Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Not With A Whimper But A Bang

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, San Rafael, California, USA

May 19, 2013

This essay, Not With A Whimper But A Bang, is the companion piece to
  1. Sailing Ship
  2. Where You Go When You Die
  3. Not Just Passing Through
  4. Going Out Like A Supernova
in that order.

It is also the twelfth in an open group on People: I am indebted to Sri Jinendra Jain who inspired this conversation.

When my father Asher Manfred was dying, he gave me the priceless timeless gift of total completion.

Now if the truth be told, "total completion" wasn't a phrase in my father's vocabulary. It wasn't in the lexicography  with which he was familiar. Nonetheless when I told him I wasn't going to allow him to die without us being totally complete with each other, he said it was a great idea - but he didn't know how to make it happen.

I asked him to let me manage it, and he agreed. Over the course of a series of conversations, I asked him to ask me all the questions he'd always wanted to ask me but had never asked. He did. And I answered every one of them. I then asked him all the questions I'd always wanted to ask him but had never asked. He answered every one of them. I then asked him to tell me everything he'd always wanted to tell me but had never told me. He did. I listened. I got it all. I got him  - which is to say I got who he is completely. I then told him everything I'd always wanted to tell him but had never told him. He listened. He got it all - which is to say he got who I am completely, even though neither "I got it" nor "I get you"  were in his vocabulary ie in his lexicography.

When my mother Andee Platt called me early one morning to tell me he had died (I knew it was my mother calling and I knew why she was calling as soon as the telephone started ringing), it was as if a gentle breeze blew a page over in an upturned opened book, and Life had simply moved on. There was love not grief. I didn't mourn him: I celebrated him. There's nothing in the space of our relationship now except marvelous emptiness, total completion, and love.

My father's gift to me in completing with me that way was huge. Being totally complete with my father, I get how much of what we know as grief when someone dies is really the incompletion which remains when the truth wasn't fully and freely communicated, and the finality of knowing it can now never  be communicated ie the finality of knowing it's now too late  to communicate it.


I should qualify that: "... the finality of knowing it's now too late to communicate it 'physically in Life face to face'". That's the bad news. The good news is the possibility of being complete with someone doesn't end with death. You can get complete with anyone even after they've died.

But that's a subject for another conversation on another occasion.


One day recently out of the blue I received an invitation from a friend to attend his living  memorial. A vibrant healthy man suddenly stricken with a deadly form of brain cancer, he was having a memorial for his life before  he died - as opposed to the more traditional genre of memorial held for people after  their deaths. Dying, he wanted to share the miracle of his life (of Life  actually) with us while he was still alive rather than leaving suddenly without sharing.

I read it as an invitation to a celebration - not because I interpreted it that way but because that's the way he wrote it. He wanted to, as I heard him, go out not with a whimper but a bang  (I'm harkening to Thomas Stearns "TS" Eliot's "This is the way the world ends: not with a bang  but a whimper."). We celebrate birth. Yet we can barely confront death. Isn't that as arbitrary and as capricious as celebrating the entry at the McDonald's  drive thru, yet not being able to face or deal with the exit? My friend was about to do what my father before him had done with me, only he would be doing it with around four hundred people simultaneously.

What I noticed was I had already started to experience joy  in his imminent passing, as well as a certain sense of privilege at having been invited to participate in it with him. Any sadness typically associated with someone close to me dying had vaporized like a dewdrop in a furnace. I knew this event would irrevocably alter my life and my outlook on the future. I knew I had  to be there, so I RSVP'd  my thanks and said I was looking forward to coming.

Once Upon A Hilltop

Dressed lightly for a hot summer day, I drive up a meandering hillside drive until I'm at the very top of the hill under a copse of shady trees overlooking the slowly rippling waters of the San Francisco Bay. It's the  appropriate spot for something like this. It's idyllic. It's perfect.

He, resplendent in white, taking full charge of his own living memorial, opens (and later closes) the ceremonies with a full half hour chanting the exquisitely melodic mantra Om Namah Shivaya  driven skyward by four hundred voices in unison. "Namah" (it has the same root as "Namaste")  translates to "adoration" - so Om Namah Shivaya is "adoration to Shiva". In the Hindu pantheon, the trilogy Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the creator  of creation, the maintainer  of creation, and the destroyer  of creation respectively. Shiva destroys the old so the new can replenish creation again over and over and over. In this sense, Shiva is sometimes known as the transformer  of creation. How appropriate (given who he is) that we chant adorations to Shiva the transformer at his living memorial. No, it's not significant. And yes, there's a tendency to make it significant. But it's not. It's just plain beautiful.

