A Eulogy for My Father
A BIG THANK YOU to all of you who shared your love, wisdom, and condolences with me after the passing of my father on July 14th. It meant a lot to me. I am touched and humbled by the outpouring of good vibes from so many heart-centered people. What follows is the eulogy I wrote for my father on the night before his funeral.
Last night, I sat in my father's office attempting to write this eulogy. I started five times and stopped five times. I started again, trying to find the words to describe how it feels to be here without him. I still don't know.
You see, I had a father for 94 years and have only not had a father for three days, so anything I say today must be understood as the words of someone only three days old. But still I will try.
Indeed, this trying -- this effort to accomplish the seemingly impossible -- is a gift I've received from my father...
He was the most tenacious person I knew. Ferocious, focused, and fueled by a need to be his own man which he accomplished in countless ways until the very end. To him, it wasn't "my way or the highway," it was "my way or the my way."
I do believe if God had appeared to him as a Burning Bush in his bedroom during the difficult last weeks of his life, he would have advised the Unnamable One to switch from mutual funds to stocks as a way to save on the commission.
The simplest thing I can say about my father is this: He was a force of nature, a storm of a man.
In his path, things moved. Nothing stayed still. He was primal, persevering, and on fire with the possibility that something good was just about to happen if only you worked hard enough to make it so.
It wasn't always easy being with him, but so what? Easy doesn't always equal good. Being a father isn't always easy. Or being a husband, or a friend, or a rabbi, for that matter.
I became strong because of him and the way I burned in the crucible of his intensity -- able to press through challenges... able to be alone... able to find God, Maharaji, my self, my soul mate, and raise two extraordinary children -- who, one day, will have their own chance to reflect on what their daddy meant to them.
As a young boy, I did not understand my father at all -- why he worked so hard, so late, and so much. It was only later, after I had my own kids, that I understood. He worked so I might play. He worked so I wouldn't have to work in a tannery like he did at 15, joyful only for the times the machines broke down so there might be a few minutes reprieve.
His work, in a curious way, was a kind of prayer -- a way he connected with something beyond himself, a way he tuned into the meaning of service, of giving to others in an unreasonable way -- an experience I would only learn much later in life.
I remember, late at night when I was in bed, hearing the sound of his Volkswagen turning the corner as he approached home. He'd enter my room, open the window, kneel by the bed, and put his head on my chest. Half asleep, I could feel his day's stubble pierce my pajama tops.
It was, at once, both harsh and comforting.
There, in the darkness, we would talk. He'd ask me how my day went and kiss me on the cheek. Then he'd say goodnight, eat dinner, talk with my mother, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.
I see him now, 50 years later, as a Suburban Samurai -- a man who long ago took a sacred oath he couldn't quite remember, an oath to live a life of principle, purpose, and perseverance.
He was smart, but I cannot recall him ever reading a book. He just didn't have the time. And even if he did, he'd rather read people which he became very good at.
His BS meter was quite evolved. He could pinpoint a fool at 30 paces and if you were a salesmen trying to hustle him in the middle of his workday you were out the door before he could say "Schmuck, don't even think of coming back."
I didn't always like him. Then again, I didn't always like my high school coaches, either -- all of whom believed in my potential so much that they were willing to be unpopular with me to make a point they knew would move me toward success.
As a college graduation gift, my father gave me a turquoise 1965 Pontiac LeMans convertible. I gave it back a few months later, suspicious of his intentions to control me with his supposed generosity. I actually left the car in his driveway with a heartless note on the steering wheel and then hitched back to where I was living some 500 miles away.
Looking back now, I realize my ability to return that car was the real gift he gave -- the gift of speaking my truth, the gift of being a man of my word to myself, the gift of going beyond the expected and doing what I felt was right -- even if it was unpopular or uncomfortable.
I've never met anyone as generous as the man we have come to celebrate today. He gave more to people than people gave to him. If someone in our family needed something -- a house, a car, a loan -- chances were good he would give it.
