Hope, The Gift of Life and Embracing Metamorphisis

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As July concludes and August approaches, these are the thoughts and observations that are coming through me:

  • I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at the national gathering of The Bereaved Parents of the USA in Connecticut this past weekend. I ended my speech by issuing the two-part challenge of Meesha Johnson ( with her permission), which was part of a beautifully crafted and heartfelt piece for my blog titled Left Undone. The line that resonated with me the most for my speech was:

     Celebrate the life of those around you as well because the gift of life doesn’t just happen to us, the gift of life happens through us.

    I ended my speech by suggesting to  those in attendance that if we  are able to celebrate the gift of another’s life through us, then we can be one with ourselves ,one in our grief and one with each other. That is my gentle wish for all of us who are involved in the human experience.

  • I know I am not the same person that I was prior to my daughter Jeannine’s death. I am not the same person that I was five minutes ago. The process of metamorphosis is truly ongoing.
  • During this upcoming year, I am going to reflect on the adventures in my life that I am willing to experience, including the service opportunities that I choose to embrace. There are many categories in my life that need to be honored at this stage of my life.
  • There are days when I marvel at how I have lived so long , so fast.
  • As I get older , my quest for wholeness trumps my quest for happiness.
  • It isn’t the size of an organization that matters; it is the ability of its leaders to make you feel welcomed and truly a part of things that matters. Sadly, many in a position of leadership don’t get that. The ones that do get it are the ones I choose to associate with as I get older.
  • My friend John, a retired military man gave me one of the best object lessons that I have ever received. He told me that the difference between being merely mediocre and outstanding was attention to detail. Sadly, many in a position of leadership don’t get that either.
  • Courage is strength in the knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped.- Atul Gawande: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in The End

  • I identify  with Atul Gawande’s definition of courage, because of my own life experiences and my experience working with substance users and individuals with emotional health challenges.I think one fear that inhibits the development of courage is the fear of change. Though desirable, change represents a departure from what is familiar, even if it is chaos. In situations that demand change our faith and hope must be stronger than our fear.
  • I have developed a deep respect for nature and for all forms of human life.It wasn’t always that way, but catastrophic loss tends to change ones perspective. I am also grateful to all of my spiritual teachers, mentors and friends who have been instrumental in my shift in thinking.
  • Over the years I have discovered that it is the unofficial reasons rather than the official ones that drive certain decisions. Another example of life as illusion masquerading as truth.
  • For a man to conquer himself, is the first and noblest of victories. -Plato-Found this quote on a friend’s Facebook page this morning.I continue to embrace the challenge.

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Sunsets on the shore

The best and probably the longest journey that one will encounter throughout his/her lifetime is the journey to both find and determine one’s destiny. I for one have come to the realization that we as living, thinking, loving creations of promise possess the power to define our destiny. Although there have been some times throughout my journey where I felt powerless, there was always a knowing that I did possess the power to be and go wherever my imagination would take me. It was all a matter of believing in something much bigger than myself and not allowing my circumstances to dictate my destiny.

One way in which I’ve learned to overcome the challenges that I am confronted with is  what I call, self-reflection. Self-reflection is my way of keeping everything in its proper perspective. There are times that I am discouraged and frustrated by life and by the things that I seem to have no control over. This is when self-reflection plays an essential part of my journey. When I take the focus off of me and off of my situations, I broaden my capacity to receive the understanding needed to continue on with confidence. Reflection is simply taking a moment to think about the times and instances that have bought us to the place of now, the place where we are today. This American culture is so inundated with progress and with winning the “rat race” that we have forgotten to take time to remember how we’ve gotten to where we are. Most importantly, we’ve forgotten to remember and appreciate the obstacles or the opportunities where we are equipped to grow in faith and in courage. Imagine if the challenges of today or tomorrow are our first experiences with confrontation. I have to be brutally honest and say that we don’t exist. Our first ever obstacle that every living, breathing person is confronted with is being born. A new born infant has never had the experience of seeing the light of day or being held by another human being. We have all had to learn fairly quickly to adapt and maneuver in a world, a new environment that is foreign to us. This brand new process is life’s initiation or better yet; our introduction to the journey to our destiny. No one was smart enough to write a handbook or an owner’s manual showing the best route to our destiny because no one has figured it out yet. We are responsible for journaling and remembering the steps we needed to take to get where we want to be. Since our destiny cannot be located on Google maps, it stands to reason why we are responsible for mapping out our journey, reflecting on the places we’ve been, and deciding on purpose to learn from our experiences. We must learn again to appreciate the process involved in life’s journey to our destiny.

