Today it is six years since my Aunt Netta died. I called my uncle to let him know that I was thinking of him and of her. Of course, I think about both of them often, but I wanted him to know that others are with him in spirit on this terrible anniversary in particular.
Did I ever say this here before? My father, mother and I went to see Aunt Netta in the hospital what turned out to be just a few weeks before she died. I brought her a stuffed rabbit and a crystal to hang in her window; I hoped the sun would make sparkles in her room. She was curling up into a fetal position and was almost entirely unresponsive. We couldn't speak with her, but we stayed for a while, visiting with her and Uncle Rick, and when we left, my father was holding her hand and said heartily, “Well, get well soon!”
Right after he said it, her eyes cleared completely. For a moment, she was entirely with us, and she burst out laughing uproariously. I think my father felt later that it had been a stupid thing to say, but how extremely fortunate that he did. It left us with such a wonderful last memory, and it was only because of that that she actually saw us for one final moment.
Speaking of last moments, I’ve been heartbroken this week over Tyler Clementi, the young man at Rutgers who committed suicide after being humiliated in the most horrible and public way by his roommate. Couldn’t that roommate see what a shy, quiet and gentle person Tyler Clementi was? It was a heart-stoppingly cruel act. I went to the Zen Center to sit after work yesterday and devoted the period to compassion for Tyler and his family.
Compassion practice is similar to metta practice in that you’re generating and focusing on silent phrases, which may or may not open the heart, and may or may not gather the mind. In compassion practice, you might use phrases like “May you be free from suffering” or “May you find ease in your suffering” or “May you find some way to bear this terrible sorrow.” You can choose whatever phrases work for you. Maybe “I care about your suffering,” or “I care about what has happened to you.”
I sat with tears trickling down my face, mentally repeating the phrases I'd chosen and thinking about Tyler and his family, about his mother and father. I wished that most futile wish, that we could turn the clock back just this number of hours. I wished that I had been there on the George Washington Bridge with him that day, or better yet, that Dan Savage had been. I know Dan Savage wishes that, too. I wished that it were actually possible to bring a person back by offering an arm. Ah, crying again now. And I hope that the boy he was with, the other boy in that tape that had such a horrible, permanent result, I hope Tyler Clementi was in love with that boy, and that it was the most joyful hour of his entire life.