My wedding? Paid for by him. The downpayment on my house? A gift from him. A business loan when I was going under? That, too. And the terms? No interest. Pay me back when you can.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about Mother Teresa here. No. My father was sometimes more like Attila the Hun -- but Attila with a twist... and a story... and a joke... and a pearl of wisdom only visible to me when I stopped judging him for being so imperfect.
His generosity wasn't just with our family. In his later years, when he got into Real Estate -- a career, by the way, he mastered -- he'd find a way to help his clients buy houses they could never afford on their own. "The First Bank of Barney," we used to call it. Some of those people are here with us today.
My father's last days were not easy. Always used to being in control, he found it hard to concede to the body's imperfection and the growing need to depend on others for support. Always a giver, now he had to receive. Always the one in charge, now he was the charge of others.
That was hard for him. But in time, slowly... grunting and groaning... he began to find his way -- a new way, a softer way -- learning the kinds of lessons as he approached death that weren't always accessible to him in the prime of life. Thank God.
No, my father was not perfect, but who in this world is? Who? He was, however, I am happy to say, perfectly himself... a warrior... a teacher... a man of integrity... and for that I am forever grateful.
July 29, 2009
More about my teacher, Maharaji, here
At the Threshold
A few years ago I found myself standing in my closet, madly searching for clean clothes in a last minute attempt to pack before yet another business trip, when I noticed my 4-year old son standing at the entrance.
In one hand, he held a small blue wand, in the other -- a plastic bottle of soapy water.
"Dada," he said, looking up at me, his eyes wide open, "do you have time to catch my bubbles?"
Time? It stopped. And so did I. At that moment, it suddenly made no difference whether or not I caught my plane -- I could barely catch my breath. The only thing that existed was him and that soulful look of longing in his eyes.
For the next ten minutes, all we did was play -- him blowing bubbles and laughing. Me catching and laughing, too. His need was completely satisfied. His need for connection. His need for love. His need for knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that absolutely everything was perfect just the way it was.
He is almost 15 now. His bubbles are digital. But his need is still the same. And so is mine -- and yours, I would venture to say.
Scratch the surface of our differences, remove the cultural masks, and all of us -- regardless of age, religion, politics, gender, or astrological sign -- are seeking the same thing.
And this "thing" is a feeling -- a feeling of contentment, a feeling of peace, a feeling of deep freedom, fearlessness, and joy.
Spiritual practitioners have been attempting to name this feeling for centuries, but ultimately it doesn't matter what it's called.
This sweetness is the place all journeys end. My son's took him across the living room to the threshold of a closet. Yours will take you other places.
But no matter where it takes you, one thing is for sure -- what's moving you has moved millions of others since the beginning of time. Yours is an ancient quest. Primal. Tidal. Pure. As basic as breath itself.
For the moment, let's call this driving force "thirst" -- the innate quest each of us has for meaning, love, and fulfillment. Why poets wait beneath a moon for words. What dancers feel before they leap. Why birds fly halfway around the world to the place where they were born.
This thirst is not the same thing as "desire." Desire is wanting what you don't have. Thirst is wanting want you do.
Desire assumes the emptiness you feel can be filled by getting -- as if the world was a giant puzzle and all you needed were the pieces. Thirst assumes nothing. It's all about being -- not getting or having.
The good news? You don't have to go to the Himalayas to find what you're looking for. You can start today, wherever you are. The pilgrimage you need to take is actually quite short -- merely the distance between your head and your heart. That's the so-called path.
Your guide on this journey? Thirst. All you need to do is feel it. And if you don't, then at least want to feel it. And if you still don't, then at least want to want to feel it.
Pretty simple, huh?July 24, 2009
Kabir, Duke Ellington, and the Swing
Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing; all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees, and it never winds down.
Angels, animals, humans, insects by the millions, also the wheeling sun and moon; ages go by, and it goes on.
