Sunday, June 7, 2009

Heaven is other people

I just finished a book called Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist's Journey from Near Death to New Life. The author, Lew Richmond, facilitates the Tricycle magazine blog on aging. This is not a cheery account, but an honest and open description of his slow, incomplete recovery from a brain infection, with its setbacks and slow time and even a mean nurse, but also with many caring healers. I flagged the page with this quote --
In his play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre writes, "Hell is other people." But now I knew that this existential aphorism was not so, at least not for me. Other people are not hell, they are heaven, a heaven filled with gratitude for their presence and their care.
I read this not long after I had been to church last Sunday. We've been missing some Sundays since Sherlock died, depending on how bad I felt. After church, one woman after another came up to me and comforted me, and compassionately shared their own grief for lost pets. I don't remember ever feeling this kind of what we call "support" before. But it really felt exactly like support, like the church was a strong, resilient net underneath me, that would prevent me from falling too far.

Every grief touches down on our other griefs, they say, and I had plenty I hadn't cried hard about these last years. Yet I also grieved hard just because I miss Sherlock so. People talked to me about that, how empty the house is when they're gone. There is something unique about this grief, because our mutual love with an animal is so pure and simple and clear. Finally I am seeing that I can hold him in my heart and continue to love and miss him even as my life goes on.

It's been a month, and we have taken major healing steps - visited Cat Welfare, not once but three times, getting to know certain cats who respond to us, thinking and talking to the staff and volunteers about their personalities. Every time I go, I feel healed and filled up by the experience of being with cats. We're getting pretty fond of a large marmalade female named Ori, who is shy of the other cats and stays in her cage, but loves to be petted. Stroking her gives me something special, a sense of warmth in the solar plexus. She seems to be an earth cat, nothing like Sherlock in appearance or temperament; we decided that was a good thing. So we are thinking about this now, dreaming on it, getting ready.

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