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

Sailing Ship

Palo Alto, California, USA

August 8, 2008

This essay, Sailing Ship, is the companion piece to
  1. Where You Go When You Die
  2. Not With A Whimper But A Bang
  3. Not Just Passing Through
  4. Surrender To Self Not To A Diagnosis: Surrender III
in that order.

I am indebted to Dr Robert Lee "Bob" Culver who inspired this conversation.

Photograph courtesy
HMS Bounty
A friend of mine from whom I hadn't heard in a while, called me one day out of the blue. "Heeeeey Bob!" I said, "it's so good  to hear your voice. How've you been, my man?". Bob is one of those people who just by getting out of bed in the morning makes an extraordinary contribution to an enormous number of people. Bob is my health coach. He's trained me, cured me, and fine tuned my diet resulting in unprecedented drops in both my weight and LDL  scores. He's also shown me how to get more benefit from fifteen minutes of exercise than I used to get from two hours. He's a special person in my life and it was just great to hear his voice again.

He apologized for taking so long to return my last voicemail. He said he was in the hospital for some treatment. Looking for an opportunity to set up some time with him, I asked him when he'd be leaving the hospital. He said "In a day or in a week - in a box.".

Suddenly I was sitting bolt upright and paying attention.

He was flatly matter of fact about his imminent departure. This is it. This is the way it is and the way he's going to let it be. He's going to let it take it's natural course without resisting. I noticed there wasn't anything present for either of us, not in our conversation nor in our reactions, making this any different from any other conversations we've had over the years on any other topic. I asked if it would be OK to come and see him. He agreed. I intended it would be a visit more like a celebration than a good bye. But realistically speaking it would be a good bye. As I drove down the peninsula, I created the sense I was driving down to a dock where I would stand and wave as my friend sailed away on a grand sailing ship to his next adventure. I brought a nice bottle of wine as a gift. Truth be told, I wanted to bring the element of celebration with me. When we're born, people celebrate. I wanted this to be just the same - only at the other end of the continuum.

I was amazed to see how good he looked. I'm speaking about the presence he is, the light  that emanates from him. It was more powerful than ever, bright and inspiring as always. The people around him, family, friends, and medical professionals were all there supposedly to offer their support and assistance. Instead, remarkably, I could tell it was they who received support from him, being around him like that. The energy he brings to bear was there as always, only more so. It was just the body which, clearly, wasn't going to co-operate anymore, not for much longer.

At some point, everyone left the room, leaving just the two of us alone. He asked for a hug. I reached over to hug him, then kissed him on the lips. That's simply an expression of great affection, a much misunderstood expression of affection especially when it's between heterosexual men. I stood next to his bed holding his hand as we spoke. It felt like a tiny bird sheltering in my grasp. But the warmth and energy it transmitted in pulses wasn't vulnerable.

We spoke of where, if anywhere, we go when we die. I gave him my ideas, he gave me his. He said we would live on in each others' love. I liked the way he said it. It wasn't sloppy or sentimental. There weren't any violins, no choir of angels  accompanying what he said. He said what he said in such a simple, no nonsense  profound way it made me pause and think. I really got it. It was great looking at it that way.

Then he said something which really  got me thinking. He started speaking about having only one life to live. My first reaction was to assume he was starting a conversation to share his beliefs, such as they are, about life after death, reincarnation, salvation etc. But as I listened, I heard something even more interesting. The one life  he was speaking about was the one eternal life  of which this  expression here on Earth is simply the current chapter. That's not something to agree with or not. It's not something to believe or not. He simply spoke it like a possibility, unattached to being right about it. How he spoke it opened the space to look  and see if indeed it's what's so  and if there's value in looking at it that way.

Inevitably it was time to leave. We hugged again and I kissed him goodbye. There was some emotion, especially when we said "Goodbye" and "I'll miss you".

But the thing is there was no sorrow, no anguish, no pain, and no grief. It truly was a celebration. What I noticed as I walked slowly back to my car in the parking lot is both ends of our lives on Earth, the start and the end, are inevitable. What, then, has the start be easy to celebrate while the end is often exactly the opposite? It occurred to me then that grief is mostly comprised of incompletion. It's something I learned from my father. I had no grief at all when he died. Everything between us was complete. Nothing was left unsaid. Nothing was left unasked. It was all clear and empty. I'm hypothesizing that the naturally occurring expression of love and affection which is interrupted by the end of a life isn't enough to account for grief. It's more likely the realization of "It's too late!"  to say all the things we wanted to say to the other person, but withheld instead, waiting for someday, waiting for a better opportunity to say it.

The finality of the end of a life on Earth is the reminder that most likely, for now at least, there'll never be another opportunity  to communicate and say face to face  what we withheld, or to ask face to face what remains unasked. It's that sense of lost opportunity, the regret of having waited too long, I assert, which accounts for many similar situations being wracked by grief, while others, like this one, are pristinely quiet, respectful, simple rites de passages, natural celebrations.

Back at my car, I turned and looked up at his window, the dock from where the sailing ship would soon cast off moorings, up anchor, unfurl all available canvas, and set sail on the next grand voyage of adventure.

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