Everything is swinging; heaven, earth, water, fire, and the secret one slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw that for 15 seconds, and it made him a servant for life.
Five minutes after posting this poem, I turned on the radio. Guess what was playing? Duke Ellington's It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing. I kid you, not.July 23, 2009
VIDEO: The Rhythm of Life
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." (Friedrich Nietzche)HAFIZ: My Sweet, Crushed Angel
"You have not danced so badly, my dear, trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One. You have waltzed with great style, my sweet, crushed angel, to have ever neared God's Heart at all.
Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow, and even his best musicians are not always easy to hear.
So what if the music has stopped for a while. So what if the price of admission to the Divine is out of our reach tonight. So what, my dear, if you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.
The mind and the body are famous for holding the heart ransom, but Hafiz knows the Beloved's eternal habits.
Have patience, for he will not be able to resist your longing for long.
You have not danced so badly, my dear, trying to kiss the Beautiful One. You have actually waltzed with tremendous style, Oh my sweet, Oh my sweet, crushed angel."
I Heard God Laughing, by Daniel Ladinsky. Illustration: Diane CobbJuly 22, 2009
First Breath, Last Breath
There is a time of life when the time of life is about to end -- the time of last breaths, the time of saying goodbye to everything you have ever known or loved, the time of letting go.
This is the time my father now finds himself in.
He is flat on his back in a hospital bed, but the hospital bed is in his bedroom in West Palm Beach which is where he has chosen to die -- and will.
There will be no more calls to 911, no more paramedics, no more blood transfusions, no needles, no pills, no tests. This is his death bed and we are around it, me, his son -- his daughter, my sister -- my wife, his daughter-in-law -- grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the ever present hospice nurse here to keep him as comfortable as possible.
His mouth is dry. He cannot swallow. Someone swabs his lips as he gathers what's left of his strength to move his tongue toward the precious few drops of water.
The sound track for his last night on Earth is an oxygen machine pumping purified air through transparent tubes clipped to the end of his nose.
On the counter -- creams. Creams for this and creams for that and creams for the other thing, too. I've never seen so many creams.
Those of us around his bed are very still, holding his hand, rubbing his back, looking at him and each other in ways we have never looked before.
There is very little for my father to do but breathe. This lion of a man whose life was defined by ferocity and action is barely moving now. A turn of the head. A flutter of the eye. A twitch.
Though his eyes are closed, I know he can hear, so I bend closer and talk into his good, right ear. I tell him he's done a good job and that all of us will be OK. I tell him I love him and to go to the light. I tell him everything is fine and he can let go.
The hospice nurse is monitoring his vital signs. They keep getting lower and lower. I touch my father's cheek and it is cooler than before. His skin looks translucent. Almost like a baby's.
He opens his eyes and shuts them once again. None of us around him know what to do, but that's OK because it's clear there is nothing to do.
Being is the only thing that's happening here.
My father had his last shot of morphine about an hour ago. He had his last bowl of Cheerios yesterday at 10am. Cheerios and half of a sliced banana. That was the last time he could swallow.
It is quiet in the room. Very quiet.
I see my sister, my nieces, my wife, the nurse. All of us are as helpless as my father. The only difference is we are standing.
If only we could pay as much attention to the living as we do to the dying. If only we could stop long enough from whatever occupies our time and truly care for each other, aware of just how precious each breath is, each word, each touch, each glance.
Sitting by my father's side, I am hyper-aware of everyone who enters the room -- the way they approach his bed, what they say, how they say it, the look on their face, their thoughts.
I want to be this conscious all the time, attuned to the impact I have on others in everything I do. It all matters.
Nothing has prepared us for this moment. Not the books on death and dying, not the stories of friends who's fathers have gone before. Not the sage counsel of the Rabbi.
One thing is clear. Each of us will get our turn. Our bodies, like rusty old cars gone beyond their warrantees, will wear out. Friends and family will gather by our side, speak in hushed tones, hold our hands, and ask if we are comfortable.
