by Laura Lee
Paul and I are moving through one of those great passages in life, the kind you think you are prepared for, until it actually happens. The kind that every one of us deals with. I’m still reverberating with the death my father, one of the two most important men in my life. Lester was a charismatic, larger-than-life figure, leaving quite a wake in his trail. I guess if you have to orchestrate a passing, his was a good one — no pain, still sharp as a tack, ever stoic, surrounded by his wife and children, slipping away peacefully in his sleep. He succeeded in his final goal, which was to make it to his birthday. Traditionally, this was the only “command performance” of the year, the one event our close-knit, but far-flung family was sure to gather for. And so we all gathered, and one by one, got up to read an essay or poem centered around what we refer to as “Lesterisms” — Lester’s philosophy, set to a few words that somehow conveyed volumes. It was our way to celebrate him, and all he taught us.
Paul’s essay was remembering a favorite moment during a lively debate over dinner about the sad state of the economy. He had asked Lester what he thought. Lester — who had a flair for the theatrical — put down his fork, paused, and said, “Paul, I’m going to say this once and only once. The economy is a state of mind.” With that, we all burst out laughing at the brilliance of it. My mother countered with, “Well, if that’s true, then everything is a state of mind.” To which Lester replied “Yes, I would say so.” The family dinner table was where he held court. It was my first and in some ways best education, far-ranging and insightful as it was. And now here beyond all expectation, it was turning towards metaphysics! That’s why this was a favorite moment of mine, too.
Following Paul, I shared my essay on his most oft-quote: “Kids, you’ve got to learn to relax”. For someone who did not take to slackers of any ilk, this might at first seem a rather curious admonition. So I dissected it to get at its deeper meaning. I told the family that they need not seek the man atop the mountain, for indeed here was a Zen master in our midst. Learning to relax, to me, means stepping into the moment and embracing the whole universe that is contained therein. Isn’t this what he means by “relaxing”? That shift of consciousness that comes with being, not doing. I threw in one part David Bohm’s implicate/explicate, one part Quantum Physics, and how the leading edge of science is bringing us back to that most ancient wisdom that it’s ALL a state of mind, it’s ALL the mind of God. Lester was taking this all in with a sly grin. I asked him later if I got it right. He gave me the thumbs up and a nod. Yes, a man of few words! It helps to know that another of his frequent sayings was “get to the point!”
Every moment we spent with Lester those last few days, we appreciated all the more, knowing it was all we had left. “Let death be your advisor” I reminded myself frequently; I must appreciate how the temporality of everything make it all the more precious. Make the most of every moment, live to your highest aspirations, make it count — that’s part of the legacy Lester leaves me with. I miss him. I’m finding that loss and grief can take a surprising physical toll — I was only prepared for the mental and emotional toll. I’m also finding greater appreciation of the legacy that Felicitas gave us — a deeper understanding and experience of the grand cycles of life, from birth to death and everything in-between, delivered direct from the spirits. To turn to the cosmos to put these passages into perspective is to find a wonderfully healing salve. I miss him and yet in some ways he has grown even closer, and ever more accessible as counselor, touchstone, mentor — living as he does now in that cosmic circle of life.
I realize that I am freely mythologizing my dad. I am overlooking his shortcomings, editing, selectively memorializing. I am honoring the best, most eternal wisdom he espoused, his humor, gravitas, lightness of being, and what a character he was. I see how in art our themes gravitate towards what is most significant and meaningful to us — I’m glad that I painted his portrait, a token of appreciation, while he was still alive to hang it in an honored place, and show it off to friends. His influence lives on — his success in the world funded the Foundation he and my mother created, and donated to CI at my request. These funds helped us get done much of the work that Paul and I and the Board accomplished over the last eighteen months. We hope that we have accomplished enough to merit a continuation of the Foundation’s support. He would want it that way. (“You gotta give back”…. “Make a difference”)
As the dust settles, I find that I am in motion, and no wonder, the hub of the wheel has been lost, and all us spokes are dangling, trying to regain our footing. Change is difficult; its hard to get your momentum revved up. But here, I am in flux, and determined to use this momentum to gain higher ground. To resolve those deep-lying issues that are surfacing in all my relations: Self to self. Daughter to Father, to Mother. Sister to Brother, to Sister. Self to family group, to the World, to the Cosmos — helping anchor these loose spokes into their new configuration.
I also find myself drawn to — not into the Realm of the Dead as I had imagined– but the Goddess postures. There I can embrace the knowledge contained therein of birth, death, and rebirth, and to try to wear more gracefully and lightly the resiliency and fortitude of feminine wisdom and grit. I credit my work with the Cuyamungue Institute in helping me overcome loss, relying on a higher, wider, deeper understanding of the way the universe works. To know this, not simply intellectually, but to experience it directly, from the inside out, is what I appreciate most about working with the postures.
Belinda Gore talked to me a few years ago about taking this work to hospice workers, as one more tool to help families deal with death. Inspired by this goal, I talked with a couple of hospice workers about how this work might be incorporated into what they do. Belinda has made her own inroads, along with Jim Lawer and others. I would like to invite you to dialog on this mission too. Are there contacts in the field that you have? Ideas of how this work could be useful to hospice workers? Stories to share on dealing with the death of loved ones?