My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Threshold

I've stood with others at the threshold between life and death.  I've helped people come into this world and I've held their hands while they've left it.  And I've had the unforgettable privilege of saving lives a few times -- when I was given the impossible grace to make a profound difference for another human being -- and all events, all gestures, breaths, seconds, conspired toward life.  So I know things I might never have learned if these experiences had not occurred.  I've stood in the doorway between worlds and the view has become unexpectedly clear.  The meaning of life is simple in the extreme, really -- and I understood it in an entirely new way when my father died two years ago.

My father was a world-renowned geophysicist -- not a mystic.  He loved facts, not intuition.  And like all great men, he embraced the difficult truth over the easy lie -- or any lie -- for all the years I knew him.  I placed tremendous stock in his integrity, his loyalty, his fundamental kindness -- and he never let me down.  So, I always knew my father would tell me the truth as best he knew it.

Two weeks before he died, my father told me he wanted to give me a gift -- something memorable, something important.  He was eighty-five years old and I handled all his finances, managed his home on Cape Cod, bought his clothes, arranged his doctors' visits, and supervised his daily care in assisted living.  Despite a lifetime of scientific achievements, age had stripped him of his world-class intellect, his prodigious physical strength, and his insistence on self-determination.  He was a man who had nothing left to give, I thought -- although his intent was laudable.

But I was wrong -- entirely, naively, magnificently wrong.  Because, as my father lay dying -- while I held his hand -- something happened to me that constitutes the greatest gift I've ever received.  I will try to describe to you the course of events, although words seem unworthy of them.

First, my father became clear-minded -- entirely lucid -- something he hadn't mustered in the several years since a catastrophic fall.  Suddenly he possessed perfect awareness, crystalline erudition.  He told me he was going to be "passing over" at 4 a.m. (and he did, at 4:03 a.m. to be exact) and he told me, with a sort of Jacques-Cousteau excitement, that he was going to be living and learning on a higher level now -- that I wasn't to worry about him, because the place he was going was "extraordinary" -- by far the most beautiful destination he had ever seen, and he had traveled the world many times over.

Then, while I held him, an impossible transformation occurred within his small apartment.  Everything that possessed material substance -- the chairs, the tables, the couches, the paintings -- these all seemed to disappear in a grand metaphysical magic trick.  He and I could no longer see the walls or the ceiling or the bed or the lamps.  We could only see that which was rushing in to take the place of everything we had known --a love so profound it crowded into the room like a weather from another world -- a momentous vortex-- electrically charged -- a living force.

In filmmaking terms, it was like experiencing a reverse zoom, in which some objects are traveling toward you and others are traveling away from you simultaneously.  And the love that filled the room became a palpable current, flowing as forcefully as an ocean wave, all encompassing -- overtaking all things known, visible, earthly.

A family member who stood close by said it looked as if we two had disappeared inside a white fog for a moment.  He said he kept rubbing his eyes, trying to clear them of the blurry space where we had been.

This unexplained "weather," whatever it was, contained within it the great secret to living well -- understanding life's illusion even while we're living within it.  Everything that looks permanent is in fact transitory -- while the love we manifest for one another, which may feel transient, is in fact permanent.  "That which is essential is invisible to the eye," as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said.

Because at the end of life, love is not an important thing. It's not the main thing.  It's the only thing.  We get to experience this euphoric, all-powerful force not just by being surrounded by it -- but by becoming it.  We're still our individual selves, but our connection to everyone else we encounter becomes abundantly clear.  We're all "related" in an elemental way.  We're all members of the same magnificent family.  No one person can be harmed without causing pain to ourselves.  No one person can be helped without our manifesting our own joy.

I walked my father to the edge of the world -- and that's the gift he shared with me as he left it.

Now, when I wake up in the morning, I can feel that electrical charge humming through me still.  It hasn't left -- in fact, it grows in force from one day to the next.  It's the reason why people are drawn to me, I think.  Because I can't help but share a small part of this feeling with them -- the abundance of it -- the wonder -- the pure unmitigated force of life.

I can't help but connect deeply with everyone I meet.  It's a new magnetic field -- a powerful charge that travels with me.  I haven't always wielded it well.  Sometimes, others care too much for me -- sometimes I care too much for them.  I haven't learned to limit my sense of love for people -- and I hope they can understand that, on a fundamental level, this is all new to me.  I've been overtaken by a force that's much stronger than I am -- and it has rendered me more awake than I've ever been -- more joyful, more engaged, more profoundly alive.

Words are not equal to the experience unless they can stand up and shout by themselves.  And they can't.

But I've tried to recount faithfully the events as they happened.  As improbable as they are, they're the truth.  They comprise the best, most unexpected gift anyone ever placed into my hands -- and they came from my father at his most impoverished moment, when he had nothing, and everything, to impart.


(This is such an exquisitely beautiful farewell song -- first written down in 1605.  Somehow, it reminds me of my father's leave-taking.  I'm looking forward to playing this on the piano -- and singing goodbye to my beloved ones whenever I leave on far-away travel.  The Parting Glass -- by Cara Dillon)