Show Me The Pain

Light among the pain.

If only I could escape. If only I could ignore this person. But she’s my wife.

While waiting for the train to arrive, we got into an argument. It’s my fault, but I won’t admit it. My shoulders tense. I glance about the platform — anything to avoid looking at her. We stand side by side, separated by a chasm of inches.

Then a friend arrives.

“How are you doing?” he asks.

“Doing fine,” I reply. A big smile covers my face.

Beneath the surface, nothing changed. The disagreement with my wife still remains. Yet I don’t show any of it to my friend. I mask my struggle.

Later, after my wife and I resolve the argument, I wonder about the incident. Why am I so quick to pretend everything’s alright — that nothing is wrong in my life? Why do I close myself to others? What would life be like if we were honest more often? What if we shared our struggles and our pain?


show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell me you’re human.

Tell me there’s more to you than the casual “fine” you answer when asked how you’re doing. For I know what that answer means. I know the unspoken words beneath the surface: “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to be vulnerable.”

How many times have I used that response? How many times have I not revealed the struggle beneath the calm surface? It seems easier to move on. It’s convenient to pretend the world is fine — even when it’s not.

But the world isn’t always fine. The struggle is part of being human. It’s real.

Is there something behind the mask of perfection? Or have we worn the masks so long we think that’s who we actually are? Have we forgotten how to share who we are with others?

show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell me I’m not alone.

Am I the only one who falls short — who finds victory snatched from grasping hands? Am I the only one who stumbles into the dust? Am I the only one whose courage fails? Am I the only one who doubts? These moments so often make up my story.

Tell me the hardship of your story. How have you tripped up? How are you imperfect? What mistakes have you made? Give me hope. Don’t leave me to face my failures alone.

show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell me the trouble has a meaning.

Struggle is the measure of character. When faced with the rejection of graduate school, the storm broke me, and I had to re-evaluate who I was. Yet when my grandfather passed away, I had enough strength to embrace the hurt.

Pain is the test of my practice. Can I continue it in moments of hardship? When someone injures me, can I still show love?

It is as the African proverb says: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”

show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell me how you triumphed.

Maybe your life is good right now. Maybe the darkest times are behind you. If so, give thanks for those blessings, turn around, and help your brothers and sisters.

Someone — possibly even me — faces the same difficulty you once faced. Will you share what you know? Will you offer your experience, your wisdom, and your understanding? You have the answers. You have the questions.

And in helping another find peace, you’ll find peace. In offering healing, you’ll heal too.

show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell me you’ll seek the help of others.

I often pretend I’m strong enough to face the challenge alone. But I’m not. I’m dependent on other people. Maybe you need help too.

Maybe you need someone to listen — so you can unload your burdens. Often, all we really long for is to be heard.

Maybe you need someone to speak from their experience, their wisdom and their understanding. They can touch your wounds with the balm of gentleness and love.

Then you can walk upright again. Then you can return to peace.

show me the pain
the suffering
the struggle
show me yourself

Tell it here. We’ll listen. Maybe we can even help. We are a community. We’re here for each other.

What are you struggling with?

I’ll start.

###

Practice Never Stops

A practice of tea.

I have a phone call to make. I’m not looking forward to it.

The matter started with an email to a friend. I thought what I wrote seemed straightforward, but he didn’t see it that way. My comments offended him, and he responded with a harsh email.

I didn’t agree with his arguments about what happened. Many of them weren’t true. I felt he misinterpreted the situation and ignored his mistakes. I wondered if he even bothered to read what I wrote.

Resolving the disagreement over email wasn’t working too well – written text can hide the context and tone of a conversation. So we scheduled a phone call.

I pace the apartment. What will I say? What will he say? The call is in twenty minutes.

waves crash and tumble
the surface sloshes about
shaken by the storm
to find peace with your brother
hold the teacup with stillness

I want to give up on reconciliation. Wouldn’t it be easier to ignore it? Or wouldn’t it feel better to take out my frustration on my friend? The way of peace seems far away.

But peace is my practice. If I’m not willing to apply it now, when it’s not convenient, then what good is it? If it can’t help me here, then it is not genuine.

So I prepare for the call.

Going to the kitchen, I fill the kettle with water, and turn on the heat. Sunlight fills the room. I pick out a green tea from the cupboard and pour the heated water on the tea leaves. Standing still, I watch the tendrils of green swirl into the clear water. The tea brews.

