“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is
wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s now been two months since my brother died. In the disorienting aftermath of that, and making sure my mom’s health is on the upswing, I find myself slowly morphing back into my previously scheduled forward trajectory. And as my life becomes more routine, I’m often asked if I feel “back to normal yet,” and if my mojo has returned.
Hmmm… that would be “no,” to the first and “I have no idea,” to the second.
I repeatedly ask myself what exactly this, so called, “going back to normal” is supposed to feel like; as if normalcy is a direct measure of healing an emotional wound. It’s a mystery, really. Because you see, there are many moments during any given day when my heart feels like it’s been shoved through a meat grinder, scoured with sandpaper, and blistered by a season in the Mojave.
Raw. Brittle. Generally deflated, as if a crucial internal element is MIA.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t skulk around in a continuous brooding slouch, and I’ve enjoyed numerous moments of pure joy and innate happiness. However, I still find myself moving forward wrapped inside a weird aura that’s not quite detached, and yet not quite tangible. Kind of like an astronaut caroming around in zero-G: Capable of movement, but not necessarily with much coordination. It’s dizzying, to say the least.
On a run recently my friend M pointed out that, for many of us, from the time we hit late adolescence or early adulthood, we subconsciously prepare ourselves for our parents’ demise. Since this is often the time that grandparents, or our parents’ “sickly” friends begin to die off, our minds can somewhat more easily come to grips with that inevitability. We think, “well, they are kinda old”…and “it’s the natural order of things,” right? And because the possibility of a sibling dying generally isn’t even a blip on our horizon, it’s easy to be blown out of orbit.
Unlike our relatively recent predecessors who, unfortunately, had siblings dying off left and right due to myriad diseases modern-day folk have pretty much forgotten about, we generally haven’t had to wrap our minds around the possibility of our contemporaries leaving us before we see them with graying (or missing) hair, Thomas Brother’s lined faces, and years of overuse and neglect suffered upon their bodies.
This is likely the reason that the demise of a sibling, for many of us, cuts so deeply into our soul. They represent a collective us. We connect with them on familiar level, perhaps because they often play a much broader part in the performance art of our lives than even our parents do. In my case, my brother acted out many roles on my life stage, and thus significantly helped mold my personality through the years. The guy started out as my first real baby, he was my childhood punching bag, my adolescent antagonizer, my prized athlete, my unlikely protector, my court-jester, my best-man, even my sommelier. However, his most important role was being my treasured friend and mutual confidante.
And now, he’s undeniably, wretchedly– gone: An energetic and material gap in the middle of the diorama. No longer playing any quantifiable character, other than possibly, as a kind of Marleyesque spirit in some strange Dickensian rendition of my life. Sure, I’ve felt his particular energy since he’s been gone (thankfully sans any clanking chains), but there’s little real consolation in that.
My rational mind understands that he’s no longer a concrete entity, and to the furthest extent possible, I can accept that truth. We don’t get a “re-do” and he’s not coming back. But when I dare edge toward truly coming to terms with the permanence of impermanence within the confines of these tiny carbon-based body-suits we inhabit, I find that somewhere during the free fall of “understanding,” my heart/soul rears back like a horse confronted by a rattlesnake and shouts, “NO!” The void is far too incomprehensible and indifferent.
In “A New Earth,” Eckhart Tolle affirms that, “Only the eternal in you can recognize the impermanent as impermanent.” Obviously, it seems, I don’t have the slimmest grasp (or release, as it should be here), of just how to find my center and tease away the clenching barbs of attachment and tune into the boundless part of myself. And to be honest, through all my study and practices, I felt fairly comfortable with the principle of detachment and its relationship to suffering… at least on paper. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive a passing grade in the acid test of life: there has been abundant suffering!
While putting these musings down on paper (so to speak), and continuing to ponder what it is, exactly, that I’m unwilling or unable to accept about my brother’s passing, I realize I am wrong. There’s still space for his name on my playbill: He simply has a new role now, as that of my teacher. A guru of sorts. Not in a weird cult-like way; but in the truest sense of the word– as one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.
You see, reflecting on his life and his passing has put a spotlight on just how close to the surface the fear of losing my dearest ones has been. Facing that demon head on from this point forward will hopefully soften, at least to a certain degree, the heart-sagging sorrow of loss. Perhaps I’ll be better prepared. Who knows?
This new light of awareness also has made me appreciate the fact that permanence can and does, indeed exist: Love is a Universal energy, and can be permanent in any form. It lives in the eternal part of our existence. And thankfully, when I focus there, I can feel my mojo slowly returning.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last,
but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” ~W. Somerset Maugham