That's just the way it is. It begins with a breath, the first -- and ends with a breath, the last.
In between? A length of time. A span of years. A hyphen, as my teacher, Maharaji, likes to say, between birth and death.
What this hyphenated experience will be is totally up to us.
Will it be filled with kindness? Love? Compassion? Gratitude? Giving? Delight? Will we be there for each other before it's time to fill out the forms and watch the body -- strapped to a stretcher by two men in black suits -- be driven away like something repossessed?
I hope so. I really do. I hope we all choose wisely. I hope beyond a shadow of a doubt before we walk through the shadow in the valley of death that we choose to hold each others' hands NOW, rub each other's backs, bring each other tea, and listen from the heart with the same kind of infinite tenderness we too often reserve only for those about to depart.
My father is very quiet now, breathing only every 20 seconds or so. Or should I say being breathed?
And then...there is nothing. Only silence. No breaths come. No slight changes of expression on his face. No whispered words of love.
We, around his bed, are in his home, but he is somewhere else.
Bye bye Daddy! Travel well! Know that we love you and will keep the flame of who are deeply alive in our hearts. Thank you for everything. We will meet again. Amen!July 19, 2009
VIDEO: The Purpose of Human Life
Wow! If you've ever been interested in the message of Maharaji (aka Prem Rawat), here is 7 minutes and 31 seconds of what it's all about. Enjoy!The Slide Show and the Sleeping Bag
When I received Knowledge in 1971, my life turned around for the better.
One of the benefits that soon followed was the recognition of just how beautiful it was to serve -- to give from the heart without any thought of return.
The urge to serve was huge for me.
And so, one fine Spring day, I decided to leave my happy home on Martha's Vineyard and drive to an ashram of Maharaji's followers in Concord, Massachusetts where I figured I could "help out" for the day.
Which is exactly what I did.
And then, just before I began my long drive home, my hosts -- seeing how exhausted I was -- invited me to stay the night. In their living room. In my sleeping bag. Just a few feet from the largest framed picture of Maharaji I had ever seen.
I slept like a baby.
That is, until 2am when the lights went on and 20 highly animated people in pajamas came bounding into the room.
Apparently, one of them had just returned from India and wanted to show everyone, on his classic Kodak projector, some never-been-seen-before photos of Maharaji.
I yawned. They oohed and ahhed and oohed again.
This totally baffled me. Though I, too, had received Knowledge, I wasn't feeling anything remotely close to oohing and ahhing.
The more everyone expressed themselves so effusively, the more I felt there must be something terribly wrong with me.
I wasn't oohing. I wasn't ahhing. I wasn't even smiling.
"Maybe this isn't the path for me," I thought. "Maybe I'm not loving enough. Maybe I'm too mental... too Western... too self-absorbed."
At the height of my doubt, a particularly radiant, bald-headed man from India shot me a very powerful glance from across the room. And then, with a simple, downward sweep of his hand, he signaled me to lie down and go back to bed.
I did, waking four hours later when the sun came up -- fully rested, happy, and very much alive.
I realize now, some 38 years later, that I learned a lot that night.
And though my experience may have only been meaningful to me, I think it's possible it may have meaning for you, too.
1. Comparing yourself to others is a total waste of time.
2. There is no one right way to express love.
3. Everyone grows in appreciation of their Beloved in their own sweet time.
4. There is no rush required to feel anything "special" at all.
5. I am who I am and that is good enough.
6. "Devotion" isn't always visible.
7. The practice of Knowledge is a very individual thing.
8. There's nothing wrong with going to sleep when you're tired.
9. Devotion is not emotion.
10. It's always a good idea to keep a sleeping bag in the trunk of your car.
RUMI: Inside This New Love
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
Thanks to Janet Wallace for forwarding the poem.
