Monday, January 7, 2013

Comedy and Tragedy, and What's More

I started the New Year in the best way possible, having lunch with my enlightened friend John Langford, who was just about to exit the U.S. for the third and final leg of his now-three year long world tour. We talked of aspirations, goals, and our responsibilities as ones who are now often (puzzlingly enough on my part) seen as leaders and inspiring individuals. We both thought this was silly, and yet are both asked to advise and illuminate friends and strangers quite often nowadays. I suppose this power comes at the end of the mythical Hero's journey, as one is granted the mantle of Secret Knowledge to bring back and heal one's tribe. My journey and transformation, an internal one, was wrought through pain and illness, and the confrontation and conquering of death. John's was the very real journey of travel... going out into the world, opening his heart, mind and spirit to the people within it, and reminding us all that this existence is far greater than any one man's simple problems in life.

Of course we talked of our New Year's resolutions, and what we hoped this year would bring.
My remark was this: That this year will hold the most beautifully joyous and tragic of times. Great things will happen. Horrible, horrible things will befall us too. But above that, there is what we synthesize and actively put back into the world. We are each in charge of our own destiny. We must open our hearts to life, breathe it all in, and add something to the very idea that existence is worth happening in the first place. Own your joy and your pain, and clear the lines of communication to Pure Potential. I truly believe anyone and everyone is capable of this!

No sooner had I spoken these words when tragedy did indeed strike at the very heart of our group of friends. Our dear Michael Pungello was given back to God on Saturday evening after a long and valiant battle with cancer, leaving behind his partner of seventeen years, the wonderful and resilient Kevin Smothers. Michael's and my illness were chronologically parallel, and so I'd be lying if I didn't say that I feel guilty for having lived when such a wonderful man was taken away from us. Michael, the same age as I, first learned the devastating news about his cancer at about the same time that my liver disease started to rapidly go downhill, in the fall of 2011. And for some time I was sure that I'd be the first one to go, as I very nearly missed the boat, having received my gift of life with apparently only a few hours left to spare. Michael and Kevin's struggle was much more intense and brutal, dealing with what I can only imagine were unthinkable amounts of radiation therapy, chemo, and all the horrors that follow.

In a way, I  now have to see Michael's death as a sacrifice for all of us... to reaffirm who we are, what we are here to do, and to remind each of us to love and cherish each other while we can. Yes, I had a revelatory experience in the spring when I faced God and triumphed over death. Yes, I tend to parade that information around and act as a "brand" for inspiration and hope to others. But to be honest, I've gotten spiritually lazy and complacent over the last months. I remarked in my last blog that I had been climbing a mountain for so many years with my illness, and finally reached the top to find myself on a large plateau. Instead of forging on, I have plopped my now-fat ass down on a beach chair on that plateau to enjoy some first-level heirarchical needs and good ole-fashioned primal pleasures. Having existed in the intellectual and spiritual sphere for so long, it has been refreshing to get to know a now-healthy body for once. And I'm thoroughly enjoying working with my new instrument, going to the gym, and entertaining a voracious appetite. But I get grumpy when I'm not focused on attaining the goals that I set my eyes upon in the spring. I have felt agitated and impatient, and have not been sure why. Now I now that's it's simply because there's no going back for me. I'm not sick anymore, so I don't have to wait any longer to pursue my dreams. And I can turn the switch on and find enlightenment again at any time that I choose. Getting happy. It's truly a choice.

The last few years read as a laundry list of disasters for me, and through it all, I now see that I chose to greet each tragic turn with laughter and love. As my own health declined and caused unimaginable tidal waves of destruction throughout every aspect of my life, I also watched as my father descended into the horrifically violent madness of having early onset Alzheimer's with a relatively young and healthy body. His decline tore a rift through our family's lives, making it impossible to ever have what most would consider a real "family" ever again. I have tired of becoming the glue that keeps the remaining members together, and have realized that was never my responsibility. But it is heartbreaking nevertheless. Add onto this a home invasion, financial struggle, and many other terrible things that I won't even mention here. Throughout these past years, I kept smiling. Many would ask me why I kept this up, why I kept grinning, why I kept laughing at it all and placed it in perspective. Did I ever have a choice? Would you? I knew that if I broke for even one second, the whole house of cards would come tumbling down. So I held my breath tightly, knowing that illumination would someday be delivered. That there is no dark without light. And, after endless new challenges and years of suffering, I can now bathe in the pure light and enjoy it even more, having fought so hard to arrive.

So, if anything, I have learned to appreciate what I have and to know how to access the Universe's endless benevolence when I so choose. And after a few months of existing solely in my body, I now find that Michael's sacrifice has found me more focused and on fire than ever before. To love, to synthesize, to love, to teach, to inspire, to love, to create, to love, to live, to love.

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