Taking my hot tea, I sit down on the same cushion I use every day for meditation. I return to an environment of calm.

I take a sip. I breathe. I ponder the conversation to come.

The temptation to get into an argument arises again, but I let it go. I know, despite his exaggerations, there remains some truth to his complaints. I could have acted with greater understanding. I could have communicated better. Moreover, it does not matter whose fault it is. Both of us suffer.

I take another sip of tea and pick up the phone. Drawing in three deep breaths, I dial his number.

***

My Taekwondo instructor once told our class a story about his teacher. In an interview, a news reporter asked the teacher if he’d ever used Taekwondo in normal life.

“Every day,” he responded.

“What?” the reporter stared back at him. Why would such a kind and respectful gentleman get into fights all the time?

The teacher explained what he meant. The practice of Taekwondo isn’t just about the moves, the blocks, and the strikes. It isn’t about fighting or even self defense. It’s a way of living.

A martial artist does not stop his practice when he leaves the dojang – the place of training. He applies the tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, compassion, and community spirit in every situation.

He practices martial arts for life.

***

No matter your practice, practice it at all times.

When you put your book down, you do not cease to ponder the wisdom contained within. You meditate on its words day and night. You look for opportunities to apply them.

When you leave a community gathering, you do not cease to share the beliefs and habits of that community. You remember the people. You live with their influence.

When you arise from your cushion or chair, you do not cease the practice of mindfulness. You notice your breathing. You bring peace and calm into your work and interactions with others.

When you end the dance, you do not cease to move or feel joy. From time to time, you catch yourself bobbing your head to the rhythms of the song. You embrace each moment with lightheartedness.

When you finish a bike ride, you do not cease to strengthen your body. You take energy and well-being into the rest of the day. And your body keeps building up your muscle.

When you put down your colored pencils, you do not cease to pay attention to the world. You see the details. You admire the beauty.

When you wish your child goodnight, you do not cease to be a parent. You continue to watch over them. Your love for them continues while they sleep.

where does the wave begin
rising, climbing, cresting
where does the wave end
falling, dropping, crashing
it’s always water

Let the separation between practice and non-practice fade away. Become your practice.

***

I hang up the phone, pleased with the outcome. There were difficult points throughout, but overall we managed to listen and understand each other. We resolved the situation.

The practice of peace continues.

###

PHOTO: A practice of tea.

PS: Happy birthday, Jeff. May your day be filled with beauty, joy, and love.

Leaders Inspire the Generosity of Others

Notes from WDS2012.

On a sunny day in Portland, I sat on the grass with two new friends, Hung and Elise. We had just traveled across the globe for the World Domination Summit and enjoyed some quiet conversation before the conference began.

Hung told us how he traveled the world and made photographs of beautiful places. Elise shared how she organized an online meditation challenge, which raised money to give clean water to thousands of people.

Hearing about their adventures pushed me to think bigger – to broaden my understanding of what was possible. Their stories dared me to chase adventure.

say yes
when you’re tempted to stall
say yes
though the action may seem small
say yes
when adventure sounds its call
say yes
and go and change it all
(inspired by JD Roth)

A leader inspires others to take action. She leads the way and shows the impossible can become possible. She pushes people to say yes to adventure.

***

the clay jar shatters
water spills upon the ground
life returns to dust
water, water everywhere
and not a drop to drink
(inspired by Scott Harrison)

Scott told us a story of a woman who, for years, spent four hours a day acquiring water. Each day she had to choose how to use the limited amount she could carry. Did her family drink it? Did she cook with it? Did it water her vegetable garden? Did she wash the dirt from her clothes? Deciding wasn’t easy.

A few years ago, charity:water built a well in her village. With access to abundant, clean water, she could provide for her family. With the extra time, she was able to start a business. She responded with gratitude saying, “Now, I am beautiful.”

With the story, Scott challenged us to give our resources so others could also share in the benefits of clean water. He asked us to stand and pledge our support.

The whole auditorium stood. I stood.

skill at your command
resources in abundance
leverage them for good
(inspired by Cal Newport)

A leader inspires others to serve those less fortunate. Showing gratitude for the blessings she’s received, she leverages her skills to give with extravagance. Her generosity challenges others to join in and be a blessing.