He speaks about what is sometimes called the battle  with cancer. And as he speaks about this battle, he laughs occasionally: from fullness - that's how relaxed he is about it. But it's quickly apparent he's not battling anything. He's complete  with cancer. Almost heroically he speaks of cancer as also inextricably linked with God's creation. "Wow!" I think, the sound audibly escaping my lips. Many people pray to God to deliver them from cancer - which makes cancer (in a sense) their adversary. He, however, shares his completion  with cancer. He even honors  cancer by acknowledging its place in God's creation. It's a riveting, stunning  share - definitely not  business as usual. The group hangs on to his every word.

He singles out people to acknowledge - but he does it in such a way that everyone  is acknowledged. People stand up to acknowledge him, sharing their experience of him throughout his illustrious kick ass  career - and if anyone can claim to have had an illustrious career, it's he. The people all over the world who can link their own transformation directly back to him, number in the hundreds of thousands. Letters are read from people who couldn't be there. They're all personal. They're all love letters to him, really. But they're written in such a way that they're written to everyone, given who he is.

One of the letters is from Werner. It's not a long letter like many of the others. It's a letter which really defers (graciously I might add) to a private conversation between the two of them. So there's no real background for us in what it says ... other than  what it being read openly here under the trees says is "Werner is here" and that's the gift. In fact it's more than that - it's way, way more. It's given this particular event and given this particular group of people, it's the whole context  for the event.

What I keep noticing is the group at this living memorial isn't confined to the group at this living memorial. It includes (or at least it has the possibility  of including) everyone. This is very interesting I think to myself. The celebration of Life isn't confined to, isn't the property of, isn't patented by  any one group of people. It's he who's dying. But instead what's showing up is Life itself - all  of Life, all of it, and everyone everywhere. Everyone, at least in this very special moment, is showing up right here, right now in his space.

While we're sitting under the trees overlooking the bay, chanting then sharing then ultimately being totally enthralled by this new possibility  of being with a life ending (it's his life ending which by now has morphed  into your  life ending and into my  life ending), a small army of chefs is preparing a dinner of fine Indian cuisine. One of the accounts yet to be written in the Intersections  chapters of my autobiography will cover my stay in the Hare Krishna  temple in Bloomsbury, London in 1971. In that environment, food is considered to be a religious offering - which is to say, it's first offered to God before it's eaten. Food offered this way is known as Prasādam. Prasādam is considered to have Shiva's blessing residing within it which you, by the simple act of eating it, take on (I said "take on"  intentionally rather than the more obvious yet less profound "take in"). He never said whether that was what he had in mind ie if that's what he intended by feeding us. But given his personal relationship with Shiva ie given his shaktipat, it wouldn't surprise me if that indeed was it.

The impact point, the fulcrum  if you will, in any conversation is like the pointy end of the letter "V". Something is said, often in very few words, often just one sentence, which results in ongoing expanding and expanding and expanding - the expanding end of the letter "V". In fact it continues to expand ongoingly forever. In the conversations around the Prasādam, in the conversations which spring forth in the space of this living memorial, in the space of celebrating a life ending not with a whimper but a bang, I get to meet people I haven't spoken with in twenty or thirty years or more. They've all gathered here to celebrate and honor him. I get to thank them for the few words they said, the few sentences they said to me way back then at the pointy end of the "V". Relative to and impacted by what they said to me back then, I'm now living the expanding end of the "V" - and had they not said what they said to me back then (and I didn't always like  what they said to me back then), it would have been the letter "I" for me rather than the letter "V" (the letter "I", as you may notice, has no expanding end).

My erstwhile heroes, the people I looked up to as a twenty year old (in some cases literally)  now stand in front of me face to face. This time we're adults and equals. It's nothing less than a privilege to be here, to stand with them like this. Now I start to see this living memorial in a new way. Secondarily  we're celebrating one awesome man's life ending not with a whimper but a bang. But it's primarily  we're celebrating the thrilling new living possibility he's invented: the possibility of everyone's lives continuing from this point on, starting from the pointy end of the "V", living into the expanding end of the "V", not with a whimper but a bang. This is what's possible when you're truly and wholly complete with death. And I already know and recognize what's possible being truly and wholly complete with death. I already recognize this possibility is present here at this extraordinary living memorial because it's the priceless timeless gift my father gave me.

What's Next?

As for what will now become of the awesome life of the awesome man who invited us to be with him here today as he conducts his own off the charts awesome living memorial ... well ... I came here knowing he knows he's dying. But given the way I experience him today, I'd say it's entirely possible he may even surprise us and change his mind and not die yet after all and instead live a long, long blessed life.

And if he does change his mind you'll know because you'll hear him laughing.

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