Recently, during the meditation group meeting in St. Barth, French West Indies that is so skillfully led by Trinette Wellesley-Wesley at the Anglican church in downtown Gustavia, “Why do I love being alive?” was the proposed theme. What had inspired it was actually a story of trauma, collision, tragedy and near-death. One of our mutual friends had invited us to her home on Oct. 31, the day before All Souls Day, when it is said the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead is so thin that one can actually see through it. Before Halloween was Halloween, it was the feast called Sawain, and it marked the beginning, not the end, of the year.
It was not just the Celtic origin of the feast that prompted our dear friend- a natural redhead and Irish woman-to prepare dinner for our small group. Nine years prior, on that same day, she and her husband had survived a plane crash that proved fatal for most of the passengers. Survival meant many things to her, and in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, not all of them were pleasant. Recovery-emotional, psychological, and spiritual- was fraught with the challenges that deep trauma brings. In the nine years following the crash, my friend has used her new life to aid our planet and its citizens, using her considerable intellectual and spiritual resources to do so.
Weeks after that dinner, silence settled on our meditation group. I looked at the faces that had gathered to share the experience of inner reflection and silence. I knew-if only casually-some of the people in the room. Two had narrowly escaped death, two had recently buried a family member, who abruptly ended his life. Their grief was so big and so fresh that they could barely breathe. Everyone in our small group had been touched, one way or another, directly or indirectly by death, loss, tragedy.
What I didn’t know, what surprised me, was the feeling of shame that welled up in my chest as I heeded the meditation instructions. I understood something about the feeling of shame that survivorship can bring.
Living when others don’t.
Feeling responsible for events.
Wondering if anything could have been done, or not done, to avert the tragedy, to affect the outcome.
The words fly out , “If only I would have…”, and they are tainted with sorrow, sometimes bitterness. Or blame settles in. Furtive glances. Accusations toward self or other. Feelings of having been wronged, slighted, or having been the catalyst for another’s hardship.
On that post-Sawain meditation, redemption came only after I found the courage to look up. In that looking, what I think I could have or should have been, done, said or thought disappeared.
All that is left in the void is truth, staring me straight in the eyes, smiling. Extending an invitation.
Living through death, through loss… peering through the veil where life and death dance arm in arm….
Forgiveness is the generous possibility I create to love myself and be loved for all that I have or haven’t been, all I can be, and all that I will never be.
Sawain. My friend was right. It’s not the end of something. It’s the beginning.