***

do the good you can
take a step to grace
do it where you can
home is a good place
do it how you can
use talent and heart
do it when you can
now’s the time to start
(inspired by Stephanie Zito)

Stephanie told us how she once felt frustrated with charities. Were they actually doing any good? Was it worth supporting them? As an experiment, she decided to give ten dollars to a different organization each day for one month.

One month turned to a year, which turned into another year. Yes, there were lots of worthwhile organizations. And they were doing amazing good in the world. Her gifts may have been small, but they changed her perspective.

She encouraged us to take one step to changing the world. After we wrote down what that step would be, she gave each of us ten dollars toward that action. She invested in us.

when someone has faith
in you and what you’re doing
you go prove them right
(inspired by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott)

A leader inspires others by investing in them. Through her gifts of time and money, she demonstrates belief. She empowers others to do the good they’re capable of doing.

***

on the other side
of fear that dares to break you
is the heart of life
(inspired by Ishita Gupta)

I’ve always been too afraid to dance. But at the Crystal Ballroom, where we gathered for the closing party, I joined in.

Perhaps it was the Bollywood style of music, which reminded me of home. Maybe it was all the conversations about taking action. But most likely, it was the people I danced with – leaders who celebrate being vulnerable.

As I danced, I discovered that the secret to dancing, and probably to life, is to stop comparing yourself with others. I let go, joined my new friends, and had a blast.

uncool
true currency
laughing, dancing, singing
for you belong here
vulnerable

vulnerable
pure humanity
giving, loving, living
in gratitude and joy
enoughness
(inspired by Brené Brown)

A leader inspires others to vulnerability. She understands that openness is the key to love, joy, and life. She creates environments of belonging – where people are accepted as they are, where they don’t have to try to fit in.

***

remove the gloried mask of the hero
untangle from the praise that people see
put aside temptations of the ego
be again part of the community
(inspired by Chris Brogan)

At the end of the conference, everyone in the auditorium rose to thank Chris Guillebeau for the weekend. I watched him stand in the midst of the applause.

It moved him – knowing he affected so many people. But he did not raise his head or hands and bask in the praise. Head bowed, he stood in silence and accepted our gratitude.

There was wisdom there. Chris was the public face and inspiration for the event, but the weekend was bigger than him. It was about the remarkable people behind the scenes. It was about the other speakers. It was about the people who attended. It was about the community.

of a great, strong tree
it may be the seed
but of water and soil
it still has a need
(inspired by Scott Belsky)

A leader inspires others to form communities. She recognizes the wisdom of the proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. She builds relationships and connects people. She knows that leaders inspire, but it is the generosity of others that takes over the world.

***

a quiet, small voice
spoken from true conviction
may inspire great change
(inspired by Susan Cain)

Whether you sit on the grass with a few friends, walk past a person in need of assistance, or stand before a group at a conference, you have the opportunity to lead. What generosity will you inspire?

###

PHOTO: Notes from WDS2012.

PS: To everyone who contributed in some way to what was a lovely week in Portland, thank you.

Give People Their Joy

Drops of joy.

With our daughter sleeping peacefully in the baby carrier, my wife walks with me to the grocery store. We talk about the day, make plans for supper, and discuss how we want to spend the evening.

On the way, we walk by the train station and pass a woman who likes to sit at the entrance. Occasionally she asks for money, but most of the time she just says hello with a big smile. Today, she offers more than a hello.

“Awww, such a cute baby.”

My wife turns toward her to give the woman a better view of our daughter’s face. She grins at us. “You have a very special little girl.”

We thank her for the compliment and continue down the street. My wife turns to me and says, “I’m learning to give people their joy.”

Her statement makes me wonder.

***

What about me? Do I give people their joy? Most of the time I probably do. But not always.

a careless wind tosses
little grains of dust upon
what is beautiful

Over a pot of tea, I chat with a friend about my work.

“I love your writing,” she says. “It’s really great.”

I deflect her compliment.

“Oh. I’m still figuring it out… It could be better… Here are a bunch of reasons it isn’t good… Most of my ideas come from other people…”

I deny her the joy of showing appreciation for what she values. My comments may have some truth to them, and I may have a better view of the weaknesses of my work than my friend. But mitigating her compliment mitigates her gift. It mitigates her.

seeking what’s hidden
digging through the layered dirt
to find only dirt

“You must have used a roll of tape on this package,” I say. “For the effort required to open it, I bet it’s a great gift.”

