I’ve been up since 3:30 this morning, Christmas morning. I don’t know if I was awakened because of the brewing blizzard blowing and repeatedly smashing the Christmas lights against my mom’s house just outside my bedroom window or the fact I’d spent most of Christmas Eve consoling my grieving sister and reminiscing about the past. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
You see, 10 days ago, we received news of the death of a dear friend. He was only 42. He and I dated off-and-on nearly 2 decades ago when I was an undergrad living in a small college town in the Appalachian mountains of western Maryland. My sister became like a sister to him.
In a time when it’s frowned upon to be friends with ex-lovers, he and I defied the social expectation and remained close, as close as we could be considering we lived 150 miles a part and he wasn’t exactly active on social media.
His death was sudden, unexpected, and unnecessary. Needless to say, my initial reaction to the news of his death was shock and denial.
“No! How can he be dead?”
A few days before he died, I drove past his house and considered stopping by to see how he was doing. It had been several months since we last spoke. Unfortunately, I decided it wasn’t appropriate or respectful to drop in unexpectedly, so I kept driving.
For the past 10 days, I’ve been crying intermittently and just thinking about him, how we met, the arguments we used to have, the fun we shared, and the times we got together as parents long after our romance had faded to talk about our children, relationships, and dreams for our futures.
I was lucky to know him and even luckier to still be his friend.
On the outside, many who knew us may have wondered why he and I ever hooked up in the first place. We shared very few interests and even fewer friends. In a small town, who you’re friends with pretty much defines you and keeps you locked into certain circles. Again, our relationship seemed to defy this underlying norm thanks to the one very important thing we did have in common:
A deep desire to see justice served, especially served to those who personally harmed or betrayed us.
When we first met socially, we already knew about each other thanks to one particularly shady and mutual former friend who owed each of us money:
ME: “He owes me a lot of money.”
HIM: “He owes me a lot of money, too!!”
We laughed, and just like that, the bond between us was cemented.
Despite the fun we had in the beginning terrorizing the fool who robbed us, neither of us ever got our money back. But we never really expected to. We also never expected all the directions our relationship would take over the years — the arguing and forgiving, the laughing and teasing, the judging and shaming. During those early years of our connection, our relationship bounced between romantic and platonic love almost as often as the seasons changed it seemed, finally finding a solid place in the comfort of the “just friends” zone.
When he died on December 14th, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye and have been searching for meaning behind his abrupt departure from this earth ever since.
“Why now? Why didn’t I drop by and say hi the last time I was in town? Why the f#%k did he have to die? When will I see him again? Does he hear me crying and know how sad I am? I wish I could hug him one last time?”
I may never find the answers to these specific questions, but I do believe there’s a lesson to learn from his death, both for me personally and for each of his loved ones and collectively for our society struggling to understand the untimely death and loss of the young and suffering.
Thinking of him and what his death means has been all-consuming. When I think I’ve reached a place of inner calm coupled with acceptance, something or someone comes along to trigger my sadness, denial, and anger.
The latest trigger was my sister, who really, really loved our friend. Like I mentioned earlier, he was like the brother she never had. She protected him and supported him and often demanded more from him than he was ready or prepared to give.
Her sadness filled me with sadness. So when I laid down to sleep last night, I wasn’t grounded nor was I detached from the shadows of my emotions. I was, by contrast, completely immersed in the darkness and sorrow.
No wonder I couldn’t sleep!
I woke up after less than 3 hours of rest feeling anxious and confused. The wind was howling and the lights were incessantly clanging, clanging, clanging against the window. Instead of avoiding these moments of confusion and forcing myself to go back to sleep, I embraced each emerging thought and memory and grabbed my phone to record my thoughts. I didn’t want to lose the clarity of the moment, because clarity of my thoughts and emotions surrounding his life and death have been incredibly elusive for me, and I didn’t want to risk them fleeting and fluttering away yet again.
So I wrote this. It’s taken me more than 12 hours to compile. Going on 15 hours actually.
Normally, I’m not concerned about writing down my thoughts as they emerge. Probably because answers to burning questions often come to me while in the midst of living, especially while showering, driving, or walking alone in nature.
And I can’t write while showering or driving, and the last thing I want to do while relaxed and walking in nature is to interrupt my thought flow by stopping and jotting down my thoughts in a notebook. I’d much rather keep walking and allow the download process to occur naturally and without the pressure often associated with holding pen to paper or hovering my fingers above a keyboard.
