What do I know if I exist or not?
This is all I know, my Beloved:
When I exist, I am non-existent;
When I am non-existent, I exist!
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
Death is such a leveler of things… And today while other people are picnicking or celebrating “independence day,” I am musing on the passage of my partner and companion to a different plane of existence.
I don’t as such believe in death, or perhaps it is non-existence that I fail to believe in. Although I can no longer touch him or hear his wild laughter except in dreams, or walk in endless picket lines and listen to his voice reading me poems, Jim is still here. He used to apologize for July 4th, used to recite the pledge of allegiance and whisper “someday” at the very end of it.
Much water has fallen under the bridge in these past three years. Because Jim’s passing was accompanied by my baby brother’s last illness, I ran from pillar to post, without rhyme or reason, and if you think I am done with the clichés you have another think coming. As is said so well in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. The rich keep getting impossibly richer and impossibly greedier. Ignorance seems to be a way of life; people parade it, like a new dress or a fancy pair of shoes.
I have been criticized for my love of research, of words, of history. My late companion was an equal lover of all three and bested me in some of them; he had 21 years on me and had spent them well, endlessly reading and writing and analyzing. We marched together, wrote articles together, shared stories and aphorisms, marveled at how being intellectual in our country is a grave sin. As if we could choose who we are and what we love… And he supported the strangest things, because although he claimed not to be a “believer,” he had worked most of his life with the religious left, and in fact supported, with me, women’s ordination, which is what the picture below represents: we were standing outside the Vatican Embassy in DC supporting Roy Bourgeois before his excommunication for supporting the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, who is now my program companion on my own path to ordination. All three of us were arrested that weekend in DC in an action against torture, and it was also the weekend Jim proposed, as he was being led away by police. . . .
I remember being at Kaiser with him when our dog pulled him into a street and he broke his hip and right elbow. We spent the hours when he wasn’t in therapy or surgery reading poems to each other. We watched operas and zarzuelas, listened to Beethoven and Bach, read and read and read. And I taught him to meditate and took him to Spirit Rock and unlike Othello, loved him wisely and too well. It made our parting not sweet sorrow because there would be no tomorrow. With Aiken, I said:
Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.
And with Auden I wanted to stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, silence the pianos… I was angry for at least two years; death made me roar because others were not paying attention. You know how it goes:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song…
But in the end I discovered that Jim is present even in the peanut butter that he so loved; when I have oatmeal, which he called gruel, he reminds me his was very thin, while mine is more in the nature of a porridge, with whatever fresh fruit is available. He sometimes asks me gently to keep my promise to him that I would walk every day… so far, I have not kept that promise.
Jim told me to stay active, and that I have done far too well. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep… And I leave you with a poem written by a woman with no formal education, out of compassion for someone who could not say goodbye to a beloved mother. I am speaking of course of Mary Elizabeth Frye, who said it best:
Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.
But as I started with Rumi, I end with Rumi:
Nothing in my ears but your love’s murmur
Eternity’s sweetness leaves no reason alive
Love-without-colour mixes colours marvelously
I wear the void’s white; death drains from me.
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
Jim Cameron Forsyth, presente.
Hasta la victoria, siempre.