So many of us are afraid of death, pain and despair. We seek to prevent as much as humanly possible, in most cases taking away life itself. The parents who would never let their children play sports “because they might get hurt”, the father who says no to his son’s desire to dance (or enter some other less than manly art here) because he seeks to “protect him” from those who wouldn’t understand. The mother who will kiss her son’s heads happily and send them on their way to adventure but her daughter must stay in sight when she is ready stray from childhood to find her own adventures. So many will never experience because they would rather be safe and stale then alive and on the edge. So many logic themselves that this is right, this is good and the “thing” to do so that we can be around for our families and friends. And in our river of denial we often believe it for our lifespan and only sometimes does one realize as life is slipping away in their last moments that they never lived. We all can think of a book or movie or story that depicts a person on their death-bed and wanting their life to MEAN something, wanting to be remembered for SOMETHING other than ‘what might have been’ and ‘almost’. That their actions in life will pass above the pain in their death. That their suffering was not for nothing, that something came of enduring instead of giving in. I see people who will likely die with more regret than meaning everyday. They are my age and only concerned with partying but some of them won’t make it to forty. They are my parents age and “to busy” to see whats in front of them till it’s gone. They are grandparents and great-grandparents who have always done their duty but never lived a dream. I’ve heard this from so many sources I don’t know who first said it, but it’s true ~ there are only two absolutes in life that we cannot change, to be born and to die, everything else is to be written. If your reading this then you obviously made it through the first part and the only thing else that is certain is you will die. Life and everything else is left to us find. But most of us never even look.
I had the amazing experience to hear a story which I’m sure many have heard in its various forms. But this one was different for two things, how it was told and that it’s a first hand story, the teller knew and heard the life story of the old man and was witness to the events of the story, it was his story as much as the old man’s. The teller was Tom Brown Jr. He told it after a week of learning that most cannot fathom and he was concluding his teachings with a bit of philosophy and life experience. I’ve met quite a few “great” and well-known people, I’ve many, many books, heard great authors speak and seen some amazing documentaries. But I have never heard a story told like this one, even though I’ve heard the theme more times than I can count. A simple story really, but the meaning is there.
Tom was called in from his 10 year wander over the north America continent by a feeling, a knowing that he need to come out of the woods he loved so and follow his path of showing people the lost art of living with the earth. He had been “out” in the wilderness for so long the president had changed a few times and he had no idea who or when. He kept coming back east. He found himself back in New Jersey’s hell among the pines he was raised in. But still He felt pulled in a direction further east. Thinking that he may have to cross the ocean next Tom ended up on one of the barrier islands in early spring (not quite tourist season). The island was built up from the weekend warriors and summer visitors but on this cold rainy week it was still and quiet. Except an old man who came to fish everyday on its shores. Tom watched the man come everyday without fail come wind or cold. Thinking that this old man must have a story head needed to hear, that this, this elder must have some wisdom he had to learn. He finally went to the old man as another day was closing and struck up a conversation. The old man asked Tom about himself and found it “odd” that he’s spent so much time in the woods alone. But he was happy to tell his life story and share his greatest passion of fishing on this beach. He had come to this very beach since he was a man without fail no matter the weather year round whenever he could get away from his family and work. The kids were grown and scattered, his wife passed on, the beach once deserted now littered with condos. But still he came to fish now everyday since his retirement. He talked of the tides, the fish, the weather, it was clear to Tom this place was the old man’s temple. The old man said he felt like he hadn’t much time left but he was going to get his fish while he could. After awhile the old man went back to his gazing upon the waves. Tom felt disheartened that this old man had no tokens of wisdom to share and wandered off. He found himself kneeling in the sand intently looking at every grain and how different each were. The sun finally broke through the clouds and the grains of pebbles lit up like jewels we only can envision in his hands. Tom’s attention was rapt in each sparkle of the earths diamonds. Tom always tried to put Grandfather’s (Stalking Wolf – his mentor) teachings into his life, for Grandfather had always studied everything even a leaf in wonder and delight. Tom heard the old man call out to him, “what yea got there son” he looked over his shoulder and explain how he was admiring the thousands of colors the sand became under the light. The old man snorted shook his head and exclaimed “you’ve been in those woods too long boy! That sand there is grey and black like it’s always been”. Tom, aghast with information said in the most pleading way that man in his prime who is built like a line backer normally couldn’t say, “look! old man LOOK”. At the old man’s eye brow rise of Tom’s tone and convection the he was indeed a few neurons short, Tom managed to gasp at him. “Don’t you see what is in front of you?! Your passion in all it’s beauty???” At the old man’s laughter Tom waded out into the surf, sadden by the lack of awareness a man has who is nearing his end. Time passed and as Tom came back to the shore he heard a sound, a sound that he couldn’t put into words. Searching for thing, what animal must be suffering to utter such pain all he found was the old man. He was kneeling down in the sand, holding the grains up to the light of the setting sun, tears coursing rivers down his weathered cheeks. His rough voice whispering over and over..”what have I missed, what..have I..missed”. Tom was struck by the depth, the wordless sound of a life not lived and at its end. Unable to bear it Tom walked away with the look in the old man in the sand eye’s. It was a look of awareness of all that he had missed in life, all that he thought he had experienced and seen but in truth hadn’t touched. For this beach, this island, this true love and passion that had been his peace in life, his temple that even when the world, his wife and kids never understood him, he was welcomed and found solace. But even this place, he knew not. Everything he loved he knew not of. And he would die within the year.
Every moment of every day there is more than we can speak or write of. And so many of us never realize. So many of us never live. The awareness is lost. The ability to see the facets of a single grain of sand let lone every line on those we love most faces is lost. And even fewer know that it is lost. We may be afraid of living, but having a life not lived is more terrifying than any pain we could find in life. For it’s a pain that cuts deep into our very spirit and doesn’t shed with time or body. And everyone I see who is blind, I am sad, sadder then the cancer child who didn’t live long, but tried everything once and might have found life in their few short years for.
My Mom’s brother died the other night (he never woke up). Having issues with substances I have not heard the final cause of death but mostly likely his heart gave out (men in the Roissier family have heart issues) and he had some alcohol issues in the past. He wasn’t fifty yet. He was the youngest child of Grammy Gail. She’s lost two of her children in less than three years. I’m sad, so sad for her. For my aunts who have lost their little brother. And for my uncle because from what he told me, he wasn’t sure that he ever lived. He was lost, so damn lost. And that I’ve no words for because pain is sometimes deeper than words. I dearly hope he is found peace wherever he is and that he did not feel that he wasn’t loved in his last moments.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.”
— John Greenleaf Whittier (Maud Muller – Pamphlet)
Good Medicine~ J