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I have sent you my invitation,
the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living.
Don't jump up and shout, "Yes, this is what I want! Let's do it!"
Just stand up quietly and dance with me.
The advantage of the written word is that I can tell you here near the beginning what was only revealed to me near the end: I write these words to name myself — to name each of us — worthy of going home, worthy of having our longing met, worthy of awakening in the arms of the Beloved. Finding and voicing our soul's longing is not enough. Our ability to live in a way that is consistent with our longing — our ability to dance — is dependent upon what we believe we must do. If our intention is to change who we essentially are, we will fail. If our intention is to become who we essentially are, we cannot help but live true to the deepest longings of our soul.
It is a shining autumn day, the kind of day when the blue of the sky startles you into believing that all things are possible. I'm standing in the quad, a tree-filled green space between the old stone buildings of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. But I am not aware of the warm sun or the cool breeze or the students laughing and talking and being vibrantly twenty years old on the lawn. All I can hear is my forty-four-year-old heart thundering in my ears, pounding so hard and fast that my body quakes with the reverberations. Each time I take a step, sweat trickles down the sides of my rib cagebeneath my wool sweater. Long, thin pains radiate out from my chest and down both arms like shards of glass making their way along my arteries. A giant hand is tearing my heart out of my chest, and I am afraid.
It probably tells you more than I want you to know about me that it never crosses my mind to ask any of those passing by for help. Stoic to what I am suddenly afraid might be the end, I think to myself, "Oriah, this would be a very stupid place to die." Later I wonder what a smart place to die would look like, but for the moment I focus on moving forward, convinced that I will be all right if I can make it to the library just across the quad and lie down in one of the large armchairs in the reading room.
And then suddenly, there on the sidewalk beneath the sun of an impossibly ordinary afternoon, I hear part of the Pablo Neruda poem "Keeping Quiet" running through my head like the lyrics to some sad melody being played in my body:
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
I am aware of what feels like a sharp, desert-dry stone in my throat. I swallow it and focus on taking another step. It takes me ten minutes to traverse the usual two-minute walk to the library. Lying in a lounge chair, I feel the pain slowly abate as my heartbeat gradually returns to normal. And the last line of Neruda's poem runs through my mind again and again. Why am I threatening myself with death? One doctor later declares I have had a mild heart attack, while another maintains it was severe angina. Either way the message is the same: despite the articulation of my sincerest intention to slow down and rest, I continue to do too much, to run too fast, to try too hard. I continue to threaten myself with death.
And this — this refusal to rest — is not the only way in which I have been failing to live consistent with my deepest desire to be fully present with myself and others. Lying there in the library reviewing the last few months of my life, I am aware of a gap I fear is an abyss between my longing to live passionately and intimately with myself and others and the choices I continue to make, the ways in which I fail to love myself or others well.
I'd failed to see the signs of advanced alcoholism and severe depression in the man who had come into my life the previous spring. Although he functioned reasonably well during the day as an architect, I eventually learned that Paul kept a nightly ritual of consuming large volumes of Scotch. It was a pain-numbing habit he'd developed five years earlier after his wife had died in a car crash when he'd fallen asleep at the wheel. Had I heard all of what Paul had told me from the beginning — that despite his desire to rebuild his life he did not think he could ever love or be loved again, that he was winding down toward death — would I still have loved him? I believe I would have. I'd seen the tender heart, fine mind, and gentle spirit beneath the pain and the addiction. But had I seen and accepted the choices he was making for his life — for his death — I would have loved him as I do now, from a distance, not hoping for a relationship of deep intimacy and partnership. When I walked away full of sadness for what could have been, I thought to myself, "I should have told him from the beginning, 'It doesn't interest me if your answer to my invitation is "Yes!" I want to know if you can dance.'" But the truth was that he had told me from the start that he couldn't. I just hadn't wanted to hear it...