Life After Life

“If we want to enter Heaven on Earth, we need only one conscious step and one conscious breath.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

A tornado hit my elementary school when I was eight going on nine. I recall thinking, “I am going to die,” and not being okay with that whatsoever.

Then it went away.  The storm passed, as they all do.

But I was scarred. Something had changed in me, and I couldn’t help it.

I went to Mass the following Sunday and listened, probably for the first time, to what the priest said. We will be seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven… And His life will have no end… Eternal life… Forever and ever amen. I thought of the Earth coming to an end, the never-ending blank black sky. Nothingness. I fixated on these disturbing conceptualizations.

Around the same time, my grandpa told me that he did not believe in the afterlife. After this life, that’s it. You decompose. There’s no fluffy cloud heaven with angels. Life’s a bitch, then you die. And even after you die there’s no relief? Not what I wanted to hear.

[Read the entire essay on Elephant Journal]

For many years, I avoided thinking of death or the hereafter. I just didn’t let my mind go there. Of course, in my studies of yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity over the past decade I have thought a lot about life and death. In the wake of my current grief, it’s clear why we humans cling to our beliefs in life after death. Heaven is a comforting thought. Reincarnation is appealing, as long as we’re moving toward enlightenment and away from the lower realms. We like to maintain faith in the “fact” that our consciousness will live on.

Since the accident, I have been comforted by an outpouring of empathy from many friends, acquaintances and readers. I myself fell prey to the typical “it’s going to be okay” and “just embrace the good memories” sentiments. The reality is that we say these things to feel less awkward and perhaps avoid truly being present with the anguish that naturally flows from major losses. As my wise friend, Michael said, “Sometimes we just  need to cry together, scream out loud, and pull at our hair to be true to our feelings.” I am so grateful for my network of support and for my freedom to be open about my turmoil. It’s my way of wrapping my mind around something that doesn’t avail itself to understanding.

Yesterday, I went to the balcony from which Lucy fell. I did this, because I felt I had to. I did this, because I will not cancel the weekly yoga class I hold at the same penthouse apartment. I sat and cried and meditated there, my heart heavy. I looked up and directly above me was the luminescent half moon. There is solace in nature, in the constancy of the sun and moon, for “the springtime that always shows up after the winters.” I am not done mourning, but I do feel a tangible sense of relief at having faced the site and sent my blessings to Lucy, wherever she may be.

Of course, the harsh reality is that she is nowhere. Her body is buried in my backyard. I don’t know about her soul. No one knows. Why can’t we just admit that we don’t know?

Thanks to years of yoga and life, I have reached a point where I can find strength in the vulnerability of not knowing. I can now move toward accepting what I could not accept as a child. Death is a part of life: the ultimate detachment. And the unknown doesn’t have to be scary.

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