Later, when I find the time to journal, I often fail to recall the exact pattern and progression of thoughts that graciously streamed forth and offered answers and solutions in the moment of initial reflection. My inability to remember exactly how I arrived at clarity leads to frustration, disappointment, and judgment of myself.
“Your memory is terrible, Paula! How could you forget what you were just thinking? How can you not remember the thought process leading you to this epiphany?”
It’s such a ridiculous reason to feel contempt and anger toward myself, because not only do I know intellectually I did nothing to justify the sensations of inner contempt or anger, ruminating on the contempt and anger takes up precious time and space better spent simply living my life.
After all, living and not just thinking about living is when the process becomes super clear and in-focus. Anything we think outside of doing is pure theory and speculation.
“If I do this, then this should be the result.”
When we actively live, theory and speculation are replaced with real results and an actual story to tell:
“I did X, and this is what happened.”
From which pours a story and timeline of actions leading to more actions, which ultimately leads to lessons, realizations, and insight for myself and if I choose to share in a blog or post, for the entertainment of others who may connect to and benefit from my story.
And who doesn’t love a good story? The kind of story we expect to never end filled with twists and turns and characters who take risks, experience love and loss, and who resonate and connect with us.
We hate to see these stories end, stories like my friend’s that abruptly ended 10 days ago.
I don’t know about you, but abrupt endings tend to leave me slightly agitated. Like a favorite movie or TV series we’re forced to “give up” because a network or producer decides it’s over. Perhaps the ratings were too low or the writers lost inspiration to keep the characters alive on the screen. Regardless of the reason, as fans, we react to our “loss” and ask,
“Why? Why now? Now what will I watch?”
Then, without fail, a new series airs and the collective fickle fan base we are finds a new story and cause to follow. It’s as if someone else is responsible for orchestrating our next actions and we allow ourselves to be guided, year in and year out, season after season.
Holidays overlap and blend into each other. Christmas bleeds into New Years, which bleeds into Valentine’s Day then St. Patrick’s Day and Earth Day and Easter and Mother’s Day then Father’s Day then the 4th of July and then Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. And then we’re shocked by another Christmas Day that seemed to creep up on us out of no where.
Hmm? Perhaps we feel this way because we’re not the ones in the driver seat.
So why don’t we take back the wheel and create unpredictable and spontaneous lives at the forefront and keep holidays and traditions in the background? And to go even further, why don’t we allow ourselves to cancel/end parts of our stories that no longer flow and make a choice to begin again with a new series and pilot? And why do we insist on believing every poor choice we make should result in the ultimate punishment and be fully resolved and understood before we give ourselves permission to move in a new direction? Why do we burden ourselves with shame, fear, and blame? Why do we hold onto people, places, institutions, and things that are clearly no longer serving our highest and best or the highest and best of our loved ones and partners? Why are we so afraid to end unhealthy and stagnant relationships and contracts by righteously claiming loyalty? Why do we think we’re bound, bonded, and forever anchored to every relationship and choice we’ve ever made?
I think it’s because we’ve surrendered our power to make free will choices without realizing we’ve surrendered our power to make free will choices. We arrogantly and falsely believe we ARE making free will choices, remaining completely blind to the puppet strings society is using to control and guide us into making conditioned, unconscious choices.
And this leads to the reality of our inability to trust our own hearts and the belief everyone else knows what’s best for us, as if they’re the ones living our lives for us and we’re just actors reciting pre-written lines guaranteed to garner acceptance and make everyone happy and comfortable, especially ourselves.
All those people who have opinions and judgments about what you do or should do are being controlled by the same puppeteer. They don’t possess greater insight into how to live a fulfilling life any more than you do about what it means to REALLY be free and happy.
The delusion is real and suffocating us all into submission, yet we refuse to see it or believe it’s true.
Why not? Why aren’t we being fearless and opening our eyes, cutting the strings, asking ourselves “What’s next?”, awaiting the answers to surface from within, and then heeding our own advice while taking action in the direction of our passions and true selves?
It’s clear we each have dreams and individual ambitions, but the majority of us seem to be waiting for someone else to give us the green light or for someone outside of ourselves to come along, rescue us, and write the next chapter for us.
