Monday, April 30, 2012

Spirited Dancer

Spirited Dancer by A. P. Grant, 2011
I made this gestural photograph of Rahima contra dancing at the Fall Ball in Peterborough, NH. It speaks to me about the fleeting quality of existence, how our spirits animate these bodies and join in the dance of life for but a time.


What are your thoughts about permanence and impermanence?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pen Pals

Rahima worked for the Greenfield Public Schools in various capacities. One of the projects that she initiated was a pen pal reading program for sixth graders which was so successful last year that the superintendent expanded the program this year to include the entire 6th Grade.

Joan, a volunteer who worked closely with Rahima, has picked up the program and is doing a fabulous job. More than 100 adult residents of Greenfield have been matched up with the students.

Here's how it works: Everyone reads the same book. In the course of reading, the adults and children exchange a series of letters—actual letters that are mailed through the US Post Office in bright yellow envelopes. They write a little about themselves and their thoughts about the book. At the end, the students and their adult pen pals have the opportunity to meet each other at a big party.

The book this year is "Bud, Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis, an engaging memoir of a boy who is left orphaned and is in search of a new family. In some ways I identify with Bud although he had a much harder time of it.

This year, I am participating as a pen pal. My students are Jack and Zach, and we're just beginning to get acquainted.

Rahima delighted in coming up with schemes like this, that connected people in new ways and gave them insight into themselves and their community. She was a pioneer in service-learning as a rich field for education. She loved this work and I enjoyed seeing the charge she got out of doing it.


What lessons have your learned or are you continuing to learn from Rahima? If you're in the pen pal program, how's it going for you?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

62 Haywood Street

The house at 62 Haywood Street is up for sale. This was the home and ours was the relationship that Rahima manifested from halfway across the country.

Not long ago, when Rahima was living in Iowa, she left her unhappy marriage and her tenured faculty position in quest for great love and a place to call home. She took her consulting work on the road and she chose Greenfield, Massachusetts as a place to live. In true Rahima form, she had several reasons for this location: 1) it was in New England, not far from her hometown of Scituate, Massachusetts; 2) it was within reach of the Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, NY, a center for Sufi practice and her spiritual home; and 3) she regarded the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield—the place where we first met—as the "contra dance center of the universe" (see video).

Now the time we shared in this place has come to an end. I am most grateful to the team of friends who helped get the house ready for sale. The realtor walked through yesterday and said the place looks fabulous. Here are links to an online gallery of photos I took yesterday and the real estate listing. Today, I worked with a woman to clear the house of energetic blockages and infuse it with love and light. I had a strong sense of Rahima's presence and approval.

This beautiful house was well-used, every part of it. Now it is time to let it go for someone else to enjoy.

I feel complete with this phase. My grief is not over. For a long time, I expect to feel the sorrow and gratitude that come. However, my active role in caring for Rahima has shifted. I have attended with her through the original cancer diagnosis and treatment, the hip fracture and recovery, the end-stage cancer diagnosis, the health institute and homecoming, her dying process, the home wake and memorial service and finally the sale of the house. I will hold her memory dear and relish the times when her spirit feels especially near, but my work is largely finished. In the summer, Rahima's ashes will be scattered at her "mermaid put-in spot."

Now I will rest and restore with a view toward progressing in my life. What my next step will be after my time at Woolman Hill—where I will find myself at home and with whom—is yet to be seen, but I feel confident and ever so thankful.


What are your memories of 62 Haywood Street?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hiking with Rahima

Hiking was a big part of the life that Rahima and I shared. Our first date was a hike. Throughout our time together we made regular jaunts on the local trails. We took overnight hiking trips with the kids. We also had aspirations for more grand adventures reflected in the items pictured here: Rahima's passport and three guidebooks.

The book about New England waterfalls came up in one of our first conversations on the dance floor. I had shown her a picture that I took of a waterfall and she said she wanted to hike to all of the waterfalls in New England, she even had a guidebook. I said warmly, "I'll go with you," a comment that surprised and delighted both of  us.

Last November, we made reservations to travel to Scotland to hike the Southern Upland Way, the coast-to-coast route through the Scottish Highlands linked by a series of lodges. It was a trip that Rahima had attempted to make years ago but had to cancel due to a family crisis. When it became apparent that she would not be making the trip this time either, she encouraged me to go ahead.

So now I've invited my brother Bob to join me and he's game. I think it will be magical, hiking with my brother in the land of our ancestors, and bittersweet. Rahima will go with us in spirit and I will be reminded that I had a partner who loved to hike as much as I do, if not more.


What part does hiking play in your own life? What do you think about making plans that go unfulfilled or fulfilling a plan in a new way?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Maddie's Mermaid

Maddie's Mermaid for Rahima
My children, Ian (18) and Maddie (15), felt at home with Rahima. For this I will always be grateful. They appreciated Rahima's ease, her penchant for fun, and her yen for adventure. They especially enjoyed the constant table games we played and the camping trips we took together.

