"Writing is alchemy...truly a tool of wizards, witches and sorcerers. It’s the magic wand, the incantation, the wave of the hand that transforms all..."
~ The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
One of the joys and sometime frustrations of writing from a place of deep surrender, I have found, is that the lessons of my words continue to echo in my life long after they were penned and published.
This seems particularly true of The MoonQuest, which, somehow through the miracle of that process, still regularly offers me reminders of its wisdom. If a few weeks ago it was about fear's sticky presence in my life, today it's about how the weighty baggage of the past can throw me back into doubts and second-guessing, can prevent me from moving forward...from taking off.
Last night, through the weird serendipity of the Internet, I learned about the death in January of a man who had once been a close friend. I met J. when we were both in our 20s, at the Montreal gay Jewish group that was so integral to my coming-out process in the more restrictive 1970s. After a brief mutual attraction that went nowhere, we became good friends. That friendship survived relocations and emotional turbulence but foundered on the shoals of one major life change: In 1998 I fell in love with a woman and got married. Although my other gay friends were initially confused, they quickly rallied, wishing me happiness in this unexpected turn in my life. J., however, seemed to view it as a betrayal of my gayness. We never spoke again.
I thought about J. off and on over the years. I even Googled him a handful of times. But his web presence was minimal and I never found a way of making contact...not that I'm certain I would have reached out had the option been available.
Pinterest social network, I was online searching for a photo of the Toronto café that J. once held the franchise for. One of my Pinterest boards is titled Favorite/Storied Cafés, and his downtown Second Cup outlet, around the corner from my first Toronto apartment, definitely fell into that category. What I found instead was a photo of J., attached to a weeks-old obituary. He had died January 27 of an unspecified illness.
I was stunned...for many reasons.
Although I've experienced much death in my life, and from an early age, this was the first death of a contemporary at an age (mine, 57) when I'm increasingly aware of mortality. Both my parents died young: my father (though he wasn't my natural father) at 56; my mother at 61, J.'s age.
So of course, J.'s passing reminded me of the march of time, not a bad thing, and of the importance of focusing on what's important. I know little about J.'s life since our last conversation in 1998, so I can't know whether he, like my mother, died with the regrets of an unfulfilled life. I hope not. I do know that in my more centered moments, I have no such regrets. I've done my best to follow my heart and live my passions, to be true to the highest imperatives I can touch and to walk the talk of my writing, coaching and public speaking. If I were to die tomorrow, I would like to think that I would be able to look back with satisfaction over a life lived both transparently and authentically.
That's the theory. In fact, J.'s death prompted a different kind of life review, one filled with doubts, angers, fears, resentments and a renewed clinging to a past I thought I had long ago jettisoned. As the evening wore on into a sleepless night, my mind dredged up more and more images, emotions and incidents from those past lifetimes of mine, each memory drenched in a level of anxiety I never encountered in the full-time life review involved in writing this memoir.
You could say that it's normal for the death of a close friend to spark such introspection and retrospection, and I would agree. But J. had not been a close friend for nearly two decades. Our once intertwined lives had already begun their unraveling when I left Toronto for Nova Scotia in 1994.
As I write these words, I see something I hadn't noticed before: that J. was an integral part of my adult life prior to my creative and spiritual awakening. That's not to diminish J.'s spirituality, which was certainly present. But my spirituality moved off in different directions from his, and my life moved off with it.
What I have been reliving in the 18 hours since learning of J.'s death is an early adult life devoid of conscious creativity, conscious spirituality and conscious surrender...a simpler life in many respects, though one infinitely less fulfilled. What I've been mourning through the night, even more than J.'s death, is the death of that earlier life, of those old places within me that J. represented.
A large piece of that Mark David Gerson died with J. It was a piece that I didn't even know still lived inside me; I'm startled to discover just how big that piece was.
The MoonQuest? There’s a coronation scene in the novel where Crown Prince Kyri is directed to throw all the jeweled accoutrements of the old king’s regalia into the fire as he and his subjects-to-be chant, “The past is passed. We let it go.” Only when Kyri stands naked before the crowd, with all that could encumber him to his father’s reign consumed in the ceremonial flame, can he begin to chart his own course as monarch...can he truly begin his own life.
It has taken me the full 18 hours since learning of J.'s death to realize that I must build a similar pyre for the remnants of my old life. While I celebrate J.'s life and his place in mine, I can neither dwell on it nor worship it.
In that same MoonQuest scene, the newly crowned Kyri refuses to let his father, who has abdicated in his favor, kneel before him. Instead, Kyri drops to his knees, to Fortas's discomfort. Softly, so that the crowd cannot hear him, Fortas urges his son to his feet.
“Do not bow to me, my son. I stand here as the past, and you must never worship the past. Honor me...by living your reign, by learning the lessons I could not. You called me ‘my lord.’ The past is not your lord. Set your sights on the future, my son, my king. Set your sights on the future by seeing to the present. Don’t, I beg, let your vision linger longingly on the past. Let it go, my son. Let it all go.” He embraced Kyri then held him at arm’s length before releasing him. “Let me go.” Then...not looking back, [he] walked through the archway and out of the castle.Kyri never forgot his formative experiences with his father, nor will I forget mine with J. I will also not forget J.'s generosity, warm-heartedness and compassion, or the loving friendship we once shared. At the same time, that lifetime in my life is over, as J.'s death eloquently reminds me. The past is passed. It's time to let it go.
Facebook friend's Timeline, I grafted the caption "ready for take-off" onto an image of an airplane soaring into the sky. I already knew about J.'s passing but made no conscious connection between it and the creation of a new wallpaper for my cell phone. Only in writing this piece do I realize that J. and all I allowed him to represent in my life is baggage that exceeds my allotted allowance. I cannot take off until I lighten my load. The past is passed. I let it go.
One final note: After all these years of writing (I began The MoonQuest in 1994), I shouldn't still be surprised by its alchemical power in my life. Only by writing these words this morning have I come to understand why J.'s death so overwhelmed me. As I wrote in the epigraph to The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, another book whose gifts continue to follow me: "Writing is alchemy...truly a tool of wizards, witches and sorcerers. It’s the magic wand, the incantation, the wave of the hand that transforms all..."
The past is passed. I let it go.
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