Why? Why is it so hard for us to realize we alone have the power to be the author, hero, villain, antagonist, and protagonist in our individual stories? And why is it so difficult for us to realize we can close chapters and begin new journeys while remaining loyal to our history?
People, places, institutions, and things are fleeting. They’re just energy meant to flow through the ethers with ease, coming and going like sunrises and sunsets. But we humans dislike the idea of change and instead seek for everyone and everything to remain as is and be permanent and long-lasting.
This type of unrealistic expectation and determination to control others is a setup for disappointment and blame, which leads to unnecessary suffering and stagnant, stale stories no one’s interested in watching or participating.
Letting go of our expectations and control of others, especially the unfair expectations we place on how our friends, family, and romantic partners should behave or change in order for OUR personal stories to play out exactly as we imagined they would in our mind.
What an incredibly selfish thing to expect!! How unfair to place such expectations on others and blatantly disregard their hopes and wishes no matter how righteous or perfect we think our version of our life (and theirs) would be if they would just interact and behave exactly how we imagined they should?
Letting go of expectations is simple yet requires a complete mindset shift, which, in turn, requires commitment and dedication to our individual paths. Simultaneously, we must fully honor and respect the known and unknown dreams and ambitions of the ones we love the most.
This will allow us to be less negatively affected when a friend or loved one suddenly announces they’re setting out on a new adventure…without us this time.
True freedom is the ability to let go of expectations and allow loved ones be free to explore life on their own terms.
Seems simple enough, don’t you think? And pretty damn scary at the same time. No wonder we resist and choose to cling, fight, and scratch to maintain the status quo with our controlling and limited expectations. It’s so easy to manipulate ourselves and other people into sticking with conditioned beliefs no matter how restrictive and oppressive those beliefs prove to be.
If each of us were to make the conscious decision to let go of conditioned beliefs and the forced control and expectations of ourselves and others, I foresee less suffering, less trauma, and less failure to launch and more productive and creative solutions emerging to solve the world’s current issues of poverty, war, sickness, and murder.
Plus, unlike what we’ve been conditioned to believe, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful life. There’s no end to ANY story, only new chapters with endings leading to new beginnings of subsequent new chapters. And so on.
Each of us has the free will choice to begin again, to start over from scratch.
So don’t be afraid to write your own story while in the midst of living it. Because mapping next steps and trying to predict every future twist and turn before taking action is not only impossible, but it’s also a fantastic excuse NOT to get busy living.
And let others live their stories, too. Their lives and choices are as precious as your own. Remove your projected pressure from their lives. And don’t take a loved one’s choices personally or as an offense against your life. And if it suddenly seems your life and a loved one’s life no longer align as perfectly as before, they probably don’t. So release yourself and your loved one from the expectation that full realignment is necessary and possible. It’s not and it isn’t.
Some relationships end. It doesn’t mean you failed or your partner failed. It means your relationship served its intended purpose and it’s now time for both of you to sprout in different directions and experience a new path with new people, places, institutions, and events.
The past is the past. The future can’t be lived fully if you expect the past to be both the present and the future. It’s not possible.
The only thing permanent is change. We’ve all heard it before. But we’re not listening.
So if you continue resisting change, you’ll inevitably find yourself stuck, unhappy, and resentful of others. And inside unhappiness and resentment resides a greater chance of an abrupt ending to your story, one in which someone you love and who loves you discovers you lifeless and alone — a premature ending to a story that was once active with boundless potential for success, happiness, and freedom.
Reach for your authentic, full potential loving self. You’re worth it and those you love the most deserve your best and highest. When we each live from our highest and best, we positively influence and motivate others to live from their highest and best. The more of us who make this choice, the more likely we’ll see a dynamic and collective shift in this lifetime away from greed and selfishness toward equality and compassion for all.
Uplift yourself. Uplift the planet.
Free yourself. Free the planet.
Let your light shine. Why keep allowing it to be dimmed or snuffed out abruptly and prematurely?
Dedicated to Rob ~ one of my most favorite human beings and closest friends who will never be forgotten as the kind and generous soul he repeatedly proved to be. It was a pleasure knowing you in this lifetime. I’m certain our paths crossed in previous lifetimes, too. I love you, Rob, and know you can hear me. This song is for you. Until we meet again, I’ll keep looking up… 🙂