Grace Notes: Divine Disguise


“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Looking for Wonder, Everywhere.

As is often the case, we may not recognize a great soul when we first encounter one. They may seem lost, or dirty, or out of sorts. Certainly, they couldn’t possibly be our teacher — in divine disguise.

And yet, that’s often the case.

When we least expect to be schooled by life, life sends us someone who will open a door or a window, and let us see what other vistas are beyond our normal ‘room with a view.’

I have friends who fall into this category. They may not look or sound like great sages of this life saga, but they’re wise, old, odd souls who’ve taught me more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Some of them came and went from my life quickly. Some of them died young and taught me about ‘seizing the day’ because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Some of them loved me for a while and then left, leaving me feeling like my arms and legs were hanging from their sockets. They circled in close and burned me with their fire. Then, they were gone.

Grace. Just grace.

I’ve been thinking about three of them recently.

Melissa died in 1998 before her 32nd birthday. At 28, Gina committed suicide in 1996. In 2011, Mari died of breast cancer at 48. All three taught me things I didn’t think at the time I needed to know. They taught me about grace and living in the moment and dancing, even in your final days on earth.

They taught me that I should go after what I want, even though there have been wide swaths of time when I’ve forgotten that lesson.

I recently re-read the only letter Gina wrote me in 1995, as she was trying to get admitted to the mental hospital to get her head on straight. In the midst of such turmoil, she was still thinking about the future, about finishing school, about continuing her internship (where we’d met).

She spilled gratitude in the lines on that page. “I am thankful, especially for you,” she wrote. I’d been acting as a sounding board, offering her solace. Her life was messy, but for some reason, I didn’t mind. (I was a tad judgmental in those days, so this was unusual, to say the least.) I loved her in such a pure, unfettered way. I desperately wanted her to live.

But she didn’t last another year.

After she died, she visited me in my dreams for years.

“I’m OK. I want you to know. I’m OK,” she’d say, sitting on the foot of my bed, rousing me from a restless sleep.

G carried a lot of darkness with her. She felt its pull every single day. Eventually, those clouds overtook her, and she opted out of this life.

I will never understand her choice, but I do know she felt it was the only choice she had.

Living in the Light.

Melissa was G’s polar opposite. She lived in brightness. Her whole being quivered and danced with light. I learned to see the world through a lens of possibility from her. I learned to savor food and give love and never take no for an answer.

She died in a hang gliding accident.

Even the paramedics who tried to save her attended her Buddhist memorial service.

Total strangers stood outside with the overflow crowd, crying.

She was unforgettable.

Wild Child.

Mari taught me about wildness and fearlessness and taking chances.

She maintained her sense of sublime ridiculousness right up to the end of her short life. She got up from her death bed, to dance. Even though she was frail and skinny and bald, she danced.

I still feel her arms around my waist sometimes, swaying behind me, singing Elton John’s ‘Sad Songs Say So Much’ at the top of her lungs at a show we attended at Madison Square Garden in 1989.

She played the character of God on Joan of Arcadia on television.

Type casting, if there ever was such a thing.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Most times, we don’t really see these folks when they are with us. Only in hindsight do we discern the lessons they imparted.

Recognizing them — disguised as they often are — is a challenge.

I sometimes wish that it didn’t take a sledgehammer to awaken me.

But we are who we are.

And we learn at a glacial pace sometimes. And that’s OK.

As long as we live and we learn.


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© 2015-2017  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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