This week, I attended a memorial service for a young yogini, an artist, a gardener, a lover of beautiful things and animals. She was my friend's sister, and I was deeply honored to be there to bear witness, to help celebrate her life and to grieve their unspeakable loss.
The service was both lovely and heartbreaking; her family and friends gathered under an outdoor pavilion at a wildflower preserve, and took turns speaking and reading poems and reflections on her life. I wept, wishing I'd known her, too.
Somewhere in the middle of a poem, a small tanker truck pulled up in the drive behind the pavilion, to empty the portable toilets that I hadn't noticed in my walk around the perimeter before the service. It idled there for a while, providing a grumbling background hum, until another of our friends, who is more thoughtful and considerate and take-charge than I am, got up and asked the driver to come back in an hour, because the gathering was to honor the dead. (He did, of course. He had no idea what he was interrupting when he drove up to do his job.)
I'd been sitting there, contemplating both the service and the truck, thinking that in a twisted way, this was appropriate: amidst the beauty and music and light, there is shit. Sometimes, a kind person comes to haul it away, but we can't pretend it's not there. This is not to be dismissive of loss (and don't get me wrong; I was relieved that my friend asked the truck to come back later), but to know that loss and life, the darkness and light, coexist. Those of us who survive in this world come to terms with that along the way; those of us who don't, perhaps, may imagine some more perfect ideal that the world can't deliver, or aren't ever able to see the light at all.
Later, as we clustered quietly after the service, my considerate friend asked: how do we teach our children to keep going, even through the difficult times?
My answer then was that they have to trust you. But that's not completely right. It's more, I think, that you try to fill their lives with as much light as possible so that they can draw on it in dark times, so that the noise of the shit truck isn't quite so loud; it's more that you let them see you dare to hope when things are hard, that you don't hide the shit in your own life entirely, but let them know that you work through it, too. That your life is a practice. That you don't have it all down perfectly, but it's worth trying to get it closer to beautiful.
But that's no guarantee that they--or that anyone whose lives we touch--will learn that lesson. Some of us are taunted by demons and darkness that others can't vanquish. All we can do is offer a safe place for people to be understood and to give voice to their deepest fears and dark thoughts, to love them as relentlessly as we are able, to offer them light, and to hold them as close as they will let us, hoping that we don't have to say farewell too soon.