Monday, June 28, 2010

The Story of My Life

One Sunday each year our church devotes a service to poetry. Friends and members, as they are so moved, may read poems of their own or from others. This year I read a piece by Rumi which hits pretty close to the mark.

The Story of My Life
i was ready to tell
the story of my life
but the ripple of tears
and the agony of my heart
wouldn't let me
i began to stutter
saying a word here and there
and all along i felt
as tender as a crystal
ready to be shattered
in this stormy sea
we call life
all the big ships
come apart
board by board
how can i survive
riding a lonely
little boat
with no oars
and no arms
my boat did finally break
by the waves
and i broke free
as i tied myself
to a single board
though the panic is gone
i am now offended
why should i be so helpless
rising with one wave
and falling with the next
i don't know
if i am
while i exist
but i know for sure
when i am
i am not
when i am not
then i am
now how can i be
a skeptic
about the
resurrection and
coming to life again
since in this world
i have many times
like my own imagination
died and
been born again
that is why
after a long agonizing life
as a hunter
i finally let go and got
hunted down and became free

Ghazal 1419 Translated by Nader Khalili

Rumi was a 14th century Persian and Sufi mystic. No stranger to grief, as exampled by The Story of My Life, Rumi also writes about love. A lot. Not just love, but undying and unconditional love. It is the juxtaposition of ultimate love and ultimate grief that is a recurrent theme of his and to which I am most drawn.

I wonder how many of our frailties and ills, our longings and sufferings, result from avoiding grief and thus abandoning love?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Dear friends,
Thank you for being here with me, with my family today. I suspect if I said “thank you” to each of you, personally, you’d probably respond with something like “well of course I’m here – where else would I be?” I know this, because this is what I have been saying to you and what you have been replying with over the past 7 weeks. But I say this now, here, because I really want each of you to know, as deeply as you can, how changed I am because of you. No doubt Amy’s death has profoundly changed me and will continue to change me, but you, this community of dear friends, brothers and sisters, have shown me something about what community means, what friendship means, what love and compassion means. My boys and I are forever in debt to you all. And I must say, part of me hopes, prays, I never need to pay you back. But if that time does come, I hope I can show the same compassion, courage and loving kindness you have shown me.

I also what to acknowledge Amy’s professional colleagues. I can’t begin to count the number of times Amy expressed her joy with her work/life balance. She felt she had an ideal situation being able to work part-time yet stay connected to her profession and also have time to be a wife, a mother and active in our community. It meant a lot to her as a woman, as a professional with a career, and a mother with children. And it meant a lot to me.

The paradox of it all is that in this time of great loss for me and Adam and Bryan, have we been given so much. We have received so much. Knowing that you all stand by us, are near us, to hold us up and catch us, has steadied us and helped us begin to find our way. So it feels strange to stand here and tell you how lucky, how truly blessed we are. But I cannot deny it. Thank you – I love you all.

I believe it is no small measure of the impact Amy had, and the love and energy she put into everything she did, that the boys and I now receive that love and energy back through you. It is her love, I believe, we continue to receive, in large part, through each of you. It is that love that the boys and I take, that we all take, to continue her work in this church, at work, the creation of her birth center, and that I draw strength from to be a father to Adam and Bryan.

Some of you know the story of how Amy and I met back in January of 1999. I won’t entertain you all now with the details, but just to say that while I don’t believe in love at first sight, I was certainly smitten. Yes, we met at a bar – I prefer to say a nightclub – and we talked nearly the whole night. And yes, dancing was involved. And if you ever saw Amy dance, you can imagine how I was smitten. After one dance I told her I wanted her phone number so I could call her and ask her out. She obliged, I called her the next day and we went out. We would call it the “best first date ever.” And it was. We just clicked on so many levels. And on our second date, we discovered, to our amazement and delight, our mutual desires for family, children and future. As we discovered each other that first year, I found in Amy a partner who could challenge me intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, yet let me be who I am. I never felt I had to be someone for her other than myself. And honestly, that was a new experience for me. To be myself, in true partnership, with someone. We were a great team.

