Friday, November 25, 2011


Today is the fifth anniversary of this space.

 Most of us are “out there” looking for something. For the greater part, humanity devotes its search to material rewards: money, sex, power, and so on. Yet there are those of us who don't feel that these things can ever fully satisfy a person; we go poking about in obscure places to try and understand obscure things.

One might say this blog is one of those obscure places, asking such questions.  A waste of time, some would say; yet for those of us who understand such matters, it is the only way to spend time profitably.

This was a year that shook my own world down to the foundations; years like this are valuable, because once the earthquake is over, the landscape is reconfigured, and it is no longer possible to navigate based on previous assumptions. New questions arise; old ones, which may have been around so long they began to exert a hypnotic effect, drop off.

I see once again that I don't in the least know who I am, where I am, or what I am doing.

I remember that Dr. Welch had two favorite ways of opening meetings. One was to ask us, in his gravelly voice (weighted down with gravitas, yet invariably sensitive and gentle): “Why don't we work?”  The other one was to ask us, “Why do we work?” ...He managed to do this without ever posing as though he knew the answer.

 I used to live next to Calvary Cemetery in Queens, NY. For those of you who don't know the territory, it is a landscape in the middle of one of the most densely populated urban areas on earth, punctuated with tens of thousands of tombstones.

As in all cemeteries, every one of those stones marks an ego. That's where all the egos end up: silent, in the earth, swallowed up and forgotten.

Think on this.

There is something more in life. There is the possibility of relationship. The possibility of a new relationship, something different than ego. We won't put a name on it. It doesn't matter what it is called, because it is actually nameless. It is a process, a living thing, born of the ability of the organism to receive.

A man has to have an aim. When the earth shakes and the buildings fall down; when the floodwaters roar in and suck everything away; when the only thing left is to breathe and know that we are alive, we are much closer to knowing what our aim might be. In any event, to a certainty, we are closer to knowing what it isn't. We must lose the world if we want to see the world.

 Last night, after the Thanksgiving meal was over, and my family was in the kitchen washing the dishes, I went up the hill behind our house to check on the chickens and close up the coop for the night.

Pausing for a moment on the way back down, I stared out past branches, now bare of leaves in late November, and set my eyes to a sky yielding its last sunlight.

Night ever gives the land back to more distant stars, who will watch over it past the time of man.  No matter how fallen we are, every soul knows this when it turns its eyes towards heaven.

Somehow, hovering in the air– which is just beginning to acquire the exhilarating, sharp edge of winter– I could sense the presence of my sister: a long way away, and moving outwards towards unknown destinations. She is not completely gone yet, but she is slowly saying goodbye– speaking not in words, but in the language of time and seasons.

I'm going to leave readers today with the text of the requiem I read at my sister's funeral a month ago.

Requiem for Sarah Hansen

In moments like this I seek explanations
But my explanations break down.

I try to philosophize
But my philosophies break down.

I try to rationalize
But my rationalizations break down.

The only thing that does not break down is love.

The love of parents and children is tested. The love of brothers and sisters is tested. And the love of mankind is tested. But although love is eternally tested, it never breaks. The love of God for His creation does not break. No matter how many times love is tested, I repeatedly come to moments where I see that although I am weak, and my own love is weak, love itself is not weak, and it does not break.

For years, almost every day, I’ve climbed the same hill alongside the Hudson River with my dog. Last saturday, the day after Sarah died, I was climbing the hill and realized that it was the first time in my life I had ever climbed the hill without my sister in the world.

That thought stopped me two thirds of the way up the hill, just as I cleared the treetops to a spot where the sun shone through, filtered through afternoon clouds. It filled the sky with what seemed like the radiance of the soul.

I stood in that light and looked into that light, which was a light of truth and a light of hope, and I called out to Sarah,

“You are loved.”

We all carry our stories of Sarah in us, whatever they are, countless stories. There are too many to tell. All these fragments of memory help to make the fabric of life real, but what makes the fabric whole is love.

Sarah loved and was loved, and we’re all here to testify to that love, which doesn’t die, but lives on in each passing moment.

There is that love in all of us; and there is also the perfect Love of God, accompanying every act and circumstance of creation- even the terrible ones which we don’t want, and can’t understand.

Where situations are impossible and words fail, love suffices.

With that love, I remember Sarah’s passion; the wild cards she played, and her effort to struggle through a lifetime of chronic pain, yet still raise a family and find time for work and joy. I remember her creativity. I remember her courage and her crazy, irreverant sense of humor. I remember the way she filled the whole room with her own unique energy of life.

How can we speak of a life like this?

Words aren't enough. But love is enough.

Love is the best we have. It is made of ten thousand impossible things, so it is stronger than the possible. It will always be the foundation on which every memory of Sarah rests.
There is no foundation greater than this; it is a good one, which time and death have no power over.

Sarah, we love you.

One last note to readers.

 Those few who have followed this space for years will know that every year, on the anniversary, I change the sign off phrase for the blog.

For the last year, the sign off has been, “May our prayers be heard.” For the next year, I'm going to steal a phrase from Dogen, who sometimes ended his Dharma Hall discourses with the following phrase:

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

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