Full Circle

5 Oct


Days ago, I learned of a friend’s death. I was fresh off a bus and eager to update myself on news outside of Yunnan, so I stepped into a small place and looked up the world on a computer. Awaiting me was this news.

Fifty meters away was a stone path. The stone path led to the edge of a large lake, so I walked there and gazed. I gazed long and far, feeling both the beauty and the horror of this life. At once, they merged into a knowing as deep as the lake. It began to rain a cool rain; I stood, soaking in the bounty that life – and life’s eventual ending – bring. This friend had taught so much to the world around him. He embodied the love that many people spend their lives seeking, and pointed toward love’s path for others to follow. And his death has renewed my sorrow for another death in my life – a loss that has forever permeated my choices and perspective in this world.

Death has no boundaries, only circumstance. And in my revery over death, the lake and water provided for me. Two days later, I have come back to the river hundreds of kilometers downstream from where I last left it. The river flows and holds, then flows again. Whether the current catches a large lagoon deep in the tropics or the reservoir of a dam, it eventually falls through its course into the ocean. Or perhaps it ends when the molecules of water rise into the atmosphere, or filter into the earth beneath irrigated farmland. Whatever the case, it ends. But while the river ends in form, it is renewed by the water that it brought to the ocean, whether in four hundred years or four hundred thousand years. The process brings water back to the sky, then back to the earth, and back into the river.

How could life exist without its fin? In fact, life is a series of deaths. Shiva, god of destruction, destroys the universe to make room for rebirth, for the creative powers of the world to grow. In many ways, I have grown through the deaths of life.

Let me explain. Ten years ago, this month, I was in the town of Jinghong in the far south of Yunnan, China. It was a large town then, but now it is a city. The Mekong River, just down from the main commercial area, is an afterthought – a brown torrent in the shadow of a massive bridge and billions of investment dollars. But the death of what I knew – the small town that looked upon the river – has made way for new understandings and new relationships. When I was in Jinghong ten years ago, I was embarking on naïve relationships, experimenting with research, and throwing myself fully into whatever came my way. I hit my own walls and other people’s walls. Those relationships had their own deaths, as did my specific aspirations at the time to pursue studies in development.

This has come full circle. I am in the city of Jinghong teaching development to a group of young people who will surely be successful and influential in their lives. I am sharing my knowledge of both the physical and metaphysical worlds as they relate to this region, the river, and its people. And as limited as this knowledge is, I believe that it is the right direction. Whatever has died in my life has given me much more than the face value of its death. In fact, death has become my ultimate teacher. Those who have left this world are, then, my teachers. As I consider my friend and walk the common path of wondering “where” he is now, “what” he is doing, and “how” life works if it ends, I once again come to love. This feeling of love brings me to the loss that has changed much of how I view the world:

My father never gave shallow words of wisdom to me. Rather, he was like a river; his wisdom was a meandering source of power and strength. And like a river, his nature was often novel. He was full of surprises, usually subtle surprises. And his greatest surprise to me was the depth of power that unveiled itself when he left this world.

One Response to “Full Circle”

  1. heather bair October 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    max, thank you for continuing to share your journey. i am thinking of you.

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