Leaving Home: Binos, In Memoriam by Ness Mountain
I want to write about spirituality this issue. My old friend Binos has just died, so I feel like I am living life at that basic level, the level of life, death, and spirituality. I think spirituality is about realizing what’s important, about being able to let go of what we want, what we think we need. In the end, of course, we must let go of everything, and die; and this, too, is beautiful.
Once I met a man in a bus stop, sitting with a little girl. He was dressed in biker’s black leather, rather gaunt, with a whitish cast to his face. His left hand seemed lifeless. We started to talk, and he soon told me about himself. He was dying of cancer. He was raising his granddaughter; her parents were in jail. As he spoke, the girl looked up into his face. I felt something pass from him to her. A kind of tranquility.
He had been a hard drug user for many years. He was clean and sober now, but there was no time for him to start a new life. His cancer was advanced. He would spend the little time left to him with his granddaughter. I felt an extraordinary “acceptance” in the aging biker. It seemed to me as if, somehow, acceptance came to me from him through the smell of leather and cigarettes.
I went home and cried. I was going through a very hard time in my life, feeling friendless and poor. My life seemed bleak; but being with this dying man had brought me out of my own loneliness and despair, into a spiritual place. I seemed to see a patchwork rainbow of life, of joy and suffering, stretching over the city. I felt myself a tiny part of this huge flow of life, and, for that moment, I loved everyone and everything in it. I was overwhelmed.
I saw people of every age and kind, living, happy and sad, dying. Here and there I saw details, people surviving or thriving, stories happening. It was so beautiful! Like a quilt stretching across the city, above me, through the heavens. I cried and cried and my tears dripped onto the kitchen table.
This was an important change for me. The feeling of being a part of life, and seeing the beauty in suffering, has come back from time to time to overwhelm me, but more important, it has become a part of my everyday life. Little things don’t bother me much. I’m going to die, and—it may sound strange to you—I think that’s great. It’s the big things that really matter, but day-to-day life is mostly about little things. The knowledge of death takes the sting out of the little things. Life is about having a good time, good food and good friends. Binos knew that. So we have to get the little things out of the way.
When I feel out of control, when I am angry or scared, I reach out for that feeling, the knowledge that life is beautiful even in suffering. I’ve learned to put my faith in it. It’s a leap in the dark, but it gets a little easier each time. When I can do it, it’s like sailing through the darkness, knowing I’ll be OK. I can give in, give up, give.
As a therapist, I listen to the nearly unbearable stories of survivors of all kinds of violence, betrayal, and loss. Recently a man told me his self-esteem was so low he walked behind a restaurant so people wouldn’t have to see him out the window. Another client was raped in her back yard when she was eight years old. Her family was inside. Heaven is on earth; so is Hell. Listening to stories like these, my belief in human goodness begins to unravel. I narrow my eyes and “reach,” trusting that I will find the strength to keep listening, keep loving.
To me, the most important question in life is, “What do you fall back on when your life is falling apart?” Ask yourself. Is it God? Stubbornness? Do you run and hide? Get angry? What? When it happens, can you still love?
Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Your comments on Leaving Home are welcome: respond to Alternatives or to Ness at (503) 281-0236.