The person who gave it smiles with anticipation as I struggle through the tape.

At last. I can open the box. I lift the lid and peek inside.

“How am I going to use this?” I wonder to myself. “Couldn’t they have gotten me something different?” Although I do not ask the questions out-loud, I might as well have. Despite my hurried “thank you”, it’s obvious what I’m thinking.

Gift giving can be a challenge. Figuring out what’s meaningful, useful and wanted is not easy. So on occasion, I’m going to receive something I don’t need or want.

Yet I deny them the joy of giving. Their thoughtfulness deserves appreciation. I don’t honor the time and energy they took to find the gift.

caught in a dust storm
i cannot see the person
standing beside me

I sit with a friend over dinner. He tells me all about his latest adventures. He’s excited about them.

“This happened. And then I had to do this. And then this other thing happened.”

But I’m not as interested. I don’t share his passion. Nodding in mock attention, I check my phone. I look at the time for the tenth time in two minutes. I gaze out the window.

I deny my friend the joy of sharing his excitement. By not listening, I forget the lessons of my grandfather and deny my friend value.

***

neglected by rain
the garden becomes but dust
i miss the flowers

I don’t mean to deny such joys. If I was paying more attention, I would probably be more considerate. But I’m not. I’m too caught up in my world to notice what’s going on around me.

It’s my loss. I miss the chance to be a blessing. I miss the opportunity to deepen a relationship. But most of all, I miss sharing their joy.

***

joyful rains arrive
wash away the dust which dims
the treasure’s luster

Such moments may appear, at first glance, small and insignificant. Yet sharing joy with another, as it bubbles up and clears away the gathered dust of life, is an opportunity to peer into the depths of their heart. For a brief time, you may see them as they are.

And they are magnificent.

###

PHOTO: Drops of joy. Evanston, IL.

PS: Nice job, mission one is complete. I hope you gained from it. Share your thougths and observations in the comments over here.

A Walk in the Park

Eye level with the dog.

It’s a sunny day – much warmer than you would expect for this time of year. But you’re not complaining. Dog at your side, you are out for a stroll. It feels good to be outside.

You’re not the only one who decided to come outside today. The whole neighborhood seems to be enjoying the sun. So many people.

Some people have familiar faces. You stopped a moment ago to talk with friends who were enjoying a picnic on the grass. You played with their kids, chatted for a moment, and enjoyed a few chips. But the dog got impatient so you kept moving.

Some people jog along the shoreline. Others bike. And still others lay sleeping in the sunshine.

Some people are out with their children. A couple sits on the grass nearby with their little baby. She’s so cute.

And then there’s you, your dog, and the stick you just picked up.

Stick in hand, you sway back and forth. The dog stares intently – as if the rest of the world has suddenly disappeared.

You fake a throw. The dog jumps, but doesn’t take the bait. He’s too smart for that. He barks.

Finally, you set the stick loose. With all your strength, you launch it into the air. High and far it goes. And like a spring, wound to its limit and suddenly released, the dog sprints after the stick. It’s impressive how fast that little dog can move – he doesn’t move that quickly when you try to get him to come inside.

The dog chews on the stick in the distance, and you look out at the lake. So blue. So peaceful. A bird flies overhead. You cast a glance back at the dog.

Hey. No. Stop that. Bad dog. Leave that baby alone. Come here.

***

furry companion
that’s trotting by your side in
constant happiness

Have you ever tried to imagine what the world looks like through the eyes of a dog?

Out on a walk – a nice, nice walk. What’s better than going out on a walk? Master is slow, but I’ll get her to walk faster. Faster. Faster. There’s so much to see, so much to do, so much fun to be had.

Hmmmm. This grass has the scent of some other dogs. They passed here not long ago. Must find them. Must find them. Must go find them.

Mmmmm. The wind smells like hamburger. Mmmmm. I love hamburger. Must sneak off and grab one. She won’t see me. No, she won’t. Not this time.

Wait. She’s holding a stick. Stick. Stick. Stick. Stick. Stick. Must watch stick.

Go. No. Not yet. Bark.

The stick is loose. The stick is loose. Must catch stick. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run.

I got it. I got it. It’s all mine. Mmmmmm. So much good in this stick. Good, good stick. Must get it all out.

