December 6, 2018
“The amazing feeling of being alive beautifully conquers the fear of death” ― Munia Khan
“Do you want to live?” was the first question I asked my friend Walt. It was 20 years ago that he came to me for spiritual guidance when he was on the transplant list. His health had been rapidly declining, and a new liver is what would save him, medically speaking. We both knew that a spiritual conversation needed to happen first. What that conversation was, neither of us had a clue. As an anam cara, a soul friend, I was prepared to listen deeply, and mirror back to him what I perceived as the greater truth.
After a centering prayer, we both opened our eyes and just stared at one another. Neither of us knew how to begin. After a period of silence, I heard myself ask, “Do you want to live?” Walt’s candid reply, “I don’t know.” Thus began a profound dialogue that would last for several months, and even years. A man of faith and compassion, Walt felt uncomfortable knowing that his chance of survival rested on the fate of another. Someone would have to die in order for Walt to live. Was he worthy of this?
During one particular session, I offered a meditation to help Walt connect with the present moment. After several minutes, Walt interrupted with a provocative question, “What does it mean to be present?”
I realized that I often used words like “in the present moment,” or “let us all be present.” What did I mean by that? So began a lesson for both of us.
To be present, to me, means to have awareness of all that is around and within. If someone took a photograph of this very moment, what would it show? As I write this, I am aware of the waning daylight. I see that the walls of my office are green. I notice that my hands are cold, and that my neck is warm. Artificial light makes the room bright on this dark December day. I sit up straighter, I smile. I am fully present.
What percentage of you is present in this moment?
When I am not present, which is a challenge all humans face, I am disconnected from myself, from others, and from life itself. How could Walt know what he really wanted if he was cursing the past (because of liver failure) or projecting out into the future (when am I going to die)? We can easily get paralyzed between past and future. What lies between is the present moment, a notion saints and sages have preached since the beginning of time: Be Here Now!
For months Walt and I would meet and explore his inner thoughts and feelings about the nature of life and death, and the many moments in between. I marveled at his stories of experiencing exquisite present moments, most often in nature. He discovered that trees are alive, squirrels are lively, and the laughter this brings him makes him feel totally alive.
Walt’s health continued a rocky path, as he held his breath in anticipation of receiving a new liver. When a year passed, and another, we both marveled that a donor liver had not presented itself, nor had his health declined in a life-threatening way. He was holding steady. Surprisingly, a third year passed. Walt had a few more health complications that called for surgery and hospital stays. Through it all, he remained present and engaged, embracing his aliveness.
At one point, ten years later, Walt was then too healthy to be on the transplant list. He cherished his aliveness for ten more years. His doctors were stunned, noting how many close calls he had. Walt and I knew the best medicine of all—being true to one’s self by claiming our aliveness. He stepped into the river of his life. He embraced living in the soul. He gave thanks for being alive.
I last saw Walt on November 8th to go over his wishes for an eventual celebration of life ceremony. Last weekend, on December 2nd, early in the morning, Walt finally made his transition. Because I was away over the weekend, the day before his partner held the phone up to Walt’s ear so I could say farewell. I’m told it was a peaceful passing, yet when I heard the news I burst into tears. Even through my tears, I chuckled, because, with Walt as my guide on the other side of the veils, I felt very alive in that moment. Thank you, Walt, for showing me what life is really about. Being alive and knowing it. Every day. With every thought and every breath, as best we can.
RIP my anam cara.
Take a moment and treat yourself to this viral video of a Baby’s Reaction to seeing holiday lights. Now that’s being present!!!!