Death Comes

These days I am working as a spiritual companion to the residents of a nursing home in England. I accompany these elders in their day-to-day lives simply by being with them. Some of them are sick, many of them are dying. If they are able to speak we have a conversation. If they are not, we don’t. I hold their hands and feet. I read them books and newspapers. I tell stories and listen to theirs. I pray with them if they ask me or I pray in silence if there is nothing else to be done. It is an enormous privilege to share in and bear witness to a life in these quiet ways.

One of the residents died yesterday. I’ll call her Trinity. I had grown close to Trinity in the last three months since I began working in the home. She was an artist and we shared our love of visual art through conversations about painting and drawing. “My aim in life is to paint,” she told me when I asked her if she missed it. She was seriously ill and had lost the ability to use her hands in any real way and her mind was clouded by the drugs and by her poor condition.

Trinity told me that from her illness she had “learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.” I was speechless. It is not often that we hear people expressing this kind of unspoken gratitude for being sick and dying.

Yesterday, after one of the nurses told me Trinity had died, I went to her room to just sit for a while in the empty space and remember her and say good-bye. When I opened the door I saw that Trinity was still in the bed. I was shocked. I’d assumed the body had already been removed by the undertakers.

I have seen dead bodies before. It is the strangest sensation. The body is intact and yet the person is gone. At first Trinity seemed to be there still. It almost looked as though she was breathing. But then it was obvious: Trinity was no longer there. Where did she go? We do not know. The Great Mystery.

Now Trinity’s suffering has ended. And yet so has her life. A whole life that I know very little about. I only know that at the end of her life she had learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.

We did laugh together, Trinity and I. I did watch her suffer. And I did witness her enduring, day after day after day. There is meaning in this.

I am reminded of a piece of scripture that I have always liked. It helps me to remember that I am not the be-all and end-all of everything: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)

Make the most of it.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I aware of the sensation of being alive today? I will do my best to bring myself into full awareness of my Being.



Are You Okay?

Dearest Readers,

Be careful what you pray for. We’ve all heard this expression. Pray for wisdom you get your butt kicked. Uh-huh. Pray for compassion. Oh boy.

Compassion is not something I’m completely lacking but in certain areas and with certain kinds of people I am less tolerant than I would like to be. The Judge Judy aspect of my personality isn’t something I’m proud of but she’s there. The good news is that I’m willing to work with her. I’m willing to change.

Lately, I have been asking Higher Guidance to teach me how to respond with compassion and to remove my lack of tolerance. Just when you think no one is listening, nothing is happening, no traceable movement is taking place, the ground shifts and splits open, revealing the Path.

I’ve been asking for my judgmental thinking to be removed. What happens? I get a pain in the neck. What does the pain in the neck do? It slows me down. It’s a pain in the neck! It forces me to listen. It sends me right to the Source.

What do I “hear”? The pain in the neck is inflexibility. It’s judgment.

So this morning, I go to the weekly morning meeting of Toastmasters. I’m scheduled to give a speech. I walk in. It’s crowded. There’s a seat next to a man I don’t know. When I ask him if I may squeeze in beside him I get a smart aleck remark. My back goes up.

I sit down, turning away from him. I realize he’s new so I force myself to introduce myself. He says, looking into my eyes, “Are you okay?” My back goes up even higher. I say, “Yes, are you?” His eyes are bloodshot. I smell liquor on his breath. I turn away.

My head starts working overtime, “Who is this clown? Drunk in the morning. Arsehole. Arrogant. Am I okay? I’m okay, what about him? Judge, judge, judge.” I hear him say, “You may have just BS’ed me but that’s okay.”

My anger starts to boil. Then… wait a minute. What is going on here? I’m about to give a motivational speech. I’m about to inspire people, shine my Light. How can I do that when Judge Judy has taken over my body?

Something shifts. Who am I to judge this man? I am a clown. I’ve been drunk in the morning. I’ve been an arsehole. I am arrogant. I’m NOT okay. I’ve got a friggin’ kink in my neck! This man, drunk or not, saw through me.

I soften. This is the Path. This is Higher Guidance giving me an opportunity to practice compassion. I asked for it. I got it.

So I started again. I welcomed this man to our meeting. I smiled at him. When I gave my speech I included him. I changed my feelings toward him.

Near the end of the meeting he touched my shoulder. “May I leave for a few minutes?” “Of course,” I told him. Moments later, I saw him walking by the glass door that leads out into the hallway. He was using support canes. He’s handicapped.

My God. Compassion? What about humility? This man was my greatest teacher, the embodiment of Higher Guidance, the answer to my prayer.

After he returned and the meeting was over I shook his hand and encouraged him to come back. “I live 110 miles away,” he said. Of course he does. In which direction? Up, perhaps?

I told him it was good to see him at our meeting. “Thank you,” he said, “And I hope you’re okay.”