Hey, look at that human puppy. So cute. Going to say hello. Going to make a new friend. Lick. Lick. Huh? Why is master yelling at me?

***

stick of knotted wood
once of the noble oak tree
now laying on dirt

Or maybe you ponder the perspective of a stick.

Oh to be a poor and lonesome stick upon the ground. Not much of note happens these days – no birds to perch upon me or butterflies to use me for their rest. How long has it been since I was last on that tree? Seems like forever ago – another lifetime perhaps.

All I have left is memories. I remember the delight of being on that tree – where I had a purpose. I recall the satisfaction of being where my talents were of use – where I was a channel of life. But wishing to be where I am no longer, and where I can be no more, is a useless thought. ‘Tis no chance of such fortune now. I shall remain here on the ground – wasting away into the dust I rest upon. At least I shall take consolation in my rest – in my stillness.

Sir. Sir. I assure you there is no need to wave me back and forth like this. Kindly stop this activity. Let me fade away in peace.

Sir, I asked you politely to stop. If you will still insist on waving me to and fro like a flag at least tie some cloth to me so I can be a flag. Give me the dignity of some noble purpose so that I may bear this torment.

What’s this? I have been sent into the air. I float as a dream – flying like the birds. At last, I am free.

Mr. Dog. I assure you that it is not a necessity to bite me at this time. Kindly refrain from this aggressive action. Please, Mr. Dog, I am finding this experience most unpleasant. Down gentle-dog. Down.

Will you look at that? He listened.

***

blanket of grass
provides a fine canvas for
curiosity

Or perhaps you imagine a look through the baby’s perspective.

Sitting on the grass. Mommy is close by, so I’m safe. Daddy is also close by. He’s making such funny faces. Why is he so silly?

There’s so much to see right now. Who’s blowing so hard on my face? What is this bright green stuff that I’m sitting on? What’s that creature coming toward me? It looks happy.

Hehe. That feels so funny – all wet and cold.

***

It’s tough to see the world through a perspective different than your own. You lack complete information. Your bias and worldview get in the way. You make assumptions that may or may not be accurate. But it’s worth the effort.

Try it. You may be surprised by what you find.

***

riding on the breeze
gazing at the world below
through tiny bird eyes

Then there’s always the bird’s-eye view.

Whoa. Where did that stick come from? Lucky miss, that was.

###

PHOTO: Eye level with the dog. Kenya.

PS: My apologies in advance for any misrepresentations of dogs, sticks, babies, or birds.

PPS: For those in the northern hemisphere, happy first day of spring.

A Letter to My Daughter

At the beginning of a good day.

To my beloved daughter, welcome to this place we call earth. Welcome to the land of a thousand hopes and ten thousand beauties. Welcome to the world of boundless love and overflowing joy. Welcome to this marvelous journey of life.

I offer these words in hope that they will be of value to you as you embark on this journey. I give them as a glimpse into the understanding and wisdom I have gained over my years of living. They serve me well, and I suspect they will do the same for you. They are my gift to you – a gift from the depths of my love.

***

dew falls unfairly
abundant on barren soil
sparse on desert plants

Let me be the first to tell you, life is not fair. This great unfairness manifests itself in the foundation of your life. You will experience it every single day. So you will have to live with it.

It is not fair that you are born into a rich and noble heritage. As you walk through this world, you will find that the legacies of your grandfather and great-grandfather are not universal. You are fortunate to have men as these to look up to. They will be your heroes if you let them.

It is not fair that you do not want for the basic necessities of life. You shall receive food in abundance – delicious and full of nutrition. You shall not want for water – pure and drinkable. You shall not fear for being cast out upon the street – without shelter or warmth.

It is not fair that in moments of difficulty, you shall have support. You shall have a network of people who love and care for you – who will provide in your time of need.

It is not fair that you have a passport that allows freedom. You shall be able to travel to nearly any country in the world without difficult applications or unjust imprisonment. You shall have the opportunity to broaden and expand your understanding of the world – to see that people are more alike than different.

It is not fair that you shall have an education that challenges and grows you. You shall have access to the world’s greatest of thinkers and wisest of heroes – all with no more effort than a visit to the library. You shall have mentors and councilors to take you on journeys of learning – far beyond where you could go on your own.

