Freedom: Making Space

I went to visit my friend Pete yesterday who is dying. We all are dying, of course, but for Pete this is more obviously immanent. A year ago this friend was suffering from a toothache that wouldn’t go away. He was extremely fit and he led and extraordinarily healthy lifestyle. People often guessed he was 10 to 15 years younger than he was.  This 60-ish man is now hobbling across a corridor door as he ushers me into his flat for my long overdue visit. Since I saw him a few months ago he has lost perhaps half of his body weight. The cancer has spread all around Pete’s body in spite of doing all that is possible to stop or slow its growth.

It is of course rather shocking to see my beloved friend. But all of those obvious changes aside, what strikes me most is his dignity and grace and generosity. Pete shares what his process has been like these last weeks and what he values now, but mostly he wants to hear stories from the “outside world”…Nothing is too mundane. He wants it all. I have known Pete for over 20 years. We share a love of music, hot tubs and are both ex pats. We have seen each other through thick and thin. And we cry together now as he endures a wave of pain. We cry together, as well, as he celebrates with me how well my life is going after a long “dark night of the soul” period. He loves my film and book projects and has seen them gestate over a long period. He knows more than most what I have lived through. And now in his last days or weeks or months in this life, his being broken open stops time. It doesn’t matter what we are talking about. All that is important now with Pete is physically touching, preferably where it doesn’t hurt too much and the quality of sharing. We are only concerned with disposition.  The content is a bonus or even an incidental thing.

And it was great to be able to joke with him that finally after all these years he “got me in bed with him” as I snuggled up to his good side to hold him! It was wonderful to see and hear and feel his laughter.

And what I’m left with now, besides feeling incredibly grateful and gifted, is something he said; He spoke about how we can’t run away from our traumas. And Pete feels that for him this experience is directly related to undigested trauma from very early life. He thought he had resolved most things, but now can see that this process is to do with completing some of that time in his life. Regardless of how one feels about such things, it was incredibly touching to feel his dignified response. His taking response-ability for his life. He is making his life count right to the end. And in so doing, he is inspiring the privileged few of us who get to spend time with him. I am inspired more than ever to to let things go that need to be released and to live an authentic imperfect perfect life.

As I write this I am again brought to tears thinking of my own sadness for his discomfort. And I am also filled with gratitude and inspired with more vigor to continue the work that I have chosen to do… because I love it and because it makes it difference. Over a year ago, before all of this, my now dying friend was kind enough to be a part of my In Your Own Skin project in which he, like all the others who took part, share something that is not obvious to strangers.   I wrote on his skin for photographic portrait. He chose the words “space maker.” At the time, this referred to a congruency in his life both his early life as a landscape architect as well as his latter life as an extremely skilled and sought after masseur. Now, as his body shrinks in size and the funeral arrangements have been made, he is preparing to make even more space and to embrace the the space of empty fullness that is death.

My friend Michaela recently sent out a touching little note in her shock and grief at the sudden death of her co-teacher James. She noted with poignancy that his last contact in the Social Networking world was this, “The more you commit to life, the more you can commit to death.” She also noted that, especially recently, he lived with a deep freedom. What more is there at an essential level?

So here is to making space in your heart and your freedom! And blessings on my friend, on James and on all of us as we live until we die.