The poem that I’ve entitled “Sunsets on the shore” expresses the reality that outside of ourselves, there are lessons in nature that teach us about life. The photo that accompanies my poem is a picture of a parcel of land that belongs to the Shinnecock Nation. To many it is a beautiful sunset on the shores of the beautiful beaches in the Hamptons. To me and to my fellow tribal members, this picture represents the gift of land the creator has blessed us with and that our ancestors died for. On the days that I am overwhelmed by life, I go and sit at the beach and just listen to the sounds of creation. For me, my land and the reality confronted by my ancestors ministers a deeper truth that will forever dominate over my current obstacles. This truth is that just as the sun rises on the shores of our beautiful lands the sun shall set every day. Just as many adverse situations in our lives shall arise, they shall set or be settled. How we respond to our situations will determine our outcome. Sometimes it takes reflection on the order found in nature to give order to our lives. Every obstacle that we are confronted with has a purpose and an order but we have to give it a purpose, otherwise it will produce disorder.

Before I end my note to the readers, I have to be honest and say that even when I get frustrated by life, I find myself wanting to take the easy way out and give up. There is always this small still voice that reminds me what would happen if I gave up every time I wanted to give up. I then start to think and reflect on the good times as well as the bad times. The truth is that I learned more during the dark times in my life because it was the darkest times of my life, the hardest times during my journey that taught me that I am bigger than my circumstances and that all I need is the will to overcome. Lastly, I would like to present all of our readers today with yet another challenge. I would like to challenge everyone that is dealing with a situation that may seem beyond human control to stop and reflect or remember what it took to overcome the last obstacle that you were confronted with. Think about the people who came to encourage you and from the outside looking in, were able to show you something you couldn’t see as you were in that dark place. The last thing I challenge you to think about is the one person who may be confronted with a situation that is darker and harder than your circumstance. Life is a true testimony of what we choose to focus on and how we choose to respond in situations we cannot control…Wishing all of our readers a week, month, year filled with peace and destiny manifest!

©Sunshine K. Gumbs 2015
©Sunshine K. Gumbs 2015

                                                        

By Meesha Johnson

Gazing above the sky’s beautiful abyss is a constant reminder of LOVE’S certain joy and happiness. As brilliant pastel colors blur the heavens above one can only think of what’s gone and what’s to come ,for it is confirmed that another day is done while yesterday’s experience remains. Today’s presence abounds, and tomorrow’s future, while still uncertain, hopes of opportunity. We refrain from fear because the sultry day almost gone is comforted by a gentle breeze that whispers “just hold on.”

Beneath bare feet are remnants of childhood memories of these indigenous lands. The rigid shells of the oyster and smoother rocks once held in innocent hands ,the same ones that uncover crab shells hidden in damp sands. Marvelous sounds of waves crashing to shore while Ospreys and hawks sing in unison as part of a choir, or perhaps they are just in search of one who hears what the future has in store.

Directly across the Indian reserve man made constructs ignorant of the creator’s concepts held in trust evidence of worlds separated by an absolute truth held in our ancestors’ eyes. Yesterday’s reality becomes today’s proof as tomorrow’s destiny is an inheritance slightly obscure when compared to their outside.

Yet from within there is a history of pride never to be denied by those who believe.   For this we know, life is similar to seasons and tides and although darkness of hatred and uncertainty of lies may come, they shall not abide. For just as the sun sets the sun must rise again on our Stony shores…

©Meesha Johnson 2015

Behind Every Face: Some Thoughts For The New Year

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Here are some things that I have been thinking about since before the start of the New Year:

1) The older I get, the more my past has to teach me. Because of that I don’t label a moment that I experience, as a present moment. It is simply a moment.

2) I was at dinner this past New Years Eve with some friends , when I was asked if I had any resolutions or new things I wanted to experience in 2015. I simply said no,much to everyone’s surprise. I have gotten away from trying to script any experiences for myself, because of the limitations that imposes. I simply prefer to be open to any experience that continues to be a teacher to me.

3) In the 27 years that I worked in substance abuse counseling I never came close to being a victim of physical violence. I think it was because I was respectful in all of my interactions with individuals with substance use disorder and tried to understand what motivated their actions in certain situations.

4) I was in New York earlier in December, at the time that protests were occurring over the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. I was walking in Rockefeller Center on Friday evening with my friend Patty Furino when we came across a black security guard with whom we immediately struck up a conversation. In the course of 15 minutes, we discovered that in the last six years of his life he had challenges resulting from homelessness and the death of his mother due to cancer. Yet he transcended those challenges through hard work, determination and an indomitable resolve. We can discover beauty and grace in the midst of challenging circumstances, all we need to do is commit to discovering it.

