Tad has stopped talking to me. Worse: he actually sent me hiking.
In reality he was the one hiking. He was wearing his usual baggy shorts and tank top t-shirt, his sturdy hiking shoes and blue backpack and was walking away from me on a mountain path waving good-bye. I was sitting on a sand dune in the Moroccan Sahara watching the sun set for the last time before heading to a hotel the next day where I would marvel at the magic of real running water. The tears were streaming down my face as I kept yelling to him "Turn around! Please turn around please! I'm begging you. Let me see your face one last time!"
But he just kept walking away, saying "No - that won't help. You don't need that right now. This is not life. Go home and live."
He always was stronger than me in that way.
This was the end of a long conversation that had started two weeks previously when we first arrived and my friend and mentor, Maurice, invited us to imagine a guide, a sort of wise being who would accompany us through this difficult hike. He asked us to picture someone walking up behind us, then invited us to turn around in our minds and greet the Guide.
I didn't need to turn around since I could already feel the strong, familiar arms of Tad Crandall around my torso, holding his chest up against my back. My tears knew the arms were his.
To be honest I was actually a little pissed off. I wanted a real Inner Guide, I wanted a Jesus or a Buddha or a Guru. I had been in conversation with a higher form of Tad for months and frankly didn't want it to continue so intensely. During that time he had become less and less the day-to-day Tad and more and more the deeply loving, unconditional Tad who had been brought to his knees by leukemia. He had become an angel - one I was afraid to speak about for fear I start resembling those people who deify their dead relatives, who see none of their flaws once they are dead.
The time between this delicious sensual hug on my first night in the Sahara and his waving good bye to me my last night was incredibly intense. Ironically little happened externally besides walking, eating, packing, unpacking, sleeping, squatting and the occasional chanting. But internally….! I simply can't possibly describe all the deep, invisible movement that happened to me inside. Hints of these changes emerged in the evenings during our Sharing Circles, at night in my star-filled dreams and during the day in my journal just before afternoon naps. The latter are the only concrete traces that remain with me today reminding me the whole experience was not just a dream.
I need to share some things with Tad's and my community. The first is this idea that Tad told me to move on.
(The vulnerable part of me is already afraid you may think me crazy or fanatic. So I need to add that my rational brain of course tells me that this is all my projection and that the only voice I hear is mine disguised as Tad's.)
During many long, tear-filled conversations in the Sahara Tad showed me that by checking in with him, by asking him for advice, by seeing his perfectly wise self as my inner voice I was clinging to the past. Again and again I came back to that moment in our bed about ten days before he died when I shared my uncertainty of how I would get along without him. He spontaneously sat upright, looked at me with a generous smile and held my face in his hands: "Are you kidding me!?" he blurted out, "You've got a WORLD to change. You WILL change the world!"
Ah the wisdom of those staring death in the eyes.
At one point during free time in the desert I spent a long period watching a group of rocks. Normally when I have free time in nature I become a seven-year old with a million things to do:
"Oh my god! I need to go climb that hill!"
"I wonder what's beyond that ravine!"
"Later on I'll get naked and lie in the sun over there!"
"Let's see…where is the best place to write in my journal?"
"Where should I eat my lunch?"
"I wonder how that big slab of rock got there!?"
So at one point I decided to lean into the less comfortable - to sit, find a rock and stay focussed on it for as long as I could.
I sat for seven hours.
A deep, deep sense of quiet came over me - a rare sensation bigger than any pill or post-coitus wave. Every time my mind wandered I came back to my mesmerizing pile of rocks. A couple of times I napped but when I awoke I turned my eyes to my rocks. Finally as the sun began seriously tilting toward the horizon - I got up and started walking, watching my feet on the sand and rocks, one foot in front of the other. I began to wonder about something and as usual asked Tad for guidance. But there was no answer. Or rather there was an answer but it came from someplace inside me that wasn't Tad. It's as if Tad's wise voice and my Stone Silent inner voice had merged.
I was both intrigued and scared. Had I lost Tad? Would I ever get him back?
But I knew his voice was just a form of my voice. It was my loving Grandma's voice - now long dead. I understood -with some sorrow - that when I am completely calm and on my path all the voices of love - including my own - merge into one solid voice. And in essence that voice doesn't have much to say beside "Yes" to each loving step I take. I both wanted to hear Tad's voice and knew that this was part of the "grief work" - part of learning to be present. I know that life is not lived by staring at the past (nor the future for that matter) but simply glimpsing it from time to time.
The end result -one that seems so lackluster on the page- is a deep feeling of confidence that I can trust my inner voice in the present moment; a sense that Tad's voice is just a newer version of the deep healthy voice of love burrowed beneath all my doubts and busy mind.
At one point during this month away I had the privilege of chatting with Catherine a woman who had watched her seventeen year old son die of brain cancer. When I expressed a sense of tragedy she told me serenely that it was clear to her he had lived a full and accomplished life.
There had been a moment during Tad's illness, five or six months into the whole mess, when I stood in my living room sobbing and negotiating aloud with some unknown entity: "Take me!" I kept saying. "Take me instead!" I knew I had lived a good life, a full life. I knew I had been loved and had loved others deeply. I felt I was so much more ready to leave this planet than Tad who for many reasons seemed to just be coming into his personal power. This was of course a very romantic notion - that somehow I could step in for another person's turn in death- but it came from a deep conviction that my life had been good and that if possible I could let it go so Tad wouldn't have to.
