The morning of September 11th 2001 is a day that all Americans remember where they were, and what they were doing when they heard the news that our nation was under attack. I was in a hospital room with my three day old first born child Nicky, getting ready to take him home for the very first time. Of course normally this would be a wonderfully joyous occasion, a lighthearted initiation into the rites of parenthood, a celebration of a new life for our family in the sanctuary of our home. The trauma of the shock of that morning easily comes back to me every September 11th since that day. I remember helping my wife into the car as she carried Nicky for the short drive home. Two and a half hours after the attacks, the Fort Lauderdale atmosphere was dark, deathly still, and oppressively humid. I felt like I was getting into a hearse instead of going to host a blissful coronation.
The question still arises, what could this mean for our lives that such a horrific event happened right in the midst of such an important event for us? My spiritual training has taught me not to get so caught in pondering the conceptual meaning of things; all things, all experiences are only true in the mind. Adyashanti said there is no such thing as a true thought. However perhaps almost all of us human beings experience at some point the profound transformative potential when shocked with the realization that the fear of the suffering of death arises together with the blissful arrival of new life from the deepest depths of the mystery of life. Death is part of life, and suffering is part of love.
There is a movie, Shadowlands, about C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian preacher, Oxford professor, and author of children’s books, that is very moving for me. He was a very deep thinker. In one of his literature classes, he talks of perfect love being perfect because of its unattainability. “The most intense love lies not in the having of it, but in the very intense desiring of it. Delight that never fades, bliss eternal, is only yours when what you most desire is forever out of reach.” In his sermons he preached that God wants us to suffer, for it is in our suffering that we learn to desire perfect love, love that we imagine is separate from and not part of suffering. He says this is how God teaches us that he wants us to learn to love and be loved in our deep desire for perfect love.
He meets his future wife, and her love for him reveals to her his deep childhood fear of love and suffering after his mother’s death when he was 7. She clearly intuits his defensiveness in his brilliance, and unconscious sense of superiority that alienates him from opening to an intimate relationship with her. It is only when she is stricken with advanced terminal bone cancer that he realizes she is the love of his life. They are married while she’s confined to bed, and then she goes into remission. However the doctors caution that this won’t last.
They decide to take a trip into the beautiful English countryside, and he realizes he’s found true happiness. He’s not worried about the past or future, he’s finally happy now in the present moment. His wife says, “You know this isn’t going to last. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I need to talk about it with you”. He says don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow. She replies, “No, I think it can be better than that, it can be better than just managing.” He says, “Let’s not spoil the time we have.” She says, “It doesn’t spoil it, it makes it real. I need to talk to about it now, so I can be with you then when I die. What I’m trying to say is, the happiness now is part of the pain then. That’s the deal.”
When she dies, he’s quite angry and is forced to face his deep fear of the pain of loss. It’s so painful that initially he is unable to console his step son who has just lost his mother at age 7 as he did. Finally they have a deeply cathartic cry together, and he fulfills his commitment to look after him after her death.
The movie ends with him asking, “Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers now, only the life I’ve lived. Twice in this life I’ve been given the choice, as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”