Monday, June 27, 2011

Your Faces in the Hillside

This evening, as I walked my dog along the hillside above my home, it occurred to me that I was on the path you used to ride your horse on as a young man. 

Walking past your old neighbors, who's names I've long forgot, I thought of you astride, as you looked over the valley where you would eventually make your life. I thought of the man you had become that wore so many faces, many that I was lucky enough to see.

The dedicated family man, your most important role. I had watched the care you took over your family and neighbors. The ways you served and were fed there.

The diplomat therapist and analytical thinker, who would calmly navigate couples through the emotional minefield of relationships. You were always reading up on the newest techniques for creating harmony, (but once you opened the book, you would usually end up napping in your chair).

The healer, who’s broad shoulders were often moist at the end of the day, from the endless care you showed the heavyhearted. Few knew that there were many times you went to your knees in prayer in your office, when you felt your client needed help beyond your own ability.

The chuckler who would occasionally choke and cough on your own deep laughter; or clear your throat before you began a thought out loud.

The loyal friend, be it fisherman, or listening ear, you would kindly sit down with those rolled-up sleeves of yours, and be there.

So many others, too many faces to count: The rockstar, guitar man, community theater leading-man, goofball, baseball player, mr. fix-it, the fierce defender.

I would have to say that the thing you were the very best at was navigating your faces, because behind them all, you were always in some internal conversation with yourself. You protected the boundaries of your many faces so intensely; and from my perspective, deep down, you remained a quiet warrior of unspoken battles your whole life.

Climbing the hill this evening with my dog, I could feel the soft beat of my feet in deep contemplation of all your complexity. Somehow, I always knew you as the young man on his horse, on this hillside, over-looking the valley. I saw him in you no matter what face you seemed to captain at any given moment.

When I walked into the church at your funeral and saw this picture of you, I couldn’t help but to say out loud through my smile: 

“There You Are!”

I rejoiced in the face I had known our whole friendship, yet never seen with my eyes. I recognized you immediately, from the light in your smile, when you talked about your music, your Wednesday afternoon fishing, your kids weddings, or simply when you walked toward me to say good morning, arms outstretched; and I would ask you: 

"What's that face for?" with a smile of my own.

I knew this look.  I had seen it so many times.

And tonight, on such a lovely evening, I find it impossible to commemorate the pain of your passing a year ago today. Tonight I choose to commemorate the moment all your faces melt into one. That young, vital man astride his horse overlooking this valley, and the moment of your rebirth into a JOY that surpasses all mortal understanding, just one frail year ago.

In the most meaningful aspect of our friendship, I learned to follow your example of letting people grow beyond the sum total of who they are in any moment.

And now, this evening, in accepting all of who you were, I take even greater appreciation in who you've become as you shed the limitations of this life. I don't hold you in the moment of my prayer for you, crouched outside the room of your passing, I hold you in your best moments. A variety of perspectives, that together resemble more eternally, a glimpse of the reality of you now; as I feel your spirit palpably nudge me off my couch into an unplanned evening walk, along paths you strode yourself.

On my return down the hill, by the time I rounded the corner toward home, the words of the poet David Whyte were rolling across my tongue. 

We shared an appreciation for his work, and this poem always made me think of you; you as the carver, and you as one of the most profound men I will ever know.

In reflecting upon your life, I saw in your faces firsthand a man who was willing to give yourself, over and over again, “to the blows of the Carver’s hand”.

Tonight, I dedicate these words to you, Rex, so beloved, by so many, for so many different reasons:


In monastery darkness

by the light of one flashlight

the old shrine room waits in silence

While above the door

we see the terrible figure,

fierce eyes demanding, "Will you step through?"

And the old monk leads us,

bent back nudging blackness
prayer beads in the hand that beckons.

We light the butter lamps

and bow, eyes blinking in the

pungent smoke, look up without a word,

see faces in meditation,

a hundred faces carved above,

eye lines wrinkled in the hand held light.

Such love in solid wood!

Taken from the hillsides and carved in silence

they have the vibrant stillness of those who made them.

Engulfed by the past

they have been neglected, but through
smoke and darkness they are like the flowers

we have seen growing

through the dust of eroded slopes,

then slowly opening faces turned toward the mountain.

Carved in devotion
their eyes have softened through age

and their mouths curve through delight of the carver's hand.

If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver's hand
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.

If only we knew

as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized

by fear and the weight of things undone.

When we fight with our failing
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself
and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.

And as we fight

our eyes are hooded with grief

and our mouths are dry with pain.

If only we could give ourselves

to the blows of the carver's hands,

the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers

feeding the sea
where voices meet, praising the features

of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.

Our faces would fall away

until we, growing younger toward death

every day, would gather all our flaws in celebration

to merge with them perfectly,
impossibly, wedded to our essence,
full of silence from the carver's hands.

