear. That clarity included letting me know that for the first time in many years I was really, truly alone.
I was alone.
I suddenly was brought to an external awareness that below my terrace two people were volleying a tennis ball back and forth rhythmically, methodically, and seemingly non-competitively. I became somewhat fixated on that ball going back and forth, back, and forth. I could sense the rhythm of motion in my beyond tired body. They were not speaking as they played. Just hitting the ball back and forth, neither one of them missing a shot. Time stood still as I become mesmerized by the constant back and forth.
It was then that I realized that these two people were engaged in a trivial game of not-quite tennis, while being observed by a person whose entire life had just been shattered. They had no inkling that a life had just ended only yards from where they were playing. They were innocently clueless that a large number of people would soon learn of this loss. That lakes of tears would be shed. That many hearts would be wrenched. That an occurrence of monumental import had just happened. They had no idea. None.
And the ball went back and forth. And I knew in a moment of stunning perspective that life goes on. Indeed, losses occur, and life goes on. People die, and for others life goes on. Pandemics happen, and life goes on. Beloveds, jobs, homes, seeming security is lost, and yet life goes on. Life experiences that will never return become distant and yet a different river continues to flow. On and on.
For many it is easier to remain mostly oblivious to the losses that do not directly affect them. The tennis ball continues to bounce, and the awareness that lives are being lost and shattered are consumed by the rhythm of the game. Bodies are being removed. Tears are being shed. Arrangements are being made under the most excruciating of circumstances. A grieving begins that will never really end. And life and the game continue to go on.
A life changing perspective occurred for me on that long-ago November day. I cannot and will not immune myself to the losses of others. I choose not to deaden myself to the death that is all around me. I will not look away or distract myself from the suffering of others. I know what it is like to experience the deepest of losses, and that has groomed me to stay by the side of those who are entering that tumultuous terrain of indescribable suffering.
By not turning my back on the suffering of others I learn experientially that there truly are no others. We are one at a fundamental and foundational level. Your tears are my tears. Your loss is my loss. Your life is my life and your death is my death. This is the level of spirituality that I want. This is the level of spirituality that I have. That is the level of spirituality that was gifted as a result of profound and sustained grief. My ability to be with the pain that I have endured opens me to be with the pain that is landing for you. It is not my pain or your pain. It is the pain. And there is pain, and there is suffering. And through it all life goes on.
I have obviously grown older in those twenty-five years since my Richard passed. There is far more sand in the bottom of the hourglass there is in the top. Sooner rather than later it will be my turn to walk across the threshold. I suppose someone will be there to make the calls and tidy up the details. There will be a few that will grieve. And after my body has been collected perhaps someone will be pondering my own departure. That pondering may be interrupted by the punctuating rhythm of a back and forth tennis ball. It will remind the observer of one very certain thing.
Life goes on.