Each day at work someone comes up to say I didn’t know you were leaving. We work so many different shifts, some of us part-time, others four days on/three days off, and sometimes it takes weeks before we reconnect. As I look into the speaker’s eyes, I detect concern and sadness; also love, underneath and above.
Each time I open myself to such emotions, I realize that much of my grieving is already behind me, that I’m ready to go. Three weeks ago I almost fainted as I imagined a world without working at hospice. Now, as the last day draws near, I feel light and–surprisingly–empty.
The leaving is hard, writes Esther de Waal. We all know this. We are happy where we are. Things are going well, we are being used, we feel loved and secure. And then God says, “Leave it all. Leave and go forward into your unknown future.” This may well be the start of a time of wandering, of uncertainty, of feeling that the familiar landmarks have gone and the new ones are not yet in place.
But I’m not done here, a voice from within. I truly like being “used,” I love and feel loved in ways I never imagined. There’s much to learn here, and much to give. I’ve waited all my life to get there — didn’t even know that “here” existed. Couldn’t I stay a little longer?
I hear (and appreciate) that voice and, at the same time, know that in leaving I’m being given an opportunity to “die before you die,” a practice recommended by ancient teachers. This little Zen story explains the concept:
A monk set off on a long pilgrimage to find the Buddha. He devoted many years to his search until he finally reached the land where the Buddha was said to live. While crossing the river to this country, he looked around as the boatman rowed. He noticed something floating towards them. As it got closer, he realized that it was the corpse of a person.
When it drifted so close that he could almost touch it, he suddenly recognized the dead body as his own! He lost all control and wailed at the sight of himself, still and lifeless, drifting along the river’s currents. That moment was the beginning of his liberation.
source: de Waal, E. (1989). Living with contradiction: an introduction to Benedictine spirituality. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publ., p. 122. For the Zen story, with commentary, go to John Suler’s website. photo: with three of our amazing volunteers.