Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Elegy for Lenore

Open closed open. Before we are born, everything is open
in the universe without us. For as long as we live, everything is closed
within us. And when we die, everything is open again.
Open closed open. That’s all we are.
                        —Yehuda Amichai

I love this piece of poetry and I think about it all the time—the way before our existence we are part of the limitless pulse of energy, and how we are returned to it after the short parenthesis that is our individual bounded life. In this vision, death is like a new breath, a universal exhale, a release back into the all.

Lenore Lefer taught me how to die. Which is to say, she taught me and twelve other young women with cancer how to live while dying—which is what we’re all doing, by the way, cancer or no. I met her at a weekend retreat at Commonweal, an extraordinary organization right here in Bolinas, that runs Cancer Support Retreats, which integrate the best comprehensive knowledge on healing, from cutting-edge medical research to supportive nutrition and techniques for stress reduction. The center does advocacy work on the links to carcinogens in the environment. But when one is there for a retreat, their work is utterly different: to coax you out of your shell of grief and shock, to appeal to what you most want your life to be about, and by helping you envision it, to bring it in to being, for whatever time you have.