At Christmas, Maddie made a gift for Rahima: a transparent window hanging of tissue paper cut by hand and glued together that depicts a mermaid swimming in the ocean. This was a month before we knew that Rahima's transition was fast approaching, but the image speaks to me today of Rahima boldly moving through her final passage.

Rahima was intent on including my kids in her dying process, speaking with them personally, giving them gifts and modeling honesty, grace and courage. I couldn't have asked for more in this regard. It was their first experience with the death of a loved one.

Before I hand the keys over to the realtor on Tuesday, I'll take the mermaid down from the kitchen window, and remember times when we were together, happy times.


P.S. I am most grateful to the folks who helped at 62 Haywood Street. Thank you. We did it!

What makes a home and how do you know when you're at home?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Old Sweet Beggar

A favorite poem of Rahima's by the mystic poet Hafiz.

Path to God
Made me such an old sweet beggar.

I was starving until one night
My love tricked God Himself
To fall into my bowl.

Now Hafiz is infinitely rich,
But all I ever want to do

Is keep emptying out
My emerald filled

This tear stained.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Sufi Turning

The following excerpt and poems were read at the Community Memorial Service for Rahima on April 1, 2012. The Sufi Turning followed the recitation of the Prayer for the Dead and Blessing Prayer.
"Introduction: The Mevlevi Turn originated with Rumi and is a practise of both surrender with great centered discipline. Rumi arrived at a place where ego dissolves and a resonance with the universal soul comes in. When the gravitational pull gets even stronger the two become one—a turning that is molecular and galactic and a spiritual remembering of the Presence at the center of the universe. Turning is an image of how the dervish becomes an empty place where human and Divine can meet."
The photograph was taken by me when Rahima and I traveled to the Quaker meeting house in Putney, VT last December to attend a sema, in observance of the anniversary of the death of Rumi, the Sufi mystic (d. December 17, 1273). Rupa, the person in the foreground of the picture, was the dancer at Rahima's memorial service.

You have said what you are.
I am what I am.
I have no name for what circles so perfectly.

Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
Circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes
From the center.

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Hand unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

Source: The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks, 1995

What is dancing to you?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Friends Carry Us Over

As more friends help me with the final preparations to put 62 Haywood Street up for sale, I am reminded of the song, "Love Call Me Home," that the Amandla Chorus sang often by Rahima's request–when her hip was healing, when she was receiving cancer treatment, and in her final days. It was sung by Amandla at the community memorial service.

Here is an audio recording of Amandla singing it in concert. 
Friends have truly carried us over!


Love Call Me Home

When the waters are deep,

Friends carry me over…

When I cry in my sleep,

Love call me home.

Time ferry me down the river,
Friends carry me safely over,
Life, tend me on my journey,
Love call me home.

When the waters are cold,
Friends carry me over…

When I’m losing my hold,

Love call me home.

When I’m weary and cannot swim,
Friends carry me over…

Open your arms and take me in,
Love call me home.

Take the gift I bring,

Friends carry me over…

Deep within me life is singing,

Love call me home.

Life offers a chance

For friends to carry us over,
Time can stop or dance forever,
Love call me home.

Words and music ©2001 Peggy Seeger
In tribute to Peggy's friend Christine Lassiter

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Running with Rahima

View from Brown House this morning
I'm off for a run this morning on the trails above Woolman Hill, and Rahima goes with me. One of the things she loved most in this life was running. She ran 15 marathons and at one time held classes for people interested in starting long-distance running. In Iowa City, she trained with a group of women she called the Goo Girls, after the nutritional gel they consumed during races.

Her running career began when she was sixteen years old in Scituate (pronounced SIT-chew-it), Massachusetts, the seaside hamlet south of Boston where she lived with her family, the oldest of five children. She ran with her father, an engineer who had a passion for all manner of physical activities. He admitted to her that he didn't really love to run; he just knew it was good for him. Rahima, or Carol as she was known by her family, felt differently—she had a deep and abiding passion for running.

One of Rahima's unique talents was her sense of timing and orientation to place which I think was honed over years of running nearly every day. She could leave the house for a 7- or 10-mile run and tell me the minute she would return, and she would be exactly right.

When she broke her hip on February 5, 2011, it ended her running career. It was a terrible loss for her, and hard on us. In the previous months, we had started running together and found ourselves well-matched for short distances, although I had neither the experience nor the endurance. For a time after her accident I would go out on solo runs but it was just too upsetting for Rahima to know that I was running and she couldn't. So I reverted back to hikes in the woods which became part of her recuperation.

On these hikes, she had a funny little run loop the she would do, jog out a few paces then swing around with a big smile, arms wide as if flying, and return for an embrace. I miss that childlike joy in life and her delight in our sharing it together.

