Last night in Sangha (my Buddhist community gathering) we reflected upon the people or beings who have been our great teachers in life and are no longer with us in body. It was especially poignant because I had placed a photo of my husband, Paul, on the alter next to the Buddha. The photo is one that was taken in 2008 on a vacation to Portland to visit friends. We went with our friends Dana & Jordan to visit the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. Living with cancer was still fairly new to us at this point. Paul was on a break from chemo and we were feeling good about being back in the Pacific Northwest with our good friends and out of the chemo room and doctor's offices. Dana is a fabulous photographer and suggested that Paul pose like he was pushing on this large rock that was jutting out into the walking path. In so doing he looks like he is keeping it from falling. At the time we just thought it was a funny photo but as time wore on and to me now it is a symbol for the strength and sheer will and determination that Paul possessed and the lack of fear that he would later attain. This photo gives me strength and courage everyday. I regard as others do crosses that hang on their walls. After all, the higher power is a part of all of us. My husband was and is my greatest teacher. He walks with me everyday. He is a part of me. His love is my guide and it lifts me so that I can fly. I have a few more great teachers: my father, my oldest sister Sue, my friends Melecia and Daryll. My dad, what can I say, he was my hero even when I was 36years old. My dad taught me that I was special just by being myself and that I deserved respect from myself and from the people in my life. He also made me believe I could do anything. Thank God he instilled that in me and that my husband reinforced it because without that belief in myself I would have sunk into a very low and dark place over the past few years. My sister Sue was freakin' funny all of the time and she expressed a love and care for me in my late twenties and thirties that was new between us. She told me many times how proud she was of me. Besides my parents at these times in my life she was the only other person in my family to say that and I will never forget it because I needed it. When she was dying she was still able to crack a joke usually at inappropriate times about inappropriate things or so we thought but after all I have been through I now realize that they were extremely appropriate. Melecia and Daryll were my first experiences with strength and courage beyond measure. Melecia had cancer and Daryll was HIV positive. These two possessed a peace and light that still drops my jaw. He was only 24 when he died and she had already survived one round of cancer and had been clean for a year, I believe, when it returned with a vengeance. Melecia and I had a special bond. I consider her a gift from the source of life. We met on our vacation to Portland in 2008 to visit Dana and Jordan. Melecia and Dana were friends and when she heard about Paul and found out we were coming she asked to meet us. I fell in love with her. She was cancer free at the time and very positive. She spoke to Paul and I with hope and compassion that could only have come from her experience. Melecia was Native American and I am partly too so we bonded over that. We kept contact with each other which was aided by Dana when Melecia got sick. Melecia lead me on a spiritual journey without even realizing it.
I love these people and am so grateful that we shared in each other's lives. They all changed mine and I am so happy that I accepted their lessons. I find happiness knowing that they are all together in the next life and that at any given time they are walking with me in this one.
We also spoke about transitions last night. Life and death are doors we must walk through but in between there are many other transitions that occur in our lives. Like being born or dying they usually require the letting go of something in order to move forward. I think about this as it applies to my life. There is a BIG picture. I needed to go through my near fatal illness in order to be capable of handling my husband living with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Because we changed just about everything in our lives in order to live "as if" or fully and healthy with cancer I have been able to be mostly positive and move forward into my new chapter of life after Paul's passing. I had to let go of comfort and being disappointed with life in order to survive my illness and I definitely utilized this in dealing with Paul's cancer and, of course, in dealing with his death.
Dealing with his death has caused me to release many things and to take refuge in myself. As we say in sangha sometimes we have to go to the island within, that is were we seek solace. If we can't take refuge in ourselves we don't truly have a grasp on who we are and in the power that is inherent in each of us.
Last night was a night of much insight and I am grateful that I am able to incorporate it in my life.