5) My encounter in New York reminds me of a line from a song by The Wallflowers: “Behind every face is the mask of another” and that regardless of outward appearance ,we are all cut from the same DNA. We are all truly one.

6) I had a brief dream visit from my daughter Jeannine last night. We were in the kitchen of our home. She looked beautiful and radiant, as I always remembered her . All she said to me is that : “We need to be up tomorrow by 4:00 am.” I haven’t yet searched for the meaning or symbolism of her words. If there is any meaning to her words,  it will be revealed to me in time. I was just happy that she wanted to visit.

7) There is truth and the illusion of truth. Both are crucial in shaping our life path.

8) There are individuals who disguise service to others as service to themselves, and there are individuals who are truly about the message and not ego. Learn to know the difference.

9) With the passage of every year, I am increasingly grateful that Jeannine chose me to be her father. With the passage of every year, I am increasingly grateful that my sons Dan and Matt,and Jeannine’s brothers, chose me to be their father.

10) I will end with a great quote that I discovered from a Facebook site called: Let the Wolves Run Free: ” Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others,because the world outside of you is only a reflection of the world inside of you.” I will continue to peck at my shadows.

A Day of Rebirth

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Unconditional and  Never-Ending Love
Today(3/1/14) marks the eleventh angelversary date of my daughter Jeannine’s death. In this moment, I look at her death as a rebirth into a new life in a world that is governed by unconditional, never-ending love, bliss and the absence of malice and rancor.  Jeannine and I share a pure spiritual relationship that embodies all of those positive qualities that are in her world.  I do at times yearn for her physical presence, and I believe she at times yearns for mine. Whenever I receive a sign from her ,I like to believe it is because she yearns for my physical presence, as well as the physical presence of my wife and two sons.  When a spirit makes themselves known to you, they are making themselves known to all that is a part of you.

The Gift of Peace
This morning I spent some quiet time inviting Jeannine into my sacred space and sharing my gratitude for the relationship that we continue to share and the teachings that she continues to reveal to me about life, death and the value of a life.  I also encouraged her to continue to evolve spiritually and if she so chose, to make herself part of the universal intelligence that guides all who walk in awareness to do so with honor and integrity and to help them  inspire others to do the same. To empower Jeannine to continue to evolve in her new life, is the greatest gift that I can continue to give her as her father. It is the greatest gift that I can give to myself,  for it is the gift of peace.

Changing our Inner Landscape

I had an appointment to get my hair cut( actually to get all of them cut), when I looked at the landscape around me and commented to Jeannine that not much changed since her day of rebirth,but that it was OK, nonetheless. That is the cool thing about nature, that there is a consistency in landscape, a landscape characterized by unconditional beauty that we can find anywhere we look. Of course, after our loved ones cross over, the pain ,anger,  and disconnectedness that we experience clouds our perspective and contributes to us overlooking  the magnificence of nature. However, once our inner landscape is transformed because of our desire and intent to see death differently, we again begin to appreciate nature’s splendor and beauty. So our transformed selves, allows us to see the same things differently.

Starting Year 12

Jeannine crossed over on 12:30am on March 1,2003. As of 12:31 am, I started year 12 of my new life path without her physical  presence. Here are my thoughts as I begin year 12:

  •  I can’t believe that it has been 12 years.
  •  I look forward to the day when I can begin eternity with Jeannine and with my ancestors who have entered eternal life before her. I am not however in a hurry to begin that next phase of my existence. I am inspired about what Jeannine has taught me in spirit. I want to continue to be inspired and to inspire others for as long as I am permitted to do so. I also have a wonderful wife and life partner and two amazing sons, whose lives I want to be a part of for as long as I am permitted to do so.
  •  My present moments become more enriched when the past serves as my teacher. My future will also be  enriched as long as I continue to be mindful of this truth.
  • There is a great line from one of the characters in a book by John Green, called : The Failure in Our Stars.  The line is : “Pain demands to be felt.”  There were many times in early grief after Jeannine’s death that I did not acquiesce to pain’s demands. It was only when I could honor my pain, that my metamorphosis began.
  •  Every emotion that we experience , both positive and negative, is a crucial piece in the mosaic that comprises the path we walk after the death of our loved ones. We can learn from everything.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me ,validated me and loved me during the past 11 years of my life. Without you, I could not embrace the path I currently walk and will continue to walk.

Wishing you peace.