Rollo Del Tomebamba IV

One of the activities I engage in everyday when possible is a walk along the Tomebamba River near my home in Cuenca, Ecuador. During this walking meditation my mind wonders along with that of the river. I love the sound of water. When the river is high, it blocks out the sounds of the city and my mind transcends to other worlds while my feet remain firmly in contact with the cobblestoned path. This path for a little while becomes a Yellow Brick Road into my own thoughts and life.

d6ad4d51-30a4-4ae6-a93a-f2c61125a3f6The Raging Waters

The river is high today from the many recent rains. Not a good day for river rafting or kayaking. The real dangers are hidden beneath the white surf of the waves. The rocks are invisible from the surface covered by the river but are still there, lurking.

This was the way the river was in Mexico when Kathleen died. It had rained the night before and the river was rough. The owner of the service did not want to refund the tickets for a cancelled trip so he convinced his river guides and the guests to do the trip despite its dangers and to go overland for a particularly difficult section of the river. The river gods were not kind that day. Before they reached the section to begin the overland, raft #1, the one Kathleen was in flipped. Raft #2 was down river of raft #1 so the guide tied his raft to shore to catch guests coming toward him. As he assisted getting the guests back into raft #1, Kathleen included, raft #2 which was still tied to land flipped. The guide from raft #2 untied his boat and went after the guests going down the river. By this time both boats were in the dangerous part of the water. The part the owner of the company told them to do over land, but they still had guests in the river and could not dock the rafts. By the time they reached the middle of the dangerous section, all guests had been recovered. Then in the raging waters raft #1 flipped again. 

They were able to save all but Kathleen. They recognized her by her helmet going with the current. The rafts were finally able to dock a mile or so down river and one of the guides went for help. The guests including Kathleen’s daughter and grand daughter were standing safely on shore as Kathleen’s body floated passed them in the river. Three miles down river, they recovered her battered remains.

The assumption is she was pulled under by the current and was stuck in the rocks as the rafts passed her overhead. A helmet and life vest did not protect her. She died because someone’s greed superseded the importance of someone’s life. Those rafts should never had been in the water that day just as no raft should be in the Tomebamba today.

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Random thoughts while I walk to The Roll of the Tomebamba. Death is an integral part of life. This piece, however, is about love and remembrance. The Tomebamba is a healing river. As good as any grief counselor I know.

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When Memories Are All That Remain

The other day I was thinking about memories, why they occur, their frequency and triggers. I was walking along the river under my own contemplative spell when I was suddenly hit with a memory of a lost love. The trigger was the back of the woman’s head in front of me. She had the same silver hair, the same hairstyle, haircut, and the same untamable cowlick that Kathleen had. For the briefest part of a second I created this fantasy story in my head as I moved to get a look at the woman’s face to see if by some trick of fate it might really be her.

The body was so bruised and swollen when they found it. The police woman only identified it’s twisted form by her passport photo. Perhaps they had made a mistake. Maybe those were not her ashes in the wooden urn her daughter brought back from México but those of some other body who had drowned in the river that day. Perhaps destiny had carried her down the river and she ended up here in Cuenca… Hope defies logic even fifteen years after her death. As I observed the woman’s face, my momentary hope turned to despair. I felt as if I had lost her all over again.

The memory, for only a moment, brought her back to life in my consciousness. She was real, alive from my memory of her. We forget but memories still exist in the consciousness like on a computer’s hard drive. If you dig deep enough, they are there. I can not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember every detail down to her cowlick. The suddenness of this experience transcends time, but because I remember her in my consciousness, in this moment she still lives.

I recently watched an animated film, The Book of Life. Although it is primarily a coming of age film about a young man stuck between following in his family’s footsteps (bullfighting) or his own heart (the guitar and music), it also examines the divide between life, death and memory. Manolo, the young man, is bitten by a snake and dies. He travels to the Land of the Remembered and reunites with his mother and other family members who have also died, but are still remembered. They are happy to be together again. The new home is colorful, full of music and life because they are loved and remembered by those still living.

In contrast to the Land of the Remembered is the Land of the Forgotten. Here the terrain is barren, everything is gray, and dark. There is no music or celebration because the souls here have been forgotten. They no longer have loved ones who remember them. They are no longer a part of the consciousness of a living person.