Now with Rahima's passing, I am feeling a push to get out and run. I don't go out every day or nearly as long as she did, but some days like this one I feel the urge to use my body in that way, to see the world at running speed, to invigorate my lungs and stretch my legs. And when I do, I feel in a sense I am running for Rahima or with Rahima. Her spirit goes with me, and it is good.


What are your memories of Rahima running or running with Rahima?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

62 Haywood Street

I'm often asked, "How are you doing?" The answer just now is that I feel exhausted. I'm actively grieving, attempting to resume work, moving and getting the 62 Haywood Street ready for market next Wednesday, April 25, 2012. So at the moment I feel spent and overwhelmed. Fortunately, I've had lots of help and offers for more.

Rahima and I used this beautiful house very well, every room. Now it is time to move on.

I'll try to write more tomorrow.


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Appeal

Mt Toby Retreat at Woolman Hill, 2012
It is quite early, I've been sitting on the porch of the meeting house (the same building as pictured here) at Woolman Hill. The sun is just rising as the fog is lifting. There is a riot of birds. They flit from place to place, making any manner of sounds. Chirps, chats and caws, whistles and songs fill the air. Woodpeckers are doing their work at different pitches and tempos. There is so much bird racket that an ornithologist would be challenged to name them all.

Sitting here I am also remembering the appeal Rahima made to the Quaker community in this building on the closing day of a weekend retreat (January 27-29, 2012) for the members and friends of the Mount Toby Meeting of Friends in nearby Leverett, Massachusetts where I attend and Rahima visited from time to time.

The retreat occurred on the weekend of my 49th birthday, so I made a request of Rahima. Instead of an elaborate party—she was a great party planner—I simply wanted to attend the retreat together, all weekend. This was a sacrifice for Rahima since it involved giving up contra dancing. In her adaptive way, Rahima brought a big cake to share and planned a fun dance for folks at the retreat.

As it happened, leading up to the retreat we received the devastating news that the "triple-negative" breast cancer for which Rahima had been treated had metastasized. First, on January 20, we read the results of the brain scan that showed areas of concern. Then on January 27, my birthday, a PET scan showed conclusively that the disease had spread throughout Rahima's body. Not only the brain was involved, but the lungs, liver and bones.

We carried this news into the retreat. Only two women, Mary and Margaret, knew our burden. They were like attending angels to us the whole weekend.

Rahima was greatly concerned for herself, but also for the other participants in the retreat. Should she share or not? By the time of the closing circle the answer was clear to her.

The retreat concluded with a group sharing. Going from person to person around the room, we were instructed to say our name, to whom we were going home, and what the retreat meant to us. The line of speakers meandered around the room. It became apparent that I would be the last to speak, and Rahima the next to last. It was then that Rahima looked at me and mouthed the words, "I want to share." I gave a knowing smile and nodded.

When Rahima's turn came, instead of standing in place as the other's had done, she moved to a raised step near the center of the gathering and spoke, the sunlight touching her auburn hair. The two angels, Mary and Margaret, had been sitting in front of and beside us. When Rahima rose to speak, they seized me.

I don't remember what I said at all or most of what Rahima said apart from telling her truth: her body was now riddled with cancer and she was facing death soon. However, I will always remember her appeal: "Hold the pieces of Andy's shattered heart until he can put them back together."

She recognized that I have found my spiritual home among the Friends (Quakers) and she, in her time of great suffering, was showing me the greatest compassion. My wellbeing was her concern.

Afterwards, a sixteen-year-old girl came up to Rahima and said: "You are the bravest person I have ever met." I agree.

My heart is full of wonder and gratitude.


If you were there at the close of the retreat, please help me with details of your experience. What exactly did Rahima say? What did I say? How were you affected by this event?

In Praise of Quaker Men

Moving out of 62 Haywood Street
The Quaker men have showed up for me, big time. In the aftermath of Rahima's death, they've accompanied me on hikes, done overnights and shared meals with me. Yesterday, they came out in force to help with the move to Woolman Hill.

I am most grateful for the help. Moreover, l am touched by the knowledge that they are answering a direct appeal that Rahima made just after we learned that the cancer had spread.

I will describe that appeal tomorrow. For now, I'm exhausted and headed for bed, in my new digs!

With gratitude,


I attend the Mount Toby Meeting of Friends in Leverett, Massachusetts. Rahima visited there often. What is your experience with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sufi Invocation

Toward the One,

the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,

the Only Being;

United with All the Illuminated Souls,

Who form the Embodiment of the Master,

the Spirit of Guidance.

This Sufi invocation was part of the daily rhythm of Rahima's life. I often marveled at how she would recite these words, usually in silence, to begin her meditation and fall almost instantly into a deep, blissful state.

