What really matters

My good friend James is someone with whom I’ve shared many conversations about spirituality. He isn’t doing so well these days. He is living in a nursing home now as he’s having difficulty remembering.

I visited him yesterday, and he didn’t recognize me. And yet, he did.

“I know that I know you,” he said staring at me with his deep, dark eyes. He seemed still and quiet, as if he was waiting for a memory that would never come. “I’ve known you for a loooong time.”

“We’ve known each other for 25 years, James,” I said.

“Oh, no,” he said. “We’ve known each other longer than that. We’ve known each other lifetimes. You’re an old soul.”

It was like that when we first met. I was young, in my late 20’s and selling sunglasses at the annual 4th of July event in Mount Shasta. I was supposed to be visiting another town south of here, but that event was canceled. To make up for the travel expenses, I looked around for another event and found Mount Shasta. I was so enamored, I came back every year for 18 years before I finally moved here with my family.

It was during that first visit to Mount Shasta that I met James. As I sat in the blistering summer sun, he sat across the street and watched me. Every once in a while, he would burst out laughing. I had to know who this man was and why he found me so amusing. So I asked him.

He said, “I see this beautiful violet light all around you. You’ve got all of this enlightened energy, and then you’re playing all of these crazy games.” He recognized something within me then, something maybe that I wasn’t ready to fully recognize and embrace in myself back then.

James has been a kindred spirit for most of my adult life, and he’s always encouraged my spiritual growth and awakening. Sometimes, our conversations would last for eight hours: a very long time, and yet timeless. Six years ago, his conversations with Kathy and me encouraged us to look into moving here.

And now, he’s expanding his awareness and moving on in other ways. Though he cannot remember much about his life here, he remembers something much deeper. His mind may not have a data bank of memories upon which to decode this human experience, he has a sense of knowingness that is much more than human.

It was disheartening in some ways, and very sad to see my dear friend in decline mentally, but there was also something very magical about the recognition and awareness that he did have. Most of our conversations over the years centered around our spiritual experiences, and it was as if that part of him was more alive than ever. He didn’t skip a beat and could keep up with conversation about our spiritual explorations in ways that most humans could not.

It was odd and disconcerting, and I felt a deep sadness at what James has lost. And yet, he still had an inner light shining as radiantly as ever, a light shining from the only place that really matters.

IMG_2616As James and I talked about spiritual concepts, I was reminded of a time when Kathy had a garage sale, and James had stopped by not knowing it was our house. Our dog, Alex, and our neighbor’s dog Riley, both golden retrievers, were out in the street greeting everyone. Alex and Riley were best of friends, and they probably thought the garage sale was a party just for them to do what golden retrievers do best, love everyone.

As James was driving by, Riley caught his attention. If you’ve ever read Kathy’s tribute to Riley, you’d know he was an incredibly special dog. He passed away almost 2 years ago.

And Riley continues to be a very special dog. Riley, and that meeting four years ago, is one thing that James remembers.

Tears came to his eyes yesterday as he remembered Riley. He said, “I saw the eyes of God in that dog, and he told me to stop.”

As he remembered, the only real human memory he had during our visit, he cried. It was an incredibly moving moment, and I cried with him.

“I had no idea that was your house, but that dog…” his voice trailed off and we sat, and we remembered.

James and I have known each other a long time, and in that short visit together, I got a glimpse of how our friendship spans far beyond what time can hold. His memories may be gone, but his recognition of what is real is there.

I came home and told Kathy of how special our conversation was. And when I let her know of how Riley was James’ only memory, she cried, too.

Our time and experience in human form is so brief and fleeting, and the memories of our time in these bodies will fade. But there is something beyond our memories that lives on, something eternal, something outside of time and space, and it is this awareness that awaits our invitation to engage in our lives.

We may be saddened that the things of this world are so fleeting, even our memories will eventually fade. But the connections that we do have outside of these limited confines of human awareness will continue on.

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  1. Dear Kathy and Mark, Thanks for the beautiful story. Riley was our dog and yet he wasn’t. We miss him profoundly and have so many memories and photos. As Rich and I were driving up our driveway last week we realized how we still both look for him, his joy and patience waiting. He was a teacher to many. I have a slide show and many pictures if you ever want to share with your dear friend.

  2. Love the story about James. It helps calm the fears of aging and dementia. And Riley’s story brought tears to my eyes. I always say thats why dog spelled backwards spells God!

  3. Mark, this is just a beautiful piece. My own mother is going through alzheimers and it is so heartbreaking to feel like I am losing her. But reading this and being present with her yesterday, I kind of feel like I got a piece of her back. I never really lost her. She’s still there, just not in the way I remember. These memories are just such a trick of the mind, aren’t they. I remember when Kathy wrote about Riley a few years ago. I can tell that Mt. Shasta has been a blessing for you and your family.
    ~Namaste. ~

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