Death Can Be So Arbitrary.

August 2, 2021

Death Can Be So Arbitrary.

May 29, 2023

Death, you strike with unpredictable disrespect. You take the ones we never expected to leave.

I was so fortunate to be on many non-profit Boards during my San Francisco era, but there were three that were most meaningful to me: Glide Memorial Church, Burning Man, and the Esalen Institute. There were four founder "modern elders" who inspired me: the social justice warriors Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani at Glide, the philosopher Larry Harvey of Burning Man, and the intellectual, celestial Michael Murphy of Esalen. I studied each of them as these elders had so much to teach me.

Given their ages, you might have expected Cecil (turning 92 next month) or Michael (turning 91 next month) to be the first of these four to disrobe from their earthly costume, but Larry passed three years ago at 70 and Jan just passed a few days ago at 80. We didn’t expect either to leave us and it’s hard to believe they’re gone, given their indomitable spirits.

When in doubt, look for a Maya Angelou poem. I met her a few times at Glide before her death seven years ago. I offer this poem to Jan who was, long ago, the poet laureate of San Francisco. I’ve also made a short video with a couple of Jan stories.

When Great Trees Fall
(Maya Angelou)

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
 fall away.

We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

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