It is not fair that you will be encouraged to thrive. You shall be surrounded by people who want the best for you – beyond what you may even see for yourself.

It is not fair that you live. On your first day, you outlived thousands. By your first month, millions.

You did nothing to deserve or earn these accounts of unfairness. They are gifts. They are gifts that can never be repaid. Treat them as such.

To these blessings there are two appropriate responses.

the grass of the field
sparkles in sweet gratitude
for the morning dew

The first response is gratitude. In all things find gratefulness. Let it overwhelm you. Let it bring you to your knees in tears.

When you wake, be thankful. When you walk, be thankful. When you breath, be thankful. When you eat, be thankful. When you go, be thankful. When you come, be thankful. When you sleep, be thankful.

It is in this posture of gratefulness that you will find many of life’s greatest joys. For to be thankful is to appreciate the present. And though you always carry the past with you, it is only in the present, in this single moment, that you live. It’s all you have right now. Gratitude keeps you grounded in the present.

watered by the dew
the flowers of the field
add beauty to all

The second response is service. I mentioned earlier that the gifts given to you cannot be repaid. That is true. But you can spread them. You can take what you have and turn it into a blessing to others.

Serve by listening. Every person has a story to tell – a story of who they are and a story of who they could yet be. These stories are magnificent. They are beautiful and wondrous. Be silent and hear them.

Serve with extravagance. You will soon discover that there is a minimum amount you can do to help someone – a baseline level of acceptable assistance. Ignore that amount. Shatter expectations.

Serve with your story. The way you see the world is uniquely yours. That means you have understanding that others don’t have. Share that perspective. It’s valuable.

Serve by receiving blessings. As a wise friend once told me, the nicest thing you can give someone is to graciously accept the gift they give you. People love to be a blessing. Give them the opportunity.

And through your service, each blessing you receive will multiply in abundance.

***

there are times the dew
falls trapped on the spider’s web
and not a flower
but it sparkles nonetheless
webs of beauty in the sun

Much of this life before you is what you make of it. You cannot control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.

When the moments of hardship and difficulty come, you may feel that there is no hope. But there is always hope. Even in the face of death itself, there is life. Look for the good in all things.

The world will be beautiful if you let it. If you notice, it will dazzle you. It will leave you breathless and filled with wonder.

Feel the touch of the wind passing over your face. Watch the array of colors and patterns in the morning sky. Hear the sound of the waves rushing in to greet the shoreline. Smell the fragrance of a spring rose. Taste the sweetness of a ripe, juicy mango.

People will be friendly if you let them. If you choose to see the good in them, you will find it. They will respond in kindness.

Cherish the smile of the old man on the street corner when you stop to say hello. Delight in the assistance of the woman who gives you directions in an unfamiliar city. Rest in the encouragement of the friend who comforts you.

You will live if you decide to. If you choose to walk the journey that is before you today, and you will find it a worthwhile one.

Explore the wonders of the world. See people and learn their stories. Thrive in rich and loving communities. Build, grow and cherish relationships. Walk in the company of friends.

You will find love when you look for it. Though you won’t need to look far. For I love you more than you can imagine. I love you beyond what I can imagine. I love you, my daughter.

###

PHOTO: At the beginning of a good day. Chicago.

PS: Mom, baby and I are all doing well.

PPS: Thank you for all your kind words and support after my grandfather passed away. It is clear that his legacy lives on in all of you.

Matters of Life in Death

The sun sets on a hero.

There are times in life where you think that you are fully prepared for what is to come. Then it comes, and it is beyond what you expect or imagine. So it was with the passing of my grandfather.

I saw his decline over the last several years – as disease took his strength. I watched his transition from walking to walker, from walker to wheelchair, and from wheelchair to bed. I knew his death was coming.

I visited him one last time over Christmas break. Knowing that his health was declining, my dad, my wife, and I went to his apartment. While there, we told stories of what he meant to us. My voice quivered as I told my story, as I told him I loved him, as I said goodbye.

I heard from my parents about how his health had gotten even worse, how his death was surely only moments away.

I wrote a story in memory of him. It was a tribute to the lives he’s affected – mine included. A few of you commented that the story made you cry. If so, it was a reflection of the tears that I cried while writing.

Gradually, I said goodbye. I thought I had dealt with his impending loss. I thought that when the time came, I would be ready.