There is some element of truth in all myths and beliefs. The lands of the Remembered and Forgotten are easily metaphors for Heaven and Hell. Celebrations like the Day of the Dead help us to keep the memory of loved ones alive in our consciousness allowing them to remain in the beautiful Land of the Remembered.

I wrote a poem which was actually “transmitted” to me from Kathleen following her death. The last line of the poem is:

When memories are all that remain, Remember to remember me.

It might be true that the sprit only dies when we are no longer remembered and enters the realm of those forgotten. Kathleen was as real to me the other morning as she was fifteen years ago. My mother was standing in the kitchen as clear as day when I bit into a piece of bread covered with butter and jam and was instantly transported into my four year old self sitting at the table watching her cook.

Memories are real, just another reality separates them from this time and place. Conscious awareness keeps the people we love and lost alive in our memory of them. We just can not hold them the way we once did.

The Crushing Weight Of GoodBye

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0She told him what had kept her away was Death. But he rejected that excuse—for Death, he said, can never come between lovers. — Maguib Mahdouz

I never thought the last time we said,
“Good bye,” would be the last time.
If I had known, I would have done it differently.
I would have said to you one more time,
“I love you.” Though I told you all the time,
this time would have been different— if I had known.
Our last embrace would have been much
tighter and a lot longer. Our last kiss,
more than just a brief touching of lips.
It would have been a most soulful kiss.
The kind that made you tingle with anticipation.
The last time we made love would not have been
so rushed by flight schedules and other lives—
If I had known it would be the last time
I would look into your liquid blue eyes,
I would have searched more deeply for reassurance
that you were coming back to me.
I would have made sure we had enough time
to complete the book I was reading to you.
If I had known it would be the last time
I would touch you, I would have defied the Lords
of our Life and Death, the very fates themselves
would be unraveling the threads of death they weave.
For if I had known it would be the last time I would
ever see you, I would never have said, “Goodbye.”

Alicia Keys (January 25, 1981 -)

Listen To Alicia Keys sing Like You’ll Never See Me Again here.

Life’s Greatest Transition

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24You are going to see wonderful things that no tongue or pen can adequately describe. Well, when you return to earth again, do you suppose you can make people believe the story of your experiences? Never! Be thankful if you are the possessor of a secret joy yourself, and do not attempt to impart it to others who will only repel and mock you. — Marie Corelli

The Dark Night of My Soul came on June 29, 2003, fifteen years ago today, when I received the call that Kathleen had drowned while on a river rafting trip in Mexico.

Although our views on death were different, I believed if she could Kathleen would try to contact me but I had no idea how this would happen. I was working on instinct, past experiences, or a combination of both. I closed the windows, lit candles, and turned off all things electric except for the music. I sat down on the floor upon a pillow Kathleen had made from an old Indian blanket. I wrapped the bedspread from our bed around me and waited. I looked at the clock on the CD player, as if there was some appointed hour at which she would show up. As if time mattered in that timeless world of which she was now a part. It was 9:33 PM. “Breathe,” I said to myself and closed my eyes.

Kathleen loved clouds and often spoke of those in New Mexico as her favorite. Seen through her enchanted blue eyes clouds became floating ambassadors of radiant beauty. That evening she appeared to me as a cloud of energy. Her edges were undefined and although I could feel her presence in the room, I had difficulty discerning her visually while the candles were still burning.

Her spiritual energy softened the candles and the walls. They seem to lose their solidness. The flame burned free of the candle’s wick and the walls appeared made of vapor rather than plaster. It was still my room but had been changed to accommodate her presence. She did not communicate to me through words but in thoughts and she knew my thoughts before I could even formulate them in my mind. But first she responded to my heart.

“O honey, I know the pain is great on your soul but please don’t grieve for me. My spirit is free. I know you wish I were there and I am and will always be just in a different way. I know you worry if I were in pain or were afraid. I was nether. I surrendered to the river and it brought me here.”

For clarification I am writing our communication as dialogue but there were no words spoken by either of us. It was as if her thoughts were injected directly into some part of me which understood. There existed between us a shared consciousness which overrode the normal barriers of human speech between one person and another. It was a direct transmission of thoughts. This transmission bypassed the brain. There was no translation of thought into words.

