written with a pen or pencil straight from the heart.
Ron lived with ALS for several years before his death this past December.
When I found out Ron was sick I couldn’t not say something. There are so many times I bite my tongue, become shy, and ultimately harden where my being wishes to be soft. I decide that being truthful and in turn vulnerable, is somehow not worth it.
But it is.
It took me a few months to reach out and ask for Ron’s address and somehow another half a year passed and I still had no idea what to say. I found myself ruminating on Ron, his life, and the unfairness of his immobility and failing health while I myself was walking eighty miles through a remote mountain range in Nepal. I couldn’t stop marveling at the simultaneous beauty and treachery that is life. That we can work so hard to enjoy it and one day it has to be taken away from us. That our end is already written just as was the beginning.
Over the course of the two-week trek, Ron kept popping up. The guilt of not sharing my truth was starting to eat away at me, but I was still nervous. How do I tell Ron what he means to me? Ron who most likely thinks he was simply some boss or a random person passing through my life, how do I tell him that I deeply care and appreciate him. If it weren’t for Facebook, I doubt Ron would recognize my name as he’s managed thousands of people during his career.
So how do I tell this man I think of him often. That he was different from the other captains and shift leaders? That he made a positive impact on my entire being. That part of who I was and therefore who I am now was shaped by him. That I felt like a worthwhile human when he spoke to me even if it was to basically tell me to stop stuffing my face with desserts by saying, ‘Hey Schusie, hurry it up so we can get outta here.’
It’s difficult to write all that down, pen on paper. It feels weird and maybe even creepy to really tell the truth about your feelings when no one is asking it of you. Especially when that no one is your former boss that you worked under for only three years, among hundreds of other coworkers all wearing the same exact uniform, over half a decade ago.
Standing at a viewpoint and being moved to silent tears as I watched hundreds of prayer flags blowing in the breeze, I had this epiphany. I carry so much love within me, but I often stay rigid and hold onto it. It’s rare that I reach out and allow my love to extend and flow to the ones I care for around me, but at that moment on top of a mountain, looking into the valley below, I felt this expansive power of love and the realization that it is okay to give it away, that it is more than okay, that by holding onto it I was actually robbing the world of love instead of sharing it and generating even more compassion. If love is not shared, where does it live?
And after dozens of hesitations, I simply started: Dear Ron,
And before I knew it, I filled a couple pages and then shame washed over me again.
‘This is weird,’ I said.
‘It’s pretty weird,’ replied my boyfriend.
And so I finished off the letter, read it over once, cried and laughed, and felt the bliss that washes over you after a weight has been lifted, after something has been purged, after having a moment of raw truthfulness and purity in a world where we are constantly censoring ourselves for others’ and our own consumption. And then another moment of hesitation where I thought I should rewrite it and polish it up. Maybe lose a page and fix the misspellings and definitely leave out the smoking weed after work part, but I thought if I didn’t send it now I wouldn’t rewrite it, I would instead regret it and never send it.
I folded the letter up among some Tibetan prayer flags and a signing bowl and wrote a few words about the gifts as if they were the reason for sending the box. A few days later Ron replied via Facebook. Overjoyed and honest about it. Sincere. Something that had taken almost a year of courage for me to achieve.
It took me four days to open that message because I was protecting myself from it. From fear of rejection and judgment and the self-inflicted shame of vulnerability, but there was none of that. There was only Ron.
In part of his message he confirmed my revelation by saying, “Your words uplifted me…and what makes everything in life worthwhile is to touch, help, or inspire a good soul. I haven’t received much feedback like that so, let me just say thank you again…”
I didn’t realize until I read his reply that I sent the letter for me, not for Ron. Ron the beautiful person that deserved to be showered with admiration and care for his years of service to this earth and humanity. Ron who thinks helping good souls is what makes life worthwhile. I knew for certain that he inspired and assisted dozens of us during my time in Philadelphia. That we all had feedback for him that we were too timid to share.
I loved Ron because I never saw him be anything other than a truly good person. He continuously showed up in his life and in turn mine as a kind, funny, stable and fair human being. His presence and the example he set by simply existing and interacting with the world around him was worth thanking him for. Was worth loving him for.
In Ron’s message, he also mentioned that he was inspired by the Dali Lama and that he thought Tibet was a holy place. Two years passed and I was back in Nepal, trekking the same route only this time with cell service. I logged into Facebook and saw that Ron was in the process of completing his life. Once again I was standing in ancient Tibet with thoughts of Ron, carrying him along with me on the trek in an environment where you can feel the majesty of the mountains pulsating around you like a low electrical buzz or maybe a vibration of love and appreciation for the opportunity to be a witness to them.
I read about his admittance to the hospital on the same day of the trek that I had had the epiphany at the viewpoint two years earlier. Somehow he had reached me once again with a reminder: spread the love, think of me, cultivate compassion, carry on. Each time I spun the prayer wheels along the trail I felt the love and I spun it right back out, love, love, love. I felt it reverberate around me over the days to come when I’d worry and fight the urge to check facebook because this one instance of death in Ron’s life doesn’t detract from the immense amount of love it was filled with.
We love you, Ron, but you already knew that. You weren’t one to stand still and keep all your love and joy inside. You let it wave out of you as you waltzed around the various ballroom floors kindly telling us to get our shit together with only a little nod, wink, or grin in the direction of the mild crisis. So thankful for you. This note came a little late, but again, I think it was more for me than you.