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet
Copyright © 1990 by David Whyte. All Rights Reserved
Many Rivers Press (

Friday, June 3, 2011

Inside His Ancient Heart

A year ago today you walked toward me for a mid-day hug in our office for the last time. I remember it well, because it was so unusual. At the time I was quietly startled as it seemed to me that the cells of your body felt so frenetic. If I had to describe it, I would say it felt like you wanted to crawl under the surface of my skin and hide, very uncharacteristic. In thinking back on this squeeze, I wondered if somewhere deep down, your spirit knew of the great journey on which you were about to embark.

They always say that the first year following the loss of a loved one is the hardest. And as we near that monumental marker, the shifts people keep telling me about are occurring here and there.

The doctors downstairs from our office have felt it’s time to bring a new therapist into your space. We have all sat in your office, at one time or another during the past twelve months, flooded with feelings of deep gratitude that it has remained just as you left it, that Thursday evening, a year ago today.

I was in there one evening a few weeks back, dusting the counters and vacuuming your baseboards. I noticed a change in the air, and I wondered to myself how long it would remain your lovely space. I could tell you were so close. In retrospect, it felt as though you were comforting me ahead of time, so when I learned of the change, my heart could bear it better.

So many people have told me that once we pass the year mark, I probably won’t feel you as close. I’ve wondered for myself if this will be the case.

I certainly have been in a very contemplative place, thinking over the last year...All the things you were facing prior to your sudden illness. The incredible experience, over such a short period, of watching you come to terms with it all firsthand. And the experience of witnessing you accomplish your passing through the veil with greater integrity than I knew anyone could.

I love you so deeply for the way you chose to pass. Like your life, it was a template for strength, trust and courage.

As I was cleaning some of your things, I shook out one of your throws and read with a chuckle the “ Fisherman’s Creed”:

“I pray that I may live to fish
Until my dying day
And when it comes to my last cast
I then most humbly pray
When in the Lord’s great landing net
And peacefully asleep
That in his mercy, I be judged
Big enough to keep”

I felt a smile grow across my face as I folded this lovely part of your mortality up.

I went home and decided to ride my bike up the canyon, with the thought of you fanning across my mind. New waves of grieving and gratitude washed over me, as I pedaled along the green shades of the Provo River, thinking of you in your hip-waders, fly fishing. The smells of the canyon are so sweet and lift my spirit like the sweet support I have experienced from you through the veil so often.

On my way biking up to my favorite willow tree, I notice someone had graffitied on a small building off the side of the path: “Life has no limits if you are not afraid to get in it”.

It reminded me of your approach to helping so many as a therapist. There were many days that I would walk into your office (when I had finished with my own client), and see that you had some saying like this written on your whiteboard, for the client you just finished a session with. Seeing this phrase on my ride gave me needed a boost of encouragement to accomplish my 14 mile journey.

Sweet tender mercies, such as this, have peppered my days and weeks since your passing. Yet still I was wading through the questions of: Will I not feel you so close anymore? What does “time” have to do with anything? From my experience, the veil dissolves when we transcend time and let ourselves experience the present, that’s when I feel you the most; those quiet times when you catch me off guard. Yet I felt myself asking fisherman Rex: Do you have somewhere else to go? Someplace to be? --When the veil that supposably separates us, is really is just the thin sheath of my own mortal view?

These questions continued flowing through the past few weeks, until one day recently, when I just couldn’t make it through my day. I bowed out of all my commitments and spent a quiet day to myself. I biked slowly up the canyon, sat under the willow for a bit, and made my way back home along the banks of the river. Once back home again, I prepared a simple dinner and began cleaning my kitchen in preparation for bed.

I felt impressed to light the candles in each room for the evening. As I cleaned the kitchen, I turned on the T.V. to find the re-run of a show where a popular singer was performing a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Lullaby”. I have always loved that song, and it was the perfect ambiance for my waining day. 

I remembered that this song was included in the last CD you sang on with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so I popped my iPod on the dock and let it serenade my hands as they moved my cloth back and fourth across my counter tops.

It was not until the third time through, that my mind was enlightened to your presence, so I stopped my cleaning and (at your nudging) listened to the words.

Your spirit so compassionately again embraced me, in the same familiar and supportive way it has since your passing. I love that it was your voice singing a cappella, as one of the men in the choir that you loved so much. I love that you spoke to me from your fisherman’s heart, on a day my mind had been flooded with images of you as I biked along the water’s edge:

“Good night my angel time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say

I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Where ever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away

Good night my angel now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay

And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me

Goodnight my angel now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry and if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart there will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabies go on and on
They never die that's how you and I will be

So so sincerely, sweet sweet Rex, I thank you again, my kind, beloved fisherman friend.