The bitterness of mortality is it’s inability to provide comfort to ease the passing of a love one. In loss nothing works except for the loved one’s touch. I could no longer touch Kathleen but in her new form she touched me and surrounded my body with her comfort. I know for sure we were in a realm beyond the small dimensions of my room. She held me for a long time and reminisced of our times together as if it were important for her to remember one last time. She spoke of our adventures, our everyday joys, and all the laughter we shared while I just sobbed in her spiritual embrace. I asked if she would be returning to this physical world at some point.

“Would we encounter each other in this world again?”

“No honey, I won’t be coming back.  There is no part of my life to complete.

“What will happen to you then?”

“I will become part of the invisible infrastructure which supports the visible world. I am now a part of everything you see and do not see. There is nothing of which I am not now a part. I am everywhere you are.”

Years ago when I studied Transcendental Meditation I learned that everyday our lives are somehow touched by the miraculous but because the miraculous is beyond the realms of the five senses it usually goes unnoticed. Most only believe what their senses tell them is true or real. While in reality our existence depends much more on what we don’t see, like the air we breathe.

I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It was still 9:33 PM. The contact and dialogue between us which seemed an hour or more had taken place in some fragment of a minute. My room had now returned to normal. I blew out the candles and got into bed.

As soon as my head touched the pillow. I left my body and was floating above my bed. I could now in the darkness see Kathleen more clearly. She was floating right next to me as a cloud of darkness more concentrated than the darkness of the room. She was three dimensional and surrounded by what appeared to be static electricity.

It was at this point that Kathleen’s arms left her cloud and moved toward my body below us. They resembled flashlight beams in a smoke filled room as they approached my back and floated into my body. I could hear the adjustments being made to my spine and neck. For the three months prior to Kathleen’s trip, I had experienced great pain in my upper back and neck for which chiropractic and acupuncture treatments had been ineffective in curing the constant aching. This night my pain ended and has not returned since.

Then from along side of me she moved into me, the part still floating above the bed, and gave me a glimpse of her new existence. In death as in life she was totally free of any self interest. This state of being allowed her to give herself totally to the world. In this world of absolute space all things existed as energy without form and without contrast or chaos.

Soul is something not reducible to pure scientific interpretation so I am having difficulty explaining my experience. All the energies were separate and one at the same time. There was no “other.” There was no sense of a ruler and yet there was total order. All information and knowledge seemed available to me with just a thought.

“Where all is one, one is all there is.”

I was a conscious observer still attached to a mortal body while everything I observed was free of any attachment. I tried to grasp and give a name to this experience but it was beyond thought. I now think of it as sublime but that word too is inadequate. It was an ultimate reality not confined to the limitations of space and time. It was an alchemical environment of complete simplicity without sacrifice. Time and spacial order disappeared. Movement and stillness occurred simultaneously. Love and bliss were the inherent elements of this realm. The mere fact of being alive was a joy to me. I was grateful for everything. All my senses seemed sharpened. I felt an overwhelming experience of love as if no sorrow or disappointment had ever existed. I know now this is what Kathleen wanted me to witness. In someway she wanted to reassure me that she was safe and at home.

“The soul lies outside of time. It is the undefinable essence of a creature’s being. It resides in everything which exists. The soul is indivisible and can never be touched. In this vast emptiness everything is sacred. The only doctrine is love. It is the soul which gives each of us an individuality. We each have a role in our own destiny though we are all one.” These words were  learned by me without a known source.

Then Kathleen spoke, “Our souls have blended and now we each carry a bit of the other. I’m sorry I left you so soon. Many lifetimes were concentrated in our brief time together. I have to go now.”

“I want to come with you,” I thought.

“You’re still needed in this world. It’s not your time. You will love again as great as that which we share. I will always be with you. I love you.”

She began to move away from me into the darker darkness which had gathered around us. My soul screamed when she disappeared. For the second time that day I had lost her. I tried to follow but was still tied to this anchor of a body below me. I was pulled back into my sleeping body and woke up crying for the loss of all I have loved.

In life Kathleen gave me everything and in death she gave me even more. She took me through that small window of experience which very few get to witness and in Solzhenitsyn’s words “the soul cries for.”

