Beginning With The End
Life couldn’t have been better or showed more promise when we arrived on that secluded Mexican beach north of Mazatlán in 1974. It was Sunday afternoon the week before Thanksgiving. We spent the first evening immersing our youthful awe in the tropical surroundings. The next morning my best friend got caught in a rip tide and drowned. On our first day there, a little way down the shore, out in the surf. He and some boys we just met went for a swim, and he never made it back.
The days following the incident put me on a path of insight that has served me to this day. There were dark directions that sought me out, but I somehow stood fast in a commitment to learn and grow from the experience. Even as I spent those thoughtful hours alone in the camp listening to the immense waves collide to the beach and silently pull back, I knew what happened was not useless or senseless. In an altered state, my logic and emotion became untied. I went on instinct. I surrendered.
There were no shoulders to cry on, just me and the freedom to craft any kind of explanation or understanding that came calling. I managed to rise above the roles of enabler, denier, or victim. Initially, I lived in a surreal clarity as if taken in by an unseen spirit, and then, after a few unblinking nights staring at the stars through the windows in the van, I somehow calmly accepted death as far too powerful to deny and too senseless to fear. I would pull it over to my side, and with it, hopefully, fate itself. Life doesn’t happen without death. I would make death a personal savior, embracing confidently its role in making life real.
It sounds rather strange now, but at the time it was a comforting conclusion. In the wisdom of my grief, I stumbled upon a critical fundamental truth: That the soul does not care about the boundary between life and death, and that fear of death is a self-limiting choice. Over time, as God and Love have found context and identity for me, I came to appreciate how passing away just may be a gift. I held all these thoughts as only a rough sketch back then, but I truly I remember a feeling of an unexplained and gently powerful peace. It felt like wisdom. It felt like forgiveness.
Angels Rush In Where Fools Fear to Tread
My brother in Seattle put my girlfriend Janine on a southbound plane assuming I would welcome company and emotional support. I did, but I did not know it. I told myself I had discovered the needed resilience to reframe circumstance by facing the truth as I knew it. It was simple survival, as yet to become spiritual transcendence, but it seemed to be working for me. So of course, I was not well-prepared for the grace that was being sent to me. A key part of this memory is the reminder that we all have and we all need angels. Brother Terry and now longtime friend Janine live strong in my heart. Both charter members of the angels and muses syndicate. You have yours too. I hesitate to be pretentious, but mine were pretty damn heroic.
The week following Thanksgiving was daunting. I recall phoning my late friend’s devastated parents from the embassy, transacting the purchase of a sealed casket and shipping the body back, crying a time or two, and bribing a fat police lieutenant in a dark creepy stationhouse for a typed letter allowing me to exit the country with the borrowed van. After two weeks Janine and I headed north. I was the worst of companions. In my processing of the incident, I came to believe I did not need anyone in my life. I honestly thought I would just stay in the country and go it alone. Any reasonable person would have damn well just left me in Mexico.
On the long drive back to the Northwest I tested my new found superpower of invulnerability. I recall leaning forward over the steering wheel squinting at where the interstate might be as we sped through the December dark surrounded by dense fog in the Central Valley. Fortunately my spirit guides had advised me to keep awake with a half case of beer that Janine bravely, compassionately handed me one after the other until we broke into daylight at Stockton.
The Me in Mexico in Me
Once home I had a lot of explaining to do. Clearly, in my mind, I was blameless — other than perhaps underestimating the power of the tides and my buddy’s midwest unfamiliarity with the ocean and inability to swim. I might have been playing lifeguard or testing the surf instead of taking a morning nap on the beach. When David ran up and told me Kansas didn’t return to shore, I pushed through the breakers and treaded water alone for an hour yelling his name until a surfer who paddled from the resort down the beach brought me to shore quite depleted. Each time I recounted the tale, I again became exhausted. And again the support of my ‘unwanted’ angels pulled me through. And I am ever grateful.
Maybe it was because I had experienced and survived as I did as a 26 year old that gave me the urge and permission to return time and again to the Mexican coast. I truly felt that after dealing with such tragedy I was completely protected from harm. Seriously bullet-proof. Every five years for a few decades, I traveled to Mazatlán to reflect and to offer some kind of tribute. In ritual, I would sit with the long ago event and meditate on the power of the past and the danger of giving in to fear. Some call that just whistling in the dark. Maybe that’s all it is. But this is the story I tell myself: I have accepted that to know death is the key to knowing life, and that the sooner we learn to not hide from the so-called unknown, the sooner we will find the peace of heaven, wherever we are. We already know what is unknown, we just don’t think we know it. Trust over fear then. Love won’t survive where there is fear. Where do we begin, we ask? Here’s what I have been taught: You need do nothing. Love just is.
I’ll wake up each morning and smile at the day.
I’ll live for each moment, put my worries away.
I’ve heard there’s one true way to heal.
Some say we’re just sleeping in heaven – dreaming of hell.
Maybe the greatest gift of living is dying well.
If you can hold that in your heart — you’re Being Real.
“Being Real” jd 2005