And we created a good and special life together. We felt lucky. We used to talk about how lucky we felt. Amy used to say she felt she won the lottery – I used to tell her I felt I had been dealt a very strong hand. We traveled around the world, integrated ourselves into our community and committed to each other to create a relationship of deep commitment and mutual growth. On one trip we took to Spain - Amy had a conference in Madrid and we tacked on a few extra days for ourselves - we were in Arcos de la Frontera a small town in AndalucĂ­a. Arcos sits on a high bluff overlooking the plain and we stayed in a converted castle, a parador. During dinner there we distilled this concept of our relationship. We had been discussing it on and off for some time, but it was there that we came up with the words: Creating a nurturing environment so our family can experience the divine in all things. 23 November 2003.

We had our moments, of course, like everyone. Crises of confidence and disagreements subtle and not so subtle. And while we had expectations of each other, I never felt like there were conditions on our love. I never felt Amy hold back her love and I hope I was her equal in that regard. And it was through this that Amy gave me the most precious gift of all. Besides the gift of time she shared with me, how so ever brief, was a gift of profound love. And through that profound love she showed me how to be loved. Through her words and deeds, I knew fully she loved me, without conditions. The most precious gift imaginable. I can only hope she felt the same of my love for her.

It was 7 weeks ago yesterday that Amy was ripped from me, from us. And regardless of your belief, it is undeniable how completely un-ambiguous, in this plane of existence, is the certainty and finality of death. And paradoxically how ambiguous and uncertain all else now feels. An old and dear friend was over at our house last night and we were discussing this and how we seem to spend so much of the short time we have alive on what now feels trivial. We talked about how it takes something tragic to create “perspective.” But why is it only after some tragedy, the death of someone close, a wife or mother, that we gain “perspective?” I’ve been reading the writings and poetry of the Persian mystic, Rumi, of late. There is a quote of his: “grief is the garden of the heart.” I’ve been turning that quote over in my head since I read it about a week ago. Grief is the garden? Why doesn’t he say “love is the garden?” Why can’t it be through love that we grow our hearts? Why only in grief? But is it not, for us humans, that to experience ultimate love means we must risk ultimate sorrow? So while Rumi doesn’t say it, explicitly, it is there - ultimate love must be a pre-requisite for ultimate grief. It can be no other way. They are the mirror to each other. So if there is anything to take from this tragedy, it is to love fully, openly, and risk that ultimate sorrow. I stand here before you and tell you now that I would do it a thousand times again and accept that risk. I am a changed man because of Amy’s all too short life, and now because of her death. I really have no choice but to honor her life and death, our love, and tend to the grief garden and let it grow. There really is no other choice.

So to you dear friends, bothers and sisters, we, the boys and I, have just begun to sort out our now very different lives, begin to explain the inexplicable, and tend to our gardens of grief. And I imagine that will take the rest of our lives – at least that is what others, some of you who are here today who have experienced similar loss, tell me. So as the boys and I step out from today into tomorrow I will continue to need your support in thoughts and words and deeds. Many have asked “what can we do to help?” Mostly, for us, it is just knowing you are nearby. Sometimes it is your shoulder to cry on that I’ll need. And as the days turn into weeks, and months, then years, don’t be surprised when I ask for a shoulder.

And to you dear Amy, I so miss you. Your beautiful eyes and sparkling smile I now carry in my memory. To me they are your passion and fire. A passion and fire which burns strong among us who stood witness to your life and received your many gifts.

