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My dear friend, Earl, died yesterday. You may remember my writing about him a few times.
Earl was a bright and engaged 88-year-old black man. He was over six feet tall, lean like the swimmer he had been, and was one of the most curious and reflective people I’ve ever known. He was in our meditation group for nine years, showing up every Monday to meditate silently, and then participate in our discussion. He would ring the bell to start our meditation periods and end them, and also lead the group in slow and moderately paced walking meditation. One time he asked us, where else could I go, walking in circles around a room and have ten women obediently following me? We roared with laughter.
During our meditation meetings, I would meet privately with participants for 10-15 minutes if they wanted time with me, and Earl always did. He liked to explore ideas. He would often try to praise me for what I was doing and for my own practice, but I reminded him that he, too, was one of the few who meditated on his own and that he was a steady presence for our group. He loved to talk about spirituality and G-d and other big ideas. I would often argue with him when he would describe “controlling the mind” which really can’t be done; when he contemplated leaving his church because of disagreements he had with the pastor or with some Christian ideas, I’d encourage him first to explore and investigate his own discomfort and what that might be about.
And he often would share what he had learned—about his religion and his life.
Earl was a generous soul, a loving husband and father and dear friend, but would often be tough on himself. I think those personal demands contributed to his success as a policeman in New York, and eventually a defense lawyer. But I suggested as he got older and had proven himself, that he could be kind to himself, too. He would nod his head, acknowledging the truth of my comment.
I refused to discuss politics with the meditation group, and later, when I discontinued the group. Inevitably he would have a question and say, now this isn’t political, and proceed to ask a question about politics. I never figured out if he really thought it wasn’t political or couldn’t resist asking the question. And I continued to refuse to discuss politics. That was just our dance.
When Earl first became ill, I would visit him. Just a few weeks earlier we had begun to read and talk about Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart. After my first visits to his home, I suggested we take a section each week and discuss it. Eventually, I suggested another friend, who had also been a regular meditation group participant and also was a friend of Earl’s, join us. She was a snowbird, but when she was in Florida, the three of us would meet, meditate and discuss. We had deep and thoughtful discussions.
When it was clear Earl would not be recovering, we made an agreement with Earl’s wife to call every Sunday to see if Earl was well enough to visit on Monday morning. And every Sunday when I called, Earl or his wife said he was ready to meet. Last Monday he said we really didn’t need to continue calling (which he had said on previous occasions); we explained that his wife had asked us to call, so if we stopped, he needed to let her know. He assured me that he would.
He passed away yesterday, Sunday, from sepsis and organ failure.
In many ways, he is still with us. I will miss him.Published in