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“Death is the biggest change we face, so we need to practice change”—so says Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, atheist and Harvard clinical psychologist. These words carry the weight of his 1967 conversion, followed by his second and ongoing conversion: the 1997 massive stroke with its expressive aphasia and paralysis of his right limbs. Its shock, he likened to Fierce Grace, a DVD that he published in 2001.

In this documentary, Ram Dass shows his disillusionment with psychedelic drugs that led to his conversion through Neem Kraoli Baba who renamed him Ram Dass, Sanskrit for Servant of God, and gave him the mandate: “Love my people. Feed them.” And for thirty years he taught, published, and counseled, attracting a worldwide following. All proceeds went to his foundations, Seva and Hunuman that still serve the blind in poor communities and publish spiritual materials around the globe.

Then came the stroke, followed by lengthy hospitalizations and rehabilitations, together with a brush with death. When Ram Dass was able to resume a limited schedule, he sounded different. Indeed, he had been “stroked” rendering him a consummate teacher of aging and death. His teaching and practice continue.

Ram Dass’s experience of “fierce grace” gives me pause. It suggests a tearing apart, a dragging down, a reversal of my way of living—such as happens with conscious aging, with its diminishments. Such wisdom is far beyond my grasp, yet ever fashioning my psyche in His likeness. I have only to participate in the daily dying.

“Death is like taking off a tight pair of shoes,” Ram Dass once quipped. It sounds so simple.

 

 

 

 

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It was Saturday morning, the sun playing off rumpled scarecrows displayed upon a shelf near the entrance of the supermarket. Slouch hats bedecked with sunflowers covered shocks of orange yarn spilling upon shoulders, peeking from shirts and pants legs—nothing uptight about these field-warriors. Their stitched grins and rolling black eyes seized my imagination.

“Would you look at that! I must have one!” I said while loosening the scarf around my neck and stomping slush from my boots. Gone were the leach-like doldrums that had enveloped my spirit from the night before. In the face of such absurdity, there was no room for such nastiness.

That was decades ago. Since then, I’ve showcased my scarecrow in rooms around my house as a reminder of the disarming power of humor, especially when blatant evil seems to have the upper hand.

But there’s more to this image than the restoration of psychic balance. I’ve grown to equate it with God-Power within my depths. When flooded by the untoward, replete with confusion, pain, and speechlessness, I know to shut down, do nothing, and in the company of my scarecrow welcome the ludicrous. Eventually change occurs with the reemergence of the “wee small voice,” and with it, new lessens learned—stark reminders of my humanness with its graced foibles.

 

 

Yet still another upheaval awaits me around the next corner. Such growth is messy, but with my scarecrow, it works!

How formulate words around the life of Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) who, in dialog with his God, fully individuated himself within the warp and woof of his global community? Left a legacy of printed words that still fire imaginations and challenge the moral fiber of his readers?

Such is the task I set myself after completing Elie Wiesel’s second memoir,And The Sea is Never Full, 1969 -1999.

His lifelong study of the Torah and the Talmud imbued his witness, his writing, and his teaching in lecture halls and international venues. Like Jeremiah of the Old Testament, he was passionate, fully sensitive to the worlds within and around him. Words, written and later spoken, became his métier. Yet silence obliterated any foray into his death camp experiences: they remained inexpressible: referred to as “it.” Yet, paradoxically, “it” fueled his rich imagination with stories and assuaged his psychic wound. Those privy to his spiritual depths relished his unique vision: living with unanswered questions before the silence of God.

In his memoir, Wiesel also reproduced parts of significant dialogs and lectures that reveal the breath of his wisdom and his attunement to his listeners. Dreams of his deceased family, in italics, also showed his respect for his unconscious, ever guiding him toward wholeness. He was also not without wry humor in his admission of foibles. So beneath this world citizen lived a simple man of passion who loved being husband to Marion and father to Elisha.

Yet Elie Wiesel’s witness to hatred, under the guise of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and fanaticism, still flourishes—but not to worry. He has passed the baton on to us, with its imperative to root out such vestiges within our psyches. There is hope.

 

 

 

Available on Amazon

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