We hadn’t spoken for well over 20 years. Not because we’d fallen out. We weren’t close enough for that. We had know each other as kids at school and through football, and we drank in the same pubs growing up. In time, he began travelling the country with work, and eventually I left the country. I hadn’t seen him since. But two years ago he contacted me, having read some of my writing. This was his first message to me:
Are these words you spout of God? Or are they your beliefs?
Have you had an experience?
Hope you are well and full of joy.
I woke up in 2007. And life is a beautiful story always seeking that perfection that resides in all.
We corresponded briefly about spirituality and family life – he was very proud of his children. He struck me as having all the wisdom I was reading and writing about in my work, and in February this year, we talked on the phone. He shared more of his life, including the deep unhappiness he had experienced for so many years; a darkness, he told me, which had begun when he was 12 years old. He also told me of the spiritual experience he’d had in India many years later, which had allowed him to move on and find some peace. It had taken him out of the darkness and into a new world in which he was able to experience the joy and light which every 12-year-old should know.
He was a beautiful soul. As a kid he always seemed such a happy, playful boy, and as a young man he was invariably approachable and engaging. He was also a very talented footballer whose ability never went to his head. I found that same humility in him earlier this year when we talked. He knew more than most people about what life is really about and he remained humble in his wisdom. I was grateful for his contribution to me because his words confirmed my own path and supported me when I needed them. Here are some more of his earlier messages:
I had a life of pain and misery and then grace fell over me and stayed with me for 6 months. Now though I am back to reality with all the knowledge I need to live a joyful life.
That jewel we have that transcends our body and material life is the key. I know people who search for it all their life with no joy.
I know people who put themselves on a pedestal or others looking for their guru. I fought hard to realise I was no guru or on a pedestal.
The mind is a very important tool that will lead and trick you into many places if you are not fully awake. The heart is where it all resides. For me you have to make that light as big as you can.
Right and wrong do not exist. It is just my advice I give. I guess my highest practice is that you just let go instantly. Of everything that happens. Whether it is good or bad. Just let go, move on. It helps to be present.
During our call, I told him how courageous I had always found him in the work he did in his early 20s. To me back then he was doing something I could never dream of having the bravery or the confidence to do. I know now that it was not an easy time for him. He explained that he always had a burning desire to go ‘home’, even though he didn’t really know what ‘home’ meant. We talked of how transformative that enlightening experience had been for him in India, and how fortunate he felt because other people with the same struggles never have that door opened for them.
I ended the conversation assuring him I would call again and visit him when I have the chance. Tragically, neither of those things will ever happen because last month he took his own life. I felt deeply saddened when I heard the news. For days afterwards I could think of nothing else. He really was one of the good ones.
But this is where his contribution to me is greater in death than it was even in life. Having listened to him tell me about his suffering from such an early age, his death left me wondering about the pain we carry. How many other kids, for example, are running around with smiles on their faces but sadness in their hearts? Is there something we can do about it? It’s futile to think we can prevent it, but surely we can heal it?
Allied to that, the check-mate move – the one that arose with instant clarity and forceful intent – was the spiritual one. However enlightening the spiritual experience gets – and from his description he had been bathed in light; it had dripped from his body – it is still not necessarily enough to allow us to live peacefully in this world. It’s intoxicating because it promises a release from everything that weighs us down, but that is not the way. That way distracts from, disregards and diminishes how we have suffered. Instead, our pain has to be recognised and worked through; transformed, not transcended. He has shown me that unequivocally.
So thank you for the joy you brought; the smile which always seemed to adorn your face; the effortless skill you showed with a ball at your feet; your courage and humility, the pain you bore; the light you bestowed; and the goodness in your heart. And thank you for the wisdom of your parting gift: that even though spiritual awakening may seem like the ultimate destination, it is nothing if we cannot heal the pain we accumulate when we are too young and ill-equipped to be able to deal with it. In honour of your existence and your passing, may we all learn to heal our pain.