I am no longer afraid of death because of this experience I shared with Kathleen. Although life as we know it ends when the physical body dies, there is no death. What seems so is merely one of life’s greatest transitions.

🌹Kathleen Sherrill August 30, 1933 – June 29, 2003 In Memoriam🌹

PostScript: 2018

Kathleen and I were only together for a short period of time, but during that brief encounter we each made the world more beautiful for the other. We believed in the love shared between us. Its beauty and joy blossomed in our everyday lives and in the richness of our souls. I believed for a long time that if I had been there with her on the river that day, she would still be alive, but death happens. Its pain and sorrow is as much a part of our living as joy and love. In order for me continue to live a full and enriched life, I had to learn to accept this truth of our existence. The greatest joy of life is love, and the greatest pain is the loss of a loved one.

Life’s Greatest Gift

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0What keeps me alive is found between the images, between the words, between thought, the emptiness of feeling, and in the emptiness of the body…there arises the fullness and significance of life…
Basarab Nicolescu

I have received so many gifts,
appearing as presents from you.
The still, shadowy, vapor filled clouds
you always loved to watch—
Their hearts are now fragments of your soul.
The songs of the ocean, gull and red tail,
each contains your warm voice.
The rock you loved to hold,
now embraces you between
its seven distinct layers.
Within this breath—
O’ this sweet touch of air,
That rushes in, to fill me with life—
Is the greatest gift of all.
It is you, alive, inside of me.

Remember To Remember Me

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0There is something in the pang of change — More than the heart can bear — Unhappiness remembering happiness. — Euripides

When all that remains of me are my cremated ashes
don’t store them in an urn upon the mantel.
No love is in that stone — a shrine to a soul now free.
Scatter them somewhere, anywhere, everywhere.
It does not matter,
but don’t save them as a remembrance of me.

Remember me as the soft touch upon your face,
the smile that awakened you each morning,
the hand you held whenever we were
close enough to touch.
Remember most of all the laughter.
It will comfort you during this time we are apart.
Our love is my only tie to this existence,
it lives here still, in my soul’s heart
and in your remembrance of me.

When memories are all that remain —
Remember to remember, me.

Keeping Memories Alive

In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.    — Willa Cather

In the end life becomes just a collection of memories. As we lay in our death bed, the physical body frail, the mind though still active is losing its hold on memory, and illusions begin to take its place. Most of us have already forgotten more than we will ever again remember. For reasons I do not know some important memories remain. They had an impact upon our consciousness because they were usually  the firsts. The first kiss. Our first dog. The first time someone we love dies.

Why do we remember? Why are some memories as vivid as if they happened yesterday while others could not be remembered even under torture? Do we remember so we don’t make the same mistake twice? So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again? Does remembering make our lives any better?

When Kathleen died, she visited me in a dream a few days latter. In that dream she said as clear as day a take on Gurdjieff’s words. She said, “Remember to remember, me.” I was so taken by the intensity of both the dream and the words that I immediately wrote a poem of the experience. Remember To Remember. Euripides said:

“There is something in the pang of change — More than the heart can bear — Unhappiness remembering happiness.”

Some believe for as long as a person is remembered, they still live and have an better place in the afterworld. It is easy for those who are well known or who were heroes to be remembered. We celebrate their birthdays. We study and learn about them in school. Every town in Ecuador has at least one building, street, plaza, or something named after Simón Bolívar. But how are those who are not famous or heroes remembered? Who remembers them after their family and offspring are gone. I remember mom putting the names of the people in old photographs on the back of the picture so that when viewed in the future, they would be remembered.

I remember the people I’ve lost in my life on their birthdays and on the day they passed. I remember Kathleen every day at 9:33 PM, the time she visited me on the night she died. I don’t need to set my clock. The alarm is internal. I tell her I love her. I thank her for all of the gifts she shared with me during our time together and then I say goodnight. It is a small ritual. If it does hold a better place for her in the afterworld then the memory is worth it. Her daughters are still alive and I know they remember her but most of her friends have passed. I also remember her at this time each evening for my own well being. This small ritual brings to me the feelings of gratitude, love, and humility. These are three qualities I hope to always remember and keep alive in my heart.