I lit a candle and went over things with God and the Goddess.
You know the situation. All I can really say is my life is in your hands.
There is still hope for a miracle—I have not given up this hope, and I sense from you that it would not be right to do so. It would be a blasphemy to the paradox, it would break the laws of humility, to say that I am now sure nothing can save me, and I will die soon.
At the same time, I must also humbly accept this as a real and imminent possibility and do whatever preparations I must so that this, too, can be met with joy and praise. I must say, even as the tears are running from my eyes, even as I feel the great sadness and grief at the thought of dying so soon, I must say that I do not feel any large sense of unfinished business in my life. I examine myself for longings, for regrets, for things I must take of before I leave. Are there places to which I must go, experiences I must have? No. I have been to so many magical places, experienced so many magical things. I have heard the marmots singing to the mountain dawn, I have seen the whales leap, I have stroked penguins, I have taken the resonant beauty of the earth into my body and soul so many times that I cannot say, “Oh, I must have more, more, more, I have not had enough.” When I think about experiences with people, the same seems to hold true. So many times I have given love, and received love! So many times I have felt the thrill of true purpose and meaning in my life! I have stood before audiences feeling the power of my words, I have watched people’s lives change, even the world change, and can trace my own part in all of it like a vein of quicksilver. I have sung so much with my arms around others, and danced so much, alone and in circles, and I have cried out so many times in joy and praise. No, I cannot say, “I have not had enough, my life is incomplete, I must have more, more.”
So much has happened since that moment 14 months ago when I looked in the mirror in Leningrad and caught the eye of my true self and heard her voice say, with a wise and merry grin, “You know exactly what you are doing.” So much has happened since I felt on the plane that a sufficient number of my missions had been completed and I really could go at any time. So much has happened, and yet this fundamental feeling has not changed. It is still true. I still know I have had the most wonderful thirty-one and a half years of life imaginable. I still love my life fully, and everything I created within it. I still feel myself to be the luckiest of people, among the most blessed I have ever known or heard of. Perhaps it is not possible to have sixty or seventy years of such a life; perhaps it must be condensed into a shorter time. But what, ultimately, does that matter? I have lived many miracles in a short time, and even if there is only a short time left, I could still live many miracles more.
So as I come to you, tonight, your daughter, still my beliefs seem solid as ever. I do not doubt you, or the beauty of meaning or purpose of my life, or of the universe. I will still go singing and shouting praises and thankfulness. You know this. This is my deepest source of peace, the treasure within…
You know that I love you, and I know you are doing all you can, and I will accept whatever outcome is the best you can devise. You know that I know it is a tough situation, and I will not hold the absence of a miracle against you. If it is your will, at last, that I must go, then I will go. I will step into your arms across the threshold of mystery… I ask you for strength and help in handling what pain there may be, and I will give great thanks for every good moment, for every day when I can be conscious and loving in my life, able to love others, to think, to write, to praise, to sing, to talk, to hug and be hugged.
At the same time, I do believe that nothing is written – that it is possible that this enormous challenge has come to me as a final teaching, and that through sheer grace and luck I might indeed go on for some time, and be allowed to write the book or even books…Who knows? Not even you.
I am your beloved daughter, I am still here, and I have made my commitments, taken my stands. You know what they are. I am in your hands, and will take what comes with praising and joy. I feel your love, and know I am cradled and cherished. I love you.
I blew out the candle, still crying, but feeling complete, and went immediately to sleep.
At times I ask myself: am I somehow grandly fooling myself with this strong tranquil faith, is there uglier and more horrible stuff underneath that I am merely suppressing with all my strength? Am I the world’s greatest talker, even to myself? Yet there is much evidence that this is, in fact, truth for me. For one thing, I sleep peacefully, with no or vaguely pleasant dreams; I seem able to drift off into the dream world with complete serenity. This seems a good sign. For another, the feelings I have are very, very strong, yes; yet still I can only identify them as grief and sadness – NOT anger, not resentment, not terror, not despair, not self-pity, not helplessness. I am able to cry freely, at the slightest tender prompting – thinking of the line from Amazing Grace, for example – “tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Or from Wondrous Love, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on…I’ll sing and joyful be, throughout eternity.” It is the same with David. The smallest poignancy we are completely present for, and it moves through our hearts freely, with nothing blocking it. If I were suffering from an extreme case of prolonged bullshitting of myself, I don’t think any of these things could be the case.
Death is a mirror and reflection of life, different and yet in many ways the same; the other half of the spinning wheel, the counter-whirl, in the spiral dance.
When we are on the other side, we are, as we are in life, able to choose our way of being. We can choose the steepness of our learning curves, depending on how many risks we want to take, how much effort we want to expend. In general, we continue the patterns and attitudes with which we have chosen to confront life, although the great crisis and revelation of crossing the threshold also gives us an opportunity for a sudden inspiration and leap to a new level.