I feel you around me, Amy, your passion and fire. There are no words to describe its profound nature. That I love you fully and with all my heart and all my soul I hope you know. I believe you do. And I also know, and I believe you know, how much your two beautiful boys love you – And please know they also feel your love. A love they carry inside them for eternity. Amy, I will look for the courage, strength and guidance I will need to be an able father to them and to honor and represent your motherhood for them. This is my vow to you. Amy, I will always love you and may you know eternal peace.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Adapted from Ecclesiastes

For us, now, it is this time of death rather than the time of birth which deepens us and gives meaning. And it is this time in the house of mourning, rather than the house of feasting, where we come together in sorrow. For death is the end of all of us, and we the living should take it to heart. And for this time and place sorrow is better than laughter, because when the face is sad the heart grows wiser and the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning

One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises again. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.

And when the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, wherever it falls, there shall it lie. Just as we know not how the breath of life fashions the infant in the mother's womb, so we know not the mystery of death.

For there is an appointed time for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

And those who have died would want this; even expect this of us – that there be a time when we dance again. And one day it will be well for us to eat and drink and dance and enjoy all the fruits and gifts of the finite days we are granted, and dwell not on the shortness of our lives, but rejoice in the abundance that is life which brings joy to our hearts.

So go now and someday will we eat bread with joy and drink wine with a merry, though wiser heart, because it is this time that that we are given. And in this time we are given let our garments be white, and spare not the perfume for our heads. Enjoy life with your beloved, each day of the fleeting lives granted to us under the sun.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Waiting for Forever

Does everything die?
Well, yes, eventually everything dies.
Even cars?
I suppose in there own way cars die too.
I wish that nothing ever died.
Yeah, me too.

How long is forever?

The first one came with no warning. It grew rapidly inside me accompanied by intense, violent pain with waves of nausea, dizziness and disorientation, shortness of breath. Reflexively I wrenched and disgorged a large, tar-black, waxy mass covered in blood. I caught my breath briefly as another one grew. I felt feverish and dizzy to the point of hallucination. As I stood and walked, the room moved independently of me as if some infection had taken over my inner ear. My knees buckled. Everything was askew. The floor slid back and forth under me and the walls no longer stood plumb to the floor but rather at slight angles like some horrible fun-house. I became aware of a low rumble through everything, barely audible, but resonating in my bones. Then came another tar-black, waxy mass covered in blood. This one larger than the first. My chest and throat ached as it passed. This continued through the night and into the morning. And again, and again, came the tar-black, waxy masses. The low dissonant rumble had taken over my body as if it were somehow vibrating loose the growths and giving them harmonic energy to grow.

In vain I searched for medicine but none exists. Then holy men and women, healers from all around the village, came and laid hands on me. These shamans guided the tumorous growths out so as to not let their toxins build inside. Some shamans, I saw, became infected as the same dissonant rumble entered them. In anguish they began discouraging similar tar-black waxy masses covered in blood. Some large, some small. This continued, day and night.

And over time the the growths have slowed in frequency and size. The dizziness and nausea have abated. There are occasional flare ups and I hear from others who have been infected to expect that. And some of the toxin lingers and probably will forever.

But the low dissonant rumble continues. And I now suspect it was always there and will continue forever. Which is the longest time there is.

Monday, June 7, 2010

For Immediate Release: Amy Polk Memorial Service Update

The service for Amy Polk will be Friday June 18 at 2 pm. The service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, 10309 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring MD 20903. Directions and a map to the church are available online at this address:

There will be parking available at the church and about 1.5 blocks away, but a large attendance is anticipated so you are strongly urged to carpool and/or arrive early. If you need handicapped access parking please come very early to assure your access to on-site parking.

In accordance with Unitarian Universalist tradition, there will be a time for sharing stories or memories during the service but because that time will be limited, we ask that people from an area of Amy’s life (college, work, advocacy/birth groups) choose one speaker who can speak for a minute or two about their experience of Amy.

For those who can’t attend or are unable to speak at the service but wish to provide words in honor of Amy, please send your remembrances to this address: so they may be included in the memory book being assembled for Amy’s family.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Seasons of Life Birth Center