This is the way it is: life is dotted with tragedies. The question is, what do we do when one comes to visit us; the kind that rips us apart and sends us reeling?
One of my own darkest moments was the sudden death of a close friend who was loved by many and who was, by all accounts, completely undeserving of so early a passage. Yet there he was, and then-- there he wasn't.
His name was Pete. The name suited him: it sounds friendly, down-to-earth, open to both brilliance and whimsy. And so was he.
Like all others who knew Pete, I was devastated when he retired from planet earth and moved on. He had been employer, friend, counselor and humorist to many for several good years. His spirit was the sort that put spring into our days, good ones and bad ones, and his wisdom kept us on balance whenever we were in serious danger of veering off course.
You don't meet many folks of his caliber in one lifetime; I know I consider myself lucky to have known him at all. More than lucky: he helped grow me, which is the biggest thing any human being can ever do for another.
So the day Pete left was an awful day for all of us who treasured him. It was a black day, full of grief and angst. How to reconfigure days and weeks without this incredible life force in it? In the beginning, at the first glimpse of a vanished friend, it does not seem possible. That's why we weep. Not for our friend: but for the sudden desperate vacuum in our own lives.
As for Pete, we all knew he was managing: he was certainly in Heaven, probably regaling angels with heaven and hell jokes, and telling them what a fine job they were doing with reprobates like himself. He was making them feel important; that was one of the things he did best. And when he wasn't around to do that for me anymore, I took it hard. I remember feeling stunned, angry, baffled and bereft all at once. There's nothing unusual in that; everyone has these feelings around a death. And while we have all been told the feelings will eventually recede, that is a future fact and it doesn't impact the awfulness of fresh grief. I had one tool, though, that I hoped would help me. I knew about meditation. As many have discovered, it is one of the most available doorways to God.
Getting utterly silent and still can make a difference with anything. I knew that, and shortly after I came face to face with my own sorrow over Pete, I began meditation. I sat in my apartment, closed my eyes and lowered myself into the Silence. The first day it was only for a few moments. By the third day, I was able to do it for ten minutes. I wasn't asking for anything, or even waiting to hear anything - I was just looking for some small connection with Godís Peace.
After each meditation, my mind would slide fairly quickly back to feeling sad and bereft. In fact, during the first few days, it looked like getting silent was pointless. I kept on with it, though, even though I was often soggy from moping. I kept on with it because I had no other remedy for grief.
I was calling out for help, and yet none of us really know what help looks like. In my case, what happened was a surprise. At the end of three weeks, without warning, I woke up suddenly in the dead of night. I remember lying in bed still as stone, wondering why I was awake. And staring out of the tall, uncovered windows in my high-rise apartment.
I was staring because dead center in front of my window was a full bright unwinking moon, so alive and so close it seemed almost touchable. All I know is the moon was shining directly into my face, and as it did I somehow understood that Pete was fine, and Pete was there.
"Hello, Pete." I said out loud, and in that same moment, buckets of grief lifted away from me, leaving me almost as light-hearted as a child on the first day of summer vacation. Because there was Pete, waving to me from Godís house.
ďThank you, Father,Ē I murmured. Rivers of warmth washed over me, because out of nowhere a new certainty was gripping my soul: we are never alone. I took one long last look at that uniquely brilliant moon, and then turned over and floated back to sleep.