A Friend Such as Rob, #LegacyofLove

Reunion Sept 2019
Rob, surrounded by some of the many women who loved him

Why are we here? Ever ponder that question? My dear friend Rob lived the answer.

It’s hard for me to write about someone so special to me who’s not yet been gone two weeks from this life.

But Rob’s legacy deserves to be shared. And his legacy as my friend and “brother” is something I need to write, to honor one of the most important men in my life. That’s not an exaggerated statement. Although Rob wasn’t my blood brother, he couldn’t have been closer to me if we had been born of the same mother. He knew me so well, and understood and accepted me better than any sibling.

And he taught us all so much.

Of course, if Rob were alive, he’d be reading this rolling his eyes and leaving some sarcastic comment. And he most certainly would be reading it, because Rob read and commented on nearly every post I’ve written since I started this blog 6 1/2 years ago! He only missed in the past couple of months as his beleaguered breathing made even getting up out of bed a chore.

So, why read this post if you didn’t know Rob? Because you’ll learn something about what it means to live with courage and humility, to live your life to its fullest expression, even, and especially, in the face of a disease that you know will take you too soon. Maybe you’ll understand a little more about the true meaning of the words “surrender,” “acceptance,” and “loving presence.”

And if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter someone like Rob whose unique expression of love for you will arrive exactly when you need it. And it will forever impact how you love others going forward.

I met Rob late summer 2008, less than a year before my beloved David died. We’d met at Sevenoaks, months before we were to start the Pathwork program together. Yet, without hesitation, Rob hopped in the car for the 4-hour drive from Raleigh to attend David’s memorial service.

Two weeks later, I was in this terribly painful place. If you’ve experienced the sudden death of a spouse, you know what I’m talking about. All your family and friends have gone home and the shock of what happened sets in. The going to bed every night and waking up every morning alone seems unbearable. You wonder if you’ll get swallowed up in this grief. That’s where I was. So, I picked up the phone early Saturday morning and called Rob, not knowing he wasn’t at home in Raleigh, but visiting friends off the coast of Seattle, where it was 3 hours earlier. Not yet dawn.

It didn’t matter. He got out of bed and stepped outside so as to not disturb anyone else in the house. He listened. He cried with me. And he let his heart stretch as he both stayed with me in my suffering and witnessed an amazing sunrise over Mt. Rainier. Wanting to share that precious moment, he described the beauty unfolding before him, and he helped me recognize that beauty and joy could exist simultaneously with pain and sorrow. That all of it was moving and flowing, and held by a loving God.

dawn at mt Rainier
Dawn at Mt. Rainier

Rob, being the poet that he was, wrote a beautiful poem about that experience – a powerful moment that solidified our heart connection.

From then on, Rob became my #1 supporter, thoroughly trusted friend, and personal cheerleader.

I grieved. He listened.

I wrote. He read and encouraged me to publish my writing.

I loved to dance. He introduced me to InterPlay – improvisational movement, because he knew I needed this freedom of expression in my life.

I questioned my decisions as a single mother handling a teenage son. He offered his wisdom and experience from raising three sons.

I anguished over what to do with David’s many and varied collections. He helped wherever he could, including hauling shopping bags full of David’s tee shirts – collected from every place we’d visited – to his quilter friend in Raleigh. She made two gorgeous quilts: one for me and one for Davis. And when Rob delivered them, he sat with me as I fingered the material and cried over the memories.

I became passionate about immigration and human rights abuses and moved to El Paso. He sent me links to related articles, financially supported my causes, and connected me to a teacher friend offering a segment on immigration at a private middle school, who then invited me to do a presentation for her classes.

I wondered, with David gone, who would remember my birthday and special dates? Rob kept a record and sent greetings on that morning, letting me know he was thinking of me. Even this April, in the midst of tough nights and sometimes rougher mornings, he sent me a message on the anniversary of David’s death.

quilt2
My exquisite quilt of David’s tee shirts

All these gifts – and so much more – Rob gave me. I’ve been considering what I possibly gave him in return. Except my love. I hope that was enough.

Rob didn’t need much else. He had an ever-widening circle of friends as his heart opened further and further. He had a devoted and fulfilling relationship with his wife Maureen. She was his confidante, his support, his first and only love for more than 47 years.

All this Rob did while balancing his own journey with death as cancer arrived in his body less than two years after we’d met. Then I, along with Maureen and all his friends, received the gift of watching a transformation happen, as Rob walked, and sometimes crawled, along the spiritual path cancer took him on. Not easy for a man who was used to being in control.

In this “divine dance,” as he called it, he learned to let go of his ego’s attachment to self-importance and self-reliance. He slowly put down his roles as a knowledgeable physician and “fixer.”

And he let the Divine teach him to be astonished by the sacredness of life. To be present to whomever was standing in front of him, from a much softer, vulnerable place. To risk fully expressing all his gifts, with spontaneity and joy.

It was a beautiful dance to observe. Although painful, because we knew the outcome.

Still, as Rob demonstrated, no one can grow or be transformed living in a bubble of comfort. He struggled with painful challenges, with wanting to be alive for his newly arrived grandchildren.

Rob_wNina
Rob with first grandchild, Nina

But he also recognized graces, small miracles “happening all around us if our eyes are open enough to see and our hearts are soft enough to feel.”

