My friend Lisa died in her late 30s the day before yesterday, suddenly, of a brain aneurism. My friend Larry's mother died this morning of cancer, in old age. Lisa was ill with rheumatoid arthritis since her 20s, but no one expected this.the spin of the earth impaled a silhouette of the sun on the steeple
and I gotta hear the same sermon all of the time now from you people
why are staring into outer space crying
I was practicing yoga tonight. My practice has been very steady for a couple of years now, usually without more than a couple of days off in any given week. Because of travel and other circumstances, tonight's practice was the first time in seven days.
In a simple kneeling pose (adomukha virasana) I curled my toes under to push up and raise my tailbone vertically and settle back into downward facing dog (adomukha svanasana). Before there was any verticle movement at all, just in the simple act of bringing the pads of my feet into contact with the floor, I felt a wave of emotion, as if this somewhat more precise than usual repetition of a ritualized physical action was affirming something vast and elemental.
When people we love die, we need to affirm the good we mean to strive for. We feel guilty for getting diverted, for losing sight of our right intentions.
In 1995 my father had surgery to remove his bladder. Recovery from a resulting infection laid him low. He became depressed and didn't want to eat much of anything. He was extremely withdrawn. It was hard for anyone to reach him. I needed some way to make him know I understood him. One morning, I came into his sick room and read from Walt Whitman:
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,The lines, if you don't already know, are from Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a poem about the passage from life to death. When I finished reading these lines I told my father that after I drive back to Boston I am going to call him every day at 8:00 a.m. You need to have things that you anticipate, that you expect to happen at a certain time. I took his lack of refusal to mean that he agreed.
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me.
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
Was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
The transience of the people and water and animals and industry that Walt Whitman sees signal his own death and assure him that beyond death he will know us and we will know him:
I too many and many a time cross'd the river of old,My father's depression broke. He started to eat more. Or rather, his doctor prescribed Ensure, he regained some strength, and his depression broke. He lived about two more years. I wish I could say he was graceful and dignified, but he wasn't really. He did the best that he knew how.
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air
floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left
the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water,
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and south-westward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the vessels arriving,
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships at anchor,
The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride the spars,
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender serpentine pennants,
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilothouses,
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolic-some crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the granite storehouses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank'd
on each side by the barges, the hay-boat, the belated
On the neighboring shore the fires from the foundry chimneys
burning high and glaringly into the night,
Casting their flicker of black contrasted with wild red and yellow
light over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of
My friend Lisa and my friend Larry's mother, each with different challenges, were marvelously graceful. They knew what they were holding onto and wouldn't let it elude them. My father seized hold of it, rode it fiercely until it shook him free. He watched it drift away.
I finished my yoga practice, as always, with savasana, the corpse pose, letting go of effort, relaxation after exertion, the body's memory of itself. Lying still, feeling the pressure of my body against the floor, another wave of emotion:
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the
men and women generations after me!
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house or street or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small according as one makes it!
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;
Receive the summer sky, you water, and faithfully hold it till all
downcast eyes have time to take it from you!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one's head, in the sunlit water!
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail'd schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower'd at sunset!
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at
nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses!
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are,
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul,
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest aromas,
Thrive, cities-bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rivers,
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual,
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers,
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate henceforward,
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves from us,
We use you, and do not cast you aside-we plant you permanently within us,
We fathom you not- we love you- there is perfection in you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.