This post was going to be about death, love and Lonesome Dove because death, love and Larry McMurtry’s masterpiece about life and death in the old west have been on my mind these last weeks and months.
And I’m compelled to write about death because I’ve bumped up against it, and I’m learning from it, and I’ve been physically and emotionally wrenched by it on a pretty regular basis this year. But this is not going to be a sad story.
In fact, attending a friend’s wedding yesterday has renewed my belief in the healing power of love and laughter. So maybe this story will be about death, love and marriage. But more importantly, it’s just a little reminder to simply be in the moment. It’s all we have. But, when you really let go, it’s all we need.
Now, I’m not saying being in the moment easy. And I’m not saying letting go won’t be painful. In fact, I’ve come to find that being in the moment can be the exact opposite. Letting go is incredibly hard. Being with loved ones who die is incredibly painful.
But the paradox is I only really started to let go because the pain became unbearable. The pain was, and continues to be, the catalyst.
And the thing is, the pain that forces me to let go, and compels me be in the moment, and drives me to look at my thoughts and emotions as just thoughts and emotions started way before this year. In fact, that’s the good news. I was given an unmerited gift many many years ago. A way to deal with (and be with) the pain, joy, confusion, frustration, and wonder of life that I was only willing to try because I was hurting enough to try anything.
Up until that point, I thought I could be happy if I simply ran away from the pain, (and the people and places) that caused the pain. And I I tried to run in every way. Geographically. Emotionally. Conceptually. Intellectually. Alcoholically.
I thought “freedom” = “happiness.” And I thought freedom meant freedom from any responsibility or human connection or…”working for The Man,” whoever “The Man” was. And I thought, oh so logically, that the ultimate freedom would lead to the ultimate happiness.
So I simply pursued “the ultimate freedom” which in my case equalled sailing around the world. Or more accurately, attempting to sail around the world (but only getting as far as sailing from Newport, Rhode Island to English Harbour, Antigua by way of Bermuda).
In the end, I’d done exactly what my best ideas drove me to do in the pursuit of freedom and happiness. And the sum total of all my efforts to run from all the places, and thoughts, and feelings that I thought were the cause of my pain resulted in being homeless, and in a dark pit of loneliness and self loathing, on a pseudo exotic tropical island.
Looking back, I see a very sick/hurt/scared piece of me started to die on that pseudo exotic tropical island so the healthy piece could live. The pain was the catalyst.
It’s the same now as it was then. Caroline’s mom died in August. She fought, and lived with, and tried every clinical trial to stop or at least slow the disease. But in the end, none of it worked. In the end, she knew she was dying. We knew she was dying. In the end, her death was as beautiful as it was painful. But it’s still painful in lots of ways. And the pain requires the same spiritual attention now—letting go and seeing the beauty of the moment and most of all the LOVE—that I worked on cultivating when she was in her last days. And I continue to work on now.
And the same thing happened (although the circumstances couldn’t be more different) when my 56-year-old photographer/friend/co-conspirator Peter McGowan was diagnosed with a rare brain disease earlier this year, lost consciousness in a week and was dead in three weeks. He died so suddenly it took me and my mind nd my emotions for a wild ride. But no matter what, the insights are similar from both deaths. Life is precious. Life is beautiful. Be in the moment because it’s all we have.
And you’re in luck. I was going to wax poetic about Death and Love in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. And all the hard and beautiful lessons Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call and the bonafide cowboys that were the first to drive some stolen mexican cattle up to Montana learned. And how all that applies in the 21st century.
But it’s late and we just returned from Dave and Laura’s wedding on my beloved Cape Cod. I’m so grateful I was able to not only be there to celebrate Dave and Laura. And I’m even more grateful to be able to witness a sneaky-powerful love (between Dave and Laura, and my Caroline, and our old and new friends) that’s pure, and kind, and simple. And just look at this video. Seeing not only the older lady dancing with her walker, but also seeing the bride, groom and another family member pirouetting through the frame may be the best illustration of joy I’ve ever seen.
And seeing how we all have aged with grace, wisdom, joy, in spite of (or probably because of) moments of pain, and loneliness, and tears and incredible heartbreak is…as the MasterCard commercials say…….Priceless.