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For weeks, breezes tossed about a smear of cherry-red limbs like red-vested monkeys with their handlers—The show was ongoing, day or evening. Neighbors gaped as they passed by with their dogs: It was the red maple tree atop the hill, outside my study window.

Autumn’s unusual dryness, though, caused the leaves to blanch and drop to the ground and shrivel, as if in slow motion—even powdering when scooped up. What had been stunning appeared vapid, washed out, vacant. All that remained were strapping branches, the hosts of this stunning display, still to undergo their final denuding.

Such diminishment bruises the psyche. Longing for what was escalates the absence of vibrant life with its full panoply of color. In its place, seasonal browns, grays, and blacks begin to shroud the outdoors. With the onset of winter’s bite nearing, more challenges emerge: chapped hands, cold feet, nipped cheeks, masks and layers of clothing, ice/snow storms, and so much more.

Such seasonal change twinges our grief, our humanness, our resiliency. Yet, color does return, on all levels…This remains our hope.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for wisdom and love—so wrote Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273), Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar, and poet.



Certainly, Rumi tasted the gall of grief in the loss of his soul mate and teacher, the wandering Sufi mystic Sham al-Din. For four years, night and day, his teaching had led Rumi to cultivate the path of the heart; such cultivation demanded trenchant asceticism that wiped out self-will and decried materialism in its multiple disguises. Under Sham’s tutelage, Rumi also set aside his rigorous Islamic studies and sermons that he delivered in the mosques of Konya (Turkey). Together, Sham and Rumi’s mysticism flourished. However, one night, Sham disappeared, thought to have been murdered by one of Rumi’s son.

Such an existential loss speaks of Rumi’s willingness to suffer the insufferable with a an open heart; its strange fruits, subsequently, enabled him to penetrate words and uncover fresh symbols linking his readers to the Sacred—Such accounts for his poetic image, garden of compassion, cited above. Within apparent death emerge seedlings of psychic growth that bear close watching: love and wisdom.

Rumi’s saying reminds me not to lose heart when grief’s swamping, so unexpected, assails me. I know, in time, it will pass and it does, not without deepening its residue for my transition. True, I’ve let go of much, but I’m not there, yet. There is still my inconstant will, floozy, fidgety, quaking—Still to be disciplined by grief’s flowering. To this I surrender, anew.



It happened so subtly—“I’m going home! I’m going home!”—so prompted my spirit emerging from psychic depths, cuing me toward the next diminishment. Never could I have produced such self-talk; its simplicity says it all, so quiet, so low key.

True, for some time increasing weakness, exhaustion, shortness of breath, and muscle loss has further depleted my energy, not without my notice and some angst. Such symptoms correspond to my terminal disease, interstitial lung disease with rheumatoid arthritis. Still the daily dose of Dexamethasone has kept me somewhat functional.

But I’m in a different space, one filled with lightness, color, hope, evidence of more release from the bondage of this existence. No matter that my symptoms will only cease with the death in my body—My attitude, for today, for which I offer thanks to God. Not that there won’t be upheavals before my final breath. Usually there are, so I’m told.

Still, “I’m going home!” That’s all that matters.


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