If we believe that death means becoming unconscious or asleep, then that is what our experience of death is likely to be, at least at first. Some prefer to let go of the awareness of the separate self and relax into universal oneness and harmony, a joyful oblivion. Some choose to fiercely retain a consciousness of the individuated soul. Some even choose hell, believing that this is what they have earned and deserve; and these sad cases are not utterly sad, for this suffering may be the necessary path to their growth and their transformation. And some choose to become activist angels, focusing much of their attention and energy on helping those on the other side, on the side of life.
At first, there is a great euphoria, a simple joy, as mysteries and truths long forgotten are remembered and revealed, and as the relief of leaving the heaviness of the ill body sinks in, and as we are welcomed with open arms. There is an initial time of pure blissful rest and relaxation if we need it. Then there come the choices, the opportunities – different than the ones we face in life, yet also similar. And we “live” in this way on the other side, on the blue road, for some “time,” although of course one of the major differences of the other side is that time is not what it is on this side.
Then, often gradually at first, a longing comes to go back to the side of life. Perhaps we see there is something we must do, a mission we must accomplish. Perhaps we simply find ourselves longing for the smell of flowers, the taste of freshwater, the joining and touch of bodies, the sound of laughter. Perhaps we reach a point where we understand that in order to continue to grow, we must step into the counter-flow of the dance. At any rate, it is always a difficult decision, the decision to reincarnate. We are aware of all that we will again forget, that we will have to re-learn, even as we understand that fundamentally we never forget anything we have learned, and we never start over from the beginning. When lessons we have once learned appear again in our lives, we learn them quickly and easily, and swiftly go on. Yet we are aware that we will have to experience all of the pain and difficulty and heaviness of the body. We will have to go through birth and childhood and adolescence, with all of their doubtings and confusions. We will have to experience what will feel like the loss of loved ones. We will forget that our beloved and ourselves are forever joined, and we will go through the longing and the search for the beloved once more. The joy of reunion will be deeper and more sure every time we find each other again, yet there is no guarantee of experiencing this in any particular lifetime, for there are also lessons to be learned from loneliness. But we are always sure to find our beloveds again eventually, even if only after another death – and we are never truly separated for long. This is one of the givens of the universe, one of the truths of love – this guaranteed rediscovery and rejoining with the beloved, forever and ever. And how quickly the memory of separation fades, once we are reunited!
I do not know whether I’m being pulled or kicked into death. It is possible that this simply MUST BE, for some compelling reason, and I am needed there more than I am here. It is also possible that I might be shoved out of life at this time because of a series of bad breaks that not even all the angels can overcome. If this is the case, the angels are mourning, and thinking, “This is not the best situation. It would be better if she could stay.” But they are also ready to welcome me and to say, “Well, she’s here, and she and the world will make the best of it; in the end, it will all work out and be okay; nothing fundamental has been disrupted. For she has managed to ensure that her death will cause only inspiration and love rather than despair or hopelessness. And so wholeness and meaning are preserved, and the fabric of love is strengthened rather than torn.”
This vision of death came to me whole and intact that day in July. I find now, as I retell it, and flesh out some of the details, that it has not changed in the least, and that my certainty and belief in it is rock-solid. I must add, of course, that this is merely the working and the imagery that moves my soul. Like any other description of the mysteries, it is at best an approximation, and uniquely mine – no one else should, or could, have the same vision. This is the poetry that resonates truth for me and is deeply consoling and inspiring. I would never claim that it is “the way it is” for everyone. We spend all of our lives tinkering with this continuing question – what happens after we die? And for all the billions of people who have died, no one can prove the superiority of any particular way of answering this question. It is one of the most personal and intimate possessions we have, our view of death and what happens after death. All sincere and genuine attempts to describe the mysteries will reflect some facet of the mysteries. For me, this feels like a whole and complete description rather than only a facet. But I am not the only human, the only poet, the only artist and truth-teller in the world. For me, it allows the universe to continue to make sense, to have meaning, to be beautiful and trustable; it beyond all else is consistent with my beliefs about the essentiality of love and learning. Everything in my life has taught me that love and learning are the bottom line, so the “evidence,” to me, is overwhelming.
Dec. 25, 1991
And so what is one to do with all the fierce choices already mobilized, the stubborn statements of hope, the digging up of passion and desire to live? What is one to do with the legacy and habit of being a warrior, of embracing the paradox, yes, but primarily focusing on choice and will? All of this activated desire, like a bag of treasures now hanging heavy around my neck that I must summon the strength to remove. I do not wish to deny and destroy the choices and desires. That would be giving up. But I must set them aside, for their heaviness is too much a burden to me now. They exist, they continue to act in the world. Only I cannot carry them now – others must.
I am such a warrior, by habit and nature; there is no way that this aspect of me is going to fade quietly. There is little danger to me losing sight of this aspect of the paradox. Even if I spend all of my present and future conscious energy on trying to really embrace the side of release, the mystical acceptance, the peaceful at-oneness with any outcome, the warrior in me will keep going on automatic pilot! So I needn’t worry that in doing this I am abandoning choice, preference, determination. I have made all of those choices long ago. I made my conscious preference to stay many months ago, and it is still unwavering. The decision, in a larger sense, about whether I’ll stay or go has not been made, but my hand has already been played, my cards are already on the table, my preferences already loudly stated; now many other factors and forces will interplay and eventually there will be an outcome of sorts. My hand, my cards, my preferences, are a very important part of the way things will turn out, but there is no mystery about them, whereas there is plenty of mystery in the other sectors!
