November 1, 2016 – We met a year ago today. And now she is gone. That version of her I grew accustomed to, the convenient package. Michele is not here.
We humans like things in tidy packages.
Bodies are this for us. They seem to be centralized containers of essences, of soul.
They are such obvious vessels for what we endow as a person, as a life. It’s all right here – condensed and visual. A certain person, a certain smile, the set of a certain pair of eyes. A mind contained within a head.
But when I met her it was not a body I saw, or felt, though there was a recognition. When I met her I perceived something beyond the usual realm of perception. And even now I cannot describe it.
I think it was energy, a wavelength of being. For a moment we were tuned to the same frequency.
We are, all of us, love. And we are all made of light. But she burned brighter in those aspects. She understood that the meaning of ‘to live’ is to give. And that’s not an attribute of a body. She did not bring a special body to Earth, she brought a way of being in a body.
The death of that body has coincided with my own new and evolving conceptions of what it means to be inside one. Or not.
This is not a eulogy. My purpose is not to tell you who she was, or even what she meant. Her life here, at this time, holds more significance for me than summaries of enviable traits or even her acts of kindness.
Michele’s life, as I knew it, has affirmed some things, but it is her death that is truly healing.
Somebody turned to me at the memorial service on Sunday and raised the question of why? Why are the ones we seem to need most removed from us at times we deem too soon?
I think it’s because, as meaningful as their lives were, it’s their death, now, earlier than we’d have liked, that is the teachable moment. It is the sudden, seemingly inexplicable, cessation of a body in space and time that causes us to pause and reflect. Their deaths jar us into living.
When a young, brilliant, inspiring being is suddenly ‘gone’ it leaves us with a surreal sense of displacement, a sense of disbelief so profound that a mark is left upon us, the way a lightning strike shows itself in the rings of a tree.
The death of someone before their time is nonsensical and jarring and if you’re not careful it will leave a wound.
But that’s not what it’s meant to do – injure, wound – and though the word meant implies a plan too great to even comprehend, I use it because I do believe in something beyond us, a great love, guiding us with whispers and tiny moments of grace.
I believe the death of the body will heal us if we allow it, because the body itself is not who or what we are. The death of a body can teach us what we are not.
We equate the body with the luminous soul within. When we cease to see a thing we lose our faith in it. But is the love gone because we can no longer see the ones we loved?
One such as Michele, who gave, and loved and healed, who made such an impact on the world, only dies in the sense that we don’t see them any longer, we don’t see them occupying physical space, affecting light and sound as an object of form.
You hear all the time in these situations – “she lives still in our hearts” – and there’s a truth to that, a metaphorical truth, but she lives also in our minds, in our souls, literally. The people we love are part of us, like micro biomes, like the bacteria that not only inhabit our guts but which facilitate our metabolic lives.
The people we love are live in us. And though their bodies may be absent it doesn’t take much to hear their voices, to smell them again, to see their faces in our minds. Those parts of them are stored, in cell memory, as sense recollections hard-wired to our bodies.
And think of all the other things they gave us that we still carry. Ideas. Modes of being. Little scraps of personality. Even their memories slough off and become ours.
The snowball analogy is fitting. For we are slowly rolling on an erratic path, gathering bits of grass and bark.
The point is that bodies gather and carry, and minds carry, but we are not bodies so we do not die. We disperse. We become assimilated, by each other.
When Michele told me that the cancer had returned, and that she didn’t have a good feeling about it this time, I reassured her. I told her with absolute certainty that she would not die. I don’t know where my conviction came from but I was convinced it was true. And I believed that up until the end, until I saw her for the very last time, so weak and obviously fading. I sat at her bedside and looked at her and I asked her if I’d ever see her again. And she said, “I don’t know.” But I knew. I was wrong. Her body was dying. Only now do I understand my mistake.
Her body was dying but she herself, the constellation of lights that I know as Michele, could not, did not, die, and I saw that at her memorial service, in the room where the scores of people she touched, and healed, and loved, were all flickering, like fireflies – it was a space filled with people, and music, and everyone was charged. Everyone was a different, better person because their snowball rolled over her little patch of grass, or maybe she was the snowball who rolled over us. And it was the same thing as the end of Charlotte’s Web, with all the spiderlings blowing off in the wind; and that’s what we are. It’s just that the wind hasn’t picked up yet and we’re all still making our way up the fence-post.
It was a year ago today, as of this writing, when our trajectories crossed, and I knew that this person, this time-traveler, would impact my own path, my own life.
I was sure that we would do great things, together, great good. I didn’t think about time but if you’d have asked me I’d have told you I’d made a lifelong friend. I would know her at 80 and we’d have done great things.
This essay leads with a photograph that is itself a reflection, a reflection captured of light off a body. I open with the illusion. An illusion so convincing that you’d think me mad for insisting that these things we see all around us, and in mirrors, are not what we are.
It is true that a body is holding this notebook (I write long-hand). It is true that a body is guiding this pen. It is true that my hand transfers ideas, thoughts from some part of me that exists ostensibly in my body. But that part, the origin of thought, only seems imprisoned inside this man.
It is not true.
Even now those thoughts are free. They are in a thousand places at once. They are inside of you now.
What seems to come out of me came out of others first, including Michele, who understood this better than most. We had talked about this many times. We talked about the fallacy of form, how deceptive it is and, sometimes, how disappointing. And who knew better than she did, how fragile?
It is this fragility I return to again and again in my thoughts, in my dreams, in the movies I watch, in the books that I read, that fuels my wonder. Why this? Why is something so divine as man relegated to such a fragile husk?
The thing is, it isn’t. And when you meet a person like this, a person who so obviously is more than a man or a woman, a person who embodies God, you grow a little. And you change. And your faith in the promise that only love is real and everything else is a dream, gets a little bit stronger.
In the end, what is real is what is left. Long after the body is gone love remains. Not as residue but as the ether through which everything we understand is possible.
o O o