Photo by Joyful Revery
52 Reasons Why People Like Being with Maharaji
A year ago, on this blog, I posted 34 reasons why I like being with Maharaji -- my attempt to communicate some of the impact that seeing him, real-time, has on me.
At the end of the post, I asked readers to add their own reasons. Eleven people responded.
What follows is my original list and the additional comments of the readers who responded.
Feel free to add your own...
34 Reasons Why I Like Being with Maharaji
1. I breathe more deeply
2. It becomes very easy to savor every moment
3. I stop judging myself and everyone else
4. Time slows down
5. I listen from a still place inside me
6. I feel like I'm dancing when I walk -- or at least, gliding
7. I laugh uncontrollably
8. I cry tears of joy
9. I stop worrying
10. I like what I see when I look in the mirror
11. I have a lot more fun than usual
12. I experience timelessness
13. Everything seems perfect just the way it is
14. I let go of being self-conscious
15. I feel like I'm being massaged from the inside out
16. I move in tune with a hidden music
17. I see how peace is possible for the entire planet
18. I feel like he's talking just to me
19. I am grateful for everything
20. I want to serve
21. I feel whole and complete
22. I feel a vast spaciousness
23. I live in the present moment
24. Everything is profoundly simple
25. I rededicate myself to the practice of Knowledge
26. I stop trying to improve myself
27. I lose my need to gain anyone's approval
28. I am content
29. I come from my heart, not my head
30. Life feels like a party
31. I let things come to me -- and they do
32. I feel more authentic
33. I realize I have no problems
34. I feel like I'm totally home
Why HEART OF THE MATTER readers like being with Maharaji
35. I always leave loving myself a little more. - Candice Wilmore
36. It's incredibly great being around a lot of other people who are also feeling 1-34. - Steve Kowarsky
37. I feel my Heart come alive. - Mka
38. I wake up from the core of my being. - Alan Roettinger
39. I feel like the luckiest person on earth. - Alan Roettinger
40. I realize how much I've missed him. - Alan Roettinger
41. I forget about everything I've missed out on. - Alan Roettinger
42. I get to spend some time with the best friend I will ever have. - Alan Roettinger
43. I am in awe at consciousness & clarity. - Chris Tardieu
44. I am transported back into the ocean of joy, love and strength dwelling within me. Fearlessness presides as magic filled with gratitude resumes as my guide. - Amy S.
45. Magic fills the air and my heart and the hearts of others! I love seeing the Light in their eyes and the smiles on their beatific faces! -Jon Lloyd
48. The silence within me is breathtaking. - Asiebhan
49. I get cleansed of the dirt of the mind. - Asiebhan
50. I get to laugh a lot. - Asiebhan
51. Sometimes, I am completely overwhelmed by an awareness of the possibility of what it means to be a human being and how far short of that potential I fall in my life. Then to hear him beckoning me to join him on this journey of self-fulfillment despite my shortcomings is almost too much to take. Is this what friendship and unconditional love are about? Is this how gratitude unfolds to heal the wounds of a broken heart? Is this the recognition of how fortunate I am to have witnessed the Master and felt the touch of his love in my life? Words are poor substitutes to describe what I am trying to express. - G.S.Smith
52. He has given me 20/20 vision of the heart. - Gaz
A couple of days ago, I tried to unlock my car door with my cell phone.
There I was, standing in a parking lot, pushing a random button that had nothing to do with my car, and wondering why the door wouldn't open.
At that moment in time, all technologies converged and what I was doing -- push after push after push -- somehow made perfect sense.
After finding my keys and pushing the right remote, it dawned on me that I WANT ONE DEVICE THAT OPENS EVERYTHING: the car door, the garage door, the TV, DVD, VCR, ATM, and everything else in my life that is ever locked or inaccessible.
At the risk of being overly metaphorical, folks, I do believe I already have that device. It's called "breath." When I'm in tune with it, savoring it, and moving at it's God-given pace, all things -- especially my own heart -- eventually open.July 06, 2009
The Most Amazing Miracle