 

To me, this expresses how Rob came to terms with his “powerlessness”:

“Transformation is not about great spiritual experiences but coming to terms with our own human weakness as we experience it. … [P]owerlessness is the greatest power there is because it enables one to simply be more and more a channel of God’s power and love.” (Thomas Keating, Reflections on the Unknowable)

If our purpose here is to care for one another, to become fuller expressions of God’s power and love, then, Rob, you definitely accomplished that mission. Yes, my dear friend, I am amazed and grateful for having you in my life. What a gift it’s been to have such a friend!

“To be human

Is to become visible

While carrying

What is hidden

As a gift to others.”

 (From David Whyte’s: “What to Remember When Waking”)

 

 

Secret Work

Rumi fire and smoke secret

There’s a secret work going on. Collectively and personally.

At Jardin de Milagros, where I’ve started volunteering one morning a week, the planting is a good metaphor for this secret work. As I gently push the sweet potato seedling into the hole – one among a dozen rows of holes waiting for seedlings – I wonder how it will fare. Will this tiny thing survive?

I have no idea, but it’s not mine to know. Mine is only to do my part and surrender the rest.

It’s a lesson in non-clinging, in letting go of the outcome. Like a good spiritual practice, nature is teaching me that I must allow the work to unfold under the surface, without knowing what is happening. Yet I must fulfill my responsibility in this process.

On a larger scale, I see this unfolding in the midst of COVID-19. I am asked, as we all are, to let go of any attachment to how I think this is supposed to turn out, and, instead, to open to limitless possibilities. To be willing to step over this threshold in the liminal space in which we find ourselves. And leave our egos outside the door. So that we may enter with new vision.

This requires qualities we humans do not take on easily: patience, trust, non-resistance, humility, and self-emptying, or kenosis, as it’s known on the Christian path. Not easy, but we learn through practice. By waking up and stepping up.

For me, stepping up has meant to delve more deeply into body wisdom and other spiritual exercises and resources. To daily ground in my practice so that I don’t fall prey to the anxiety, fear, and negativity circulating. To listen more intently. And to more fully enter the heart space.

I know that I am privileged, even as I write this. I sit in my living room participating in online spiritual talks and programs. I am not suffering, not going hungry, or worse, starving to death, as so many people are in countries that were impoverished before this pandemic began.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic who lived during the Black Death – a plague that wiped out one-third of the residents of Norwich – knew firsthand about the mystery of suffering and the unconditional love of a God she saw as Mother. Like all spiritual teachers, Julian recognized suffering is finite. Only Love is infinite.

And in that regard, I have a significant part to play in this cosmic evolution.

For we are in the midst of evolution. As scientist and Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio says, “Whether or not you want to accept evolution, you are in evolution.”

We need “science and spirituality to heal our divisions, deepen our compassion, and ignite the human spirit toward greater unity and flourishing,” says Sr. Ilia, who founded the Omega Center, based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s teachings of the Omega Point, the concept of “deepening toward a more unified future. Teilhard was aware that the energies of creativity bring with them a certain terror, a not-knowing what the outcome will be. Hence, he advocated radical trust in the inner presence of God and the holiness of the world.”

She says that “Teilhard would view this pandemic as an opportunity to harness the energies of love in new ways. Every act of suffering in his view is an invitation to a new creative moment, a wake-up call that something old is breaking down and something new is taking place in our midst.”

Pierre-Teilhard-de-Chardin-after-mastering-the-winds

From mystics to scientists, from wisdom teachers to ecologists, all speak of the universe as evolving in a relational field that needs our conscious contribution in love. They use words like reciprocity, flourishing in mutuality, greater relationality, a new vision and a new world, a more unified Whole, and a Divine exchange – the practice of giving-and-receiving.

Spiritual teachers like Teilhard de Chardin and the Pathwork Guide speak of how we are “instruments” in the changes taking place in the evolution into Christ consciousness. In Pathwork lecture #233, we are told: “you need to realize the importance of your task from an inner place that is not ego-involved, not steeped in vanity or pride…for a higher cause of the deepest significance.”

These teachers give me hope, and they challenge me, too.

I’m learning more and more how everything I have, I’ve been given. And I am to give it away – not cling to anything – in this dance of reciprocity. A dance in which my ego moves further away from center stage.

Volunteering at Jardin de Milagros, the garden of miracles, is one way I have chosen to participate. Owned by a retired couple, the garden produces 3 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables. They donate all of it to a food pantry in El Paso to feed the hungry. A food pantry that normally gives 3,000 to 5,000 boxes of food a month to hungry families. Now they give 5,000 a week! The garden needs volunteers. This is something I can do as an instrument of giving-and-receiving.

And since I can no longer accompany immigrants at the border, I’ve been practicing a different kind of accompaniment. Daily I energetically accompany someone who is dying or has died alone in the midst of the coronavirus. I accompany this beloved stranger into another realm surrounded by love and gratitude for his or her life. It feels like powerful “work,” emerging from my heart space.

It’s true that I don’t fully understand or know the impact of anything I am planting or praying. But I am open to the mystery of it. And trusting the love at its center. A place from which I heard:

“Take up the secret work. The wisdom of the heart knows how.”