He was not a big man, at least not by the time I met him. Slight, bent over, often seemingly half-asleep. Certainly not threatening. But there was some presence about him that drew you in. His smile. His kindness. His sincerity. His humour. Yet, even now, there was a subtle aura of unleashed power in his manner. By his own admission in his younger days he had been a thug, a bully and worse. A tough guy in a tough town in Eastern Canada where he grew up. And now we were burying him. I looked around a room filled with people who had come to know him – volunteers from the soup kitchen, friends from the street, staff from the transitional residence where he lived – at the respect, affection and sadness in their eyes. I hoped he knew how much he was loved.
Over the course of the two years or so I knew him, these are the things that he left with me. I call them The Things I learned from Daniel*. *(not his real name)
- Show up. Be present wherever you are. When Dan was someplace, he was there with every fiber of his being. He was in the room.
- Be authentic. When Dan spoke, it was from a deep place in his being, the core of his real self. His was a lifelong journey of self-examination from exteriority to self-knowledge and he shared it with deep passion.
- Be vulnerable. Dan could have stayed buried inside that tough-guy gangster. Instead his searing honesty allowed others to see and acknowledge his and their own brokenness and fears.
- Express gratitude. Say thank you. Sincerely. Say what you’re thankful for.
- Show appreciation. Now is always a good time.
- Do your work. Look honestly at your life. When were you most yourself? When were you just pretending? Why? Who got hurt? (Don’t forget yourself.)
- Make amends. Write a letter, make a phone call, meet in person, talk to a gravestone. You know who and why.
- Forgive. Start with yourself. Go from there…
- Work at relationships. See all of the above. Apply them to your day-to-day life.
- Re-connect with your family. Tell them you love them. Dan did. You may be surprised. Someone; sister, brother, parent, spouse, child may be just waiting for you to come home (literally or figuratively).
- Re-connect with your spiritual life.
- Ask for support. This goes with be authentic and be vulnerable.
- Keep learning about yourself and others.
- Keep growing as a person. Fred Rogers said, “Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.”
- Life is short.
We do a lot of memorials at Our Place, many for folks the “rest of society” often don’t care to take time to understand or appreciate. Each one has taught me something. Each life, each death continues to teach me – honesty, hope, humility. Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers to more than a generation of children raised on the American Public Broadcasting System) once said: “In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of -- moments when we human beings can say "I love you," "I'm proud of you," "I forgive you," "I'm grateful for you." That's what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.” (The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember).
Daniel and the many others I have had the privilege to know have given me a glimpse of that eternity – invisible imperishable good stuff. And for that I am grateful.
Rev. Julianne Kasmer is part of the Spiritual Care Team at Our Place Society in Victoria.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, August 1st 2018