I am now.

Inspiring Message of the Day: When we are willing to be changed the Benevolent Life Force Energy of Universe will respond in kind. We will be given what we need in the most gentle and loving Way. Higher Guidance is ever-present.


Dearest Readers,

Yesterday I saw a young girl I know, an addict, climbing out of a dumpster. She was with her mother, also an addict, and they were collecting cans and bottles for refund. She saw me and I smiled and said hello but her obvious embarrassment kept me from lingering.

At one point in time I was helping this girl, mentoring her, providing guidance and support for her to stay clean. She was doing really well for a while but then she slipped away, spiraling back and down, giving up on herself, relapsing and refusing help.

It was painful to see her leaping out of that big bin of garbage in the alley. But I imagine the pain she is in is much worse. Knowing how far down she’s gone to end up inside a dumpster picking through trash to find a five-cent bottle.

I’ve been reading about reincarnation lately and meditating on the idea that we come back to this earthly plane over and over again until we learn what it is we are supposed to learn. It’s an endlessly fascinating concept.

Here is a quote from the book:

“An understanding of Reincarnation not only solves most of life’s riddles but serves as a sign-post for all sorts of questions… It is the sovereign remedy for depression and discouragement and regret. It is the gospel of freedom and hope.”

I can apply this to the situation of my young friend to help me understand it but you know what? It still hurts.

Inspiring Message of the Day: “Love the suffering.” A person might be living out her karma but I can still feel the pain and do my best to respond with compassion.

Buying Groceries: Lessons in Compassion

Dearest Readers,

Conversation overheard in an organic food store on Commercial Drive, Vancouver:

Cashier: Yeah, I hate that guy.

Customer: Hate’s a pretty strong word.

Cashier: Come on, everybody hates somebody.

Customer: I’d rather just be happy.

Cashier: Yeah, happy people are cool. I like happy people. But not all happy people. Happy people are so “on” all the time. Are you pro or anti-Olympics?

Customer: Oh, anti. I’m pro-people.

Cashier: Yeah, people are cool. Not all people. Most people. Some.

Customer: …

Cashier: Well, you have a wonderful day!

Customer: You, too.

Inspiring Message of the Day: I will heal the hole in my heart that tells me it’s okay to hate. I will ask for freedom from the temptation to judge. I will have compassion for those who are not there yet.

Compassion in Action

There is a young man I will call Richard who lives on the streets of this fair city, who drinks so much he can barely stand up, whose face is swollen and scarred probably beyond recognition to those who may have known him as a boy.

He is still a boy, really. Though hard living makes him look like he is in his late forties I once heard him say, when he was sober, that he was barely thirty years old.

I often see Richard with another street kid who begs for change using a pregnant belly to justify the asking. For awhile it looked like Richard and this gal were boyfriend and girlfriend. I have seen her with the belly and without it. Whether it was real I cannot tell you.

Yesterday I saw Richard at the mall, staggering along the sidewalk, barely upright. I said a little prayer for him and then went into the store. When I came out he was being held in a tight grip by the mall security guard. I was in a vehicle so I could not hear what they were saying but it looked like the guard was hurting Richard.

I watched to see if this was true, preparing to get out and intervene but then I realized there was something else going on.

Richard was listening to the security guard in the way that only really drunk people can, head down, eyes closed, total concentration. Richard then swung his free arm around the security guard and hugged him, held him in a tight embrace for many seconds.

The security guard took the hug. His eyes darted around, possibly worried that someone might see, but he let Richard hold him and did not pull away.

When they did come apart they stayed close, still gripping and shaking their hands, as if they’d just made a deal. This little dance was repeated three more times. Richard looking like he was being hurt, listening closely to the guard’s whispers, lifting his arm and hugging him tight, the security guard receiving the embrace.

At one point they even came apart and Richard threw down the gloves he was holding with dramatic flourish and then wrapped both his arms around the security guard in a full-on bear hug. When they came apart, the guard picked up Richard’s gloves for him and handed them back.

It is at this point that I drove away. They were still shaking hands when I pulled out, standing close again, repeating the scenario. I do not know how long they continued to play out this fascinating drama.

What was it all about? I’ll never know. But what I saw both disturbed and moved me. The security guard was pulling some kind of a power trip, that much was clear, but he was doing it in such a way that Richard felt the need to thank him for it by hugging him with all the love he had in his drunken heart, which was a whole lot.

Compassion is defined “sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering and misfortunes of others.”

I’m not exactly sure what I witnessed at the mall yesterday but I did see a kind of compassion in that security guard’s actions. It was perhaps not perfect but Richard was able to receive it and though he may not even remember what happened, it touched him deeply in the moment.

Inspiring Message of the Day: I have seen compassion in action and it moved me. I will perform an act of compassion today knowing the power it holds.