My place of decision is elsewhere. What I must now decide, and put into practice, is HOW I am going to keep going through this process. It is incredible, how steeped we are in the notion that dying is bad, living is good, death is failure, cure is success. I have known this is bankrupt and have rejected this for years. It is part of the same paradigm which judges the value of your work on the basis of how much money you make. It is part of the same paradigm that says the world is dead, the world is unconscious, and we have only this little blip of linear time before death comes and puts an end to everything, a full stop. It is a Cartesian paradigm. It is the paradigm that logs forests because they are already dead and worthless. It rejects the reality of cycles, the fluidity between worlds, the mystery – it rejects, of course, the Goddess and what she represents. And here I am, knowing that this attitude of fear and loathing toward death is just another aspect of a paradigm I consider destructive and have long ago rejected in my life – still finding myself weighed down by its omnipresence, its ingrained assumptions so prevalent everywhere. To make it worse, these ingrained assumptions still dominate the medical approach, and when I am spending 7-8 hours a day at the hospitals, overwhelmed by endless schedules of things to do, it is VERY hard to break out of an obsession with the medical story. I MUST, and David too, quickly learn to truly set the medical stuff aside. Think about it now and again, but not all day, every day. We had a few hours this morning of genuinely not thinking about it, and they were so wonderful!
So what are my issues, my growing edges here?
I think one is coping with simple sadness. The bare fact is that this was NOT my first choice. Things are not working out the way I have wanted them to. I would still prefer to have the extra time here. Of course, this produces feelings of disappointment and sadness. How can I continue to work with this? It again seems an issue of basic acceptance. Okay, things are not the way I wanted them to be, but things will still work out okay in the end, and we can turn this into the right thing. What, after all, in the end, does it matter that much? – leaving after thirty years, or forty, or fifty, or seventy? Was Grandpa Warner’s life in fact that much more packed with inspiration and beauty than mine, simply because he went on three times longer? I am not sure that it was. To believe that “more is better” and that the value of a lifetime can be measured by how many years were lived is to again buy into the quantitative, linear, dead view of the world.
It has occurred to me that I may be given the opportunity to go now while my sense of inner peace is so beautiful and strong. Dying gracefully now is a real possibility. I came back to the insight that has been so important for me for more than a year: God and the Goddess are cherishing me and taking care of me in ways I cannot imagine.
Dec. 26, 1991
So, is it possible—that this could be IT?
The details seem to fit—my breathing is rapid and labored even though I am wearing an oxygen mask…I am on a stretcher in the clinic…they want to admit me…my temps are high, and this morning reached 103.7…and now they say the chest X-ray looks much worse than two days ago, and they think this havoc is being caused by lymphoma itself in the lungs and chest. Which we cannot do a hell of a lot about.
I am still alive, but more than ever before, I must accept that I may be dying, and it may be soon.
Oh, there have been times, in the nights, when listening to my breaths, I have known! – when the profound weakness in me, the coughing, the shortness of breath, all whispered to me that this could be it. Yet this news is a surprise. I thought I might have pneumonia. There is even less we can do about this diagnosis.
Gale dear, are you ready for this?
On some level, we can never be ready, perhaps. I am not as ready as I might hope to feel …I had thought I would have a little more time, even if only weeks…Yet we must take what we are given, and there is also something to be said for going fast. Some people – like Rick and Amy’s friend Miriam—have NO time to prepare (Editor’s Note: fatal allergic reaction to a bee sting)…she had perhaps ten seconds to realize she was crossing the threshold. I have had a comparatively magnanimous amount of time.
But perhaps the time has come for an end to all of this suffering…for a liberation, a release, a true rest and transformation. I recall, so vividly, the times I have thought, with a shiver, that “even if this were all we had left, this would be enough.” I remember this coming to me while sitting next to David on our quarry ledge in a cool, twilight rain last May, just before we discovered the first recurrence. It has come to me many other times, in many other settings of ecstasy, when I felt a gentle touch through the veil.
Of course, there is nervousness about the unknown, about embarking on an adventure one is sure will be wonderful, but whose details are obscure…a little like landing in the Soviet Union by myself for the first time! That, also, took trust. This is trust on a far bigger scale. Nervousness is understandable, especially given the possibility of pain. But it is not the same as FEAR.
Yes, I think I have already died, several times over, and we have already had a number of respites and granting of more time. We may have run out of extensions. But look how far they got us! – through the tough but wisdom-full spring, through the wonderful summer and fall, down all those rivers and up all those mountains, that last idyllic week in Maine, these last blissful massages and nice visits. I can call it enough. I can even feel, within my spirit, a restlessness and willingness to go….
Gale passed on Dec. 28, 1991, at age 31.
Editor’s Note: Gale’s final journal entries were distributed at Gale’s Celebration of Life, Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, 1992).