So, I wondered as I walked gently in silence behind the padded round feet of the camel, how is it that --unlike Catherine-- I can't see Tad's death as anything but a tragedy? Why does his death seem premature? Unfair? Cruel? Could I ever feel that Tad's life was complete? What exactly is a complete life?
And I thought about my own readiness to die. Sure I regretted not writing a play that would change the world, not having kids, not creating another foundation - but mostly I felt comfortable with the fact that I had loved and been loved deeply, unconditionally.
Tad left behind no major corporation, no manuscript for a heart-wrenching novel, no composition for a gorgeous symphony. His name will not appear on a stone like the multiple war memorials sprinkled all over France nor the new wing of a library in the US. No grandchildren are lining up to take away nicknacks and the hundreds of photos I've inherited nor the boxes of shirts and trousers stacked in the garage.
I see how the absence of all these material traces reinforces my feeling that his life was not significant - that his death was too early - that he hadn't had time to make his mark.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Tad Crandall's love transformed this world.
I watched doctors and nurses weep in the face of this man's illness. I saw volunteers come back again and again with pleasure to visit him. I saw how he expressed concern for the hard-working hospital staff and how it touched their hearts. I saw how our own love deepened and thickened as the cancer became more and more tenacious - a notion I struggle to explain since my concept of love had always stayed close to that of the pop songs of the seventies. Who knew love could be so complex? So multi-layered? I have a hunch that like the nucleus of an atom - love is infinitely vast - that I have only begun to scratch the surface of it. And for that I can thank Tad Crandall.
These thoughts moved through me, took shape and transformed throughout this journey, one step at a time mile after mile, every night when I laid down on my mattress under the canopy of a million stars, every time my pelvis rocked forward as the camel moved under my buttocks, every time I hid crouched behind a rock to take a crap or wiped my body down with a stingy wet towelette.
In the end I found myself grateful I am now full of the incredible love and wisdom that Tad Crandall concocted and that Tad and Greg co-concocted.
I see how in the same way a child born today has access to so much more accumulated wisdom than when I was born, I can recognize I am a very lucky man to have spent five and half years with this man.
I swam in the Dead Sea, ate delicacies in the Eiffel Tower, won battles to improve legislation, walked among zebras in the African pamper, carried newborns in my arms and held a beautiful man as he died.
I am a more loving man for it all. And my life continues. My work continues.
What strikes me about the walk I took after the seven hours with Saharan rocks is that I knew what my goal was: that funny acacia tree at the base of the cliff near the path that leads to the well. But I didn't focus on the goal.
In this extremely calm state I simply stayed focused on the up and down of my feet and the rocky land beneath them. My eyes stayed gently poised on ten square feet. I didn't notice the rather impressive hill I was overtaking, the fact that there was a far less rocky path to my left or another to my right that would have softened the blow of the wind in my face. I didn't wonder seek out a camel or goat path - so surprisingly common in the middle of nowhere - but made my own path.
This notion may seem so inconsequential but is a revelation to me each time I rediscover it. It goes something like this: When I live in my breath, in complete serenity, in one-step-at-a-time I identify my goal then I let it go simply trusting the earth will support me one step at a time.
To phrase it another way I put my focus on my steps and not on the destination; on the present and no longer on the future.
This simple solitary experience frees me of a decades-long search to somehow identify something I can have faith in. My quest becomes moot. I see that all this time it is not faith in the invisible I need but simply confidence in the visible, in the minutes that tick by, in myself, in the world around me.
At one point during this walk I realized I was on top of a towering hill. I lifted my eyes and took in the entire area where we had been camping: the never-ending sweeping cliffs, the million year old river bed, the low-spots where water had once collected (last year? last month? last century?). If I looked behind me I saw boulder where 48 hours earlier I had stood barefoot sobbing and yelling to any wayward Berber who might hear me that I wished Tad Crandall a pleasant journey, one full of things he loves: children, flowers, cats and computers.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ironically a few days before I left for the desert I discovered in my absentmindedness I'd failed to find people to help my sweet friend Jim take care of my cat. He adores her (it's reciprocal) and whenever I leave he comes to the house every few days for a visit - a tradition we launched during Tad's many hospitalizations. Our usual plan is to have neighbors come and cuddle with her in between his visits.
So I went to see one of my neighbors, a beautiful woman who works as a nurse doing in-home care for children with cancer. I had promised her I was going to start hosting support groups for nurses again. This idea came to me after she shared that the organization she works for offers no mental or emotional support to its employees.
I went to her house for feedback on my written proposal and to see if by any chance she or someone she knew could care for Astra.
She, her partner and a friend were doing deep spring gardening, tearing out vines and cutting back branches. The friend was a handsome young man who kept blushing each time I addressed him.
Due to a rapid string of incidents he was able to move into the house, do housekeeping and take care of Astra for the last half of my trip. When he came over to the house to talk out the details I was unexpectedly delighted to receive a kiss as we said good-bye.
Now - nearly two months later - we are still spending time together. Astra adores him and he often asks me about Tad. I feel as if I need to take him to distant rural Arizona to get Tad's father's blessing. Ironically Sonny is the one person who told me very early on: "Greg you need to get out and meet someone new."
And so the wheel of life continues to turn. My goal is no longer the prickly acacia tree but rather to spread the incredible love I am honored to hold. I need to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting Life.
P.S. Below is a quote from George Bernard Shaw that sums up quite beautifully how I feel:
"This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."