When I first heard the news of his passing, my reaction seemed to validate that belief. My initial response was gratitude.

I was thankful for the timing of his passing. My parents had not yet gone back to Africa. My aunt and uncle flew in from Kenya the day before. My grandfather died in the company of those he loved and those that loved him.

I was thankful for the time he had with his family before he passed away – a time of peace and remembering. They sang songs over him. They told him stories that they remembered from his life. They offered prayers over him and our family.

I was thankful that his suffering was over.

I didn’t have joy about it, but I did not feel too sad.

Then I wrote my daily poem. And it hit me.

the final petal
of the rose falls gracefully
returning to dirt
all that still remains to us
are sweet memories and tears

Perhaps it was the poem itself. Poetry tends, at least for me, to draw out emotion.

Maybe it was the music I was listening too. Song has a way of reaching into the soul. It has a way of making my heart beat to its rhythm.

It could be that I was, for the first time, sitting still. I gave myself space to process what had happened. When rushing with activity, such feelings can get pushed aside.

Either way, I couldn’t hold back the grief. It was as though my previous goodbyes were forgotten. I had to face again that he was gone – this great hero of mine. And I was left with tears.

Some say that tears are a signal for weakness – that they are a sign you are not strong enough. If that is true, than you may call me weak. I’d rather be someone who cares.

***

In this time of death and sadness, I am struck by the life that lies within it.

From many far and different places
Some over land and others by the air
We join together to say our graces
And in each other’s company to share
Over a span of generations
From wisest grandparent to babies young
We renew again our warm relations
And in our company we dwell among
So many wondrous stories linger here
Some tales from old and some from recent days
We tell again of those who we hold dear
And for abundant blessings give our praise
Today we give our thanks for what we’ve got
In joy from family we have a lot

I find life in the coming together of people. Family joins to remember – to tell stories of the man that affected us all. There is life in this family, a life that continues even though we have lost one of our members.

There is life in the community of support. People offer many words of encouragement – friends, loved ones, and others from all over the globe. They bless me.

Without the searing pain of loss and grief
Without the bitter sting of cold and death
Without the knowledge that our lives are brief
Without the sight of loved ones losing breath
Could we know the depth of being alive
Could we know the blessing of joy and love
Could we know the way to grow and thrive
Could we know the gift from heaven above
Do the sharp thorns give the rose its beauty
Do the cloudy skies make the sunlight sweet
Do the shadows reveal the light you see
Do the chilly winds show the fire’s heat
Can you choose just to have the good alone
Or is it by their contrast that they’re known

I find life in remembering that it is sorrows and hardship that makes joy so much sweeter.

So much of life is relative. What I see as good is defined in relation to what I experience as painful. And in the view of loss, what I have becomes all the more valuable.

Descending from the cloudy skies above
Falls a pretty little snowflake lightly
A floating spec of white as purest dove
Moving in the breeze ever so slightly
It comes to rest upon your fingertip
Giving you pause to take a closer gaze
That magic fluff of patterns intricate
Adding a bit of beauty to your days
But soon the temperature begins to rise
And your life vanishes with just a trace
And all that you are comes to its demise
Melting into the sands of time and space
Live your life in view of the coming end
May you today be beauty for your friend

I find life in remembering how precious our time is.

In times of death – especially of one who lived a life so rich and meaningful as my grandfather – I’m drawn back to the importance of living well. I’m reminded about how important it is to live in gratitude.

The time I have here is short. But part of what makes it so short is that I don’t always use it wisely. I don’t notice. I don’t serve. I don’t create. I can, at times, go through life sleepwalking – as if I’m dead already.

So I reflect again on how I use my time. I ponder the legacy that I want to leave behind – one of service, humanity and art. I think about what is important in this life that I’ve been given – family and friends.

hope is like the dew
gems of life upon the grass
a new day’s promise
sparkling as a baby’s eyes

I find life in the coming of our child. Amid this space of sorrow, in mourning the death of my grandfather, we look forward to welcoming a tiny bundle of joy, a little baby, into the world. It is a reminder of hope. It is a reminder that even in times of death, there is life.

***

I’m not sure I’ll ever truly say goodbye to my grandfather. I don’t think I’ll ever completely get over the fact that he is gone. But that’s OK. For in remembering his death, I remember his life.

###

PHOTO: The sun sets on a hero. Kijabe, Kenya.