The invocation was said at Rahima's memorial service and I was struck then by how through all these years of daily practice she had been preparing herself for union with "the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty."


What is your experience with Sufism and the Prayer of Invocation?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Burnt Kabob

I have set up an altar for Rahima in my bedroom. As I breathe, I focus on divine compassion. There is a singing bowl tuned to the heart chakra; a photo of the window at the Abode of the Message that reads,"Enter unhesitatingly Beloved for in this abode there is naught but my longing for Thee;" a caste-iron dragonfly that Rahima exchanged with her best friend; a heart-shaped box; a candle in a lotus flower; and a book of daily readings of the Sufi mystical poet Rumi. I read the following poem this morning and it spoke to me.  ~Andy

Burnt Kabob
by Rumi

Last year, I admired wines.
This year I'm wandering inside the red world.
Last year, I gazed at the fire.
This year I'm burnt kabob.

Thirst drove me down to the water,
where I drank the moon's reflection.
Now I am a lion staring up totally
lost in love with the thing itself.

Don't ask questions about longing.
Look in my face.

Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.
And my heart, I'd say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.

But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.

(A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings by Coleman Barks)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Power of Compassion: Singing in Jail

One of the shared experiences that greatly enriched our lives was our participation in the Amandla Chorus. Rahima sang alto and I sing bass. Before rehearsal on Tuesday, March 27, 2012, about 35 chorus members crowded into the living room at 62 Haywood Street and filled the house with our songs. Rahima was nearby in the "beach room," no longer responding outwardly.

It was a shock to the singers the next day, when they arrived for a scheduled performance at the county jail in Northampton, Massachusetts, to learn that Rahima had died in the evening after their visit.

Below is a collection of materials that describe what happened at the jail: 1) an email sent to the chorus that night by director Eveline MacDougall, 2) a letter that she sent to the jail, and 3) responses she received. They are reprinted here with permission from Eveline.

Sleep with the Angels: Email to the Chorus

The following email was sent to the Amandla Chorus from director Eveline MacDougall on Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 10:10 P.M.

What happened at the Northampton Jail tonight was the highest imaginable form of tribute to Rahima and Andy.

Those men met us in our moment of grief, rising to the occasion with big wide-open hearts, prayers, & compassion. By making ourselves vulnerable, we allowed them to step outside of their individual distress and stories, and to join us in the awesome mystery of life and death, filled as it is with elation, crushing sadness and everything in between.

Most of all, what I felt tonight was WONDER.

Grown men, locked in a prison -- the epitome of shut-down emotions -- allowing themselves to cry openly with us, to reach out their hands, to offer hugs. When I told them of our loss, they reacted viscerally and fully. Faces opening up. Murmurs of condolence. Singing along with enthusiasm. Eyes warm and wet. Three standing ovations.

Rahima, your physical breath has ended. But not your spirit, nor your compassion. We brought you in there with us tonight; meanwhile you bring us along, too.

The miracles of the Amandla Chorus do not recognize death as an obstacle. Oh, my dear friends, I truly love to hear your voices lifted up in radiant song.

Good night, everyone. Sleep with the angels.



Fastest Way to Freedom: Letter to the Men at the Jail

Here is the letter that Eveline wrote on Thursday, March 30, 2012 about singing in light of Rahima's death. Eveline is addressing the prisoners who had attended the Wednesday concert.
To the Gentlemen who attended the 3/28/12 Amandla Concert:

Dear Friends

I had considered postponing our show. I was worried we might not get through it. We were exhausted & emotionally raw following the death of our dear Rahima the night before.

"Rahima" means compassion in Arabic. I'm glad I didn't postpone our show, because your compassionate hearts enabled us to leave feeling much better than we did when we came in.

I guess, sometimes, the people who've experienced hardship and adversity are the very ones best suited to offer comfort in the face of someone else's pain. When I shared our sorrow with you, you did not act indifferent. You chose to be right there with us. In that moment, you became our brothers.

This morning, thanks to you, I awoke feeling hopeful. I opened my daily meditation book, "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo, and read:
"To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken."
I turned the page and read:
"We can only understand pain and joy to the extent that we have allowed ourselves to be touched by life."
And on the next page:
"The fastest way to freedom is to feel your feelings."
Did I really think I could visit you & share these beautiful songs and pretend I wasn't grieving? I would have missed an opportunity, and ended up with a giant headache (which is what happens when I need to cry, & I don't).

Thank you for receiving our grief, transforming it, and handing it back in another form known as love. Thank you for loving us, and helping us heal our hearts.

When I was young, I thought I was the only person walking around with fear and pain. I thought everyone else had it all together, and that there was something wrong with me. That was my foolish way of thinking. Since then, I have learned that we all have pain and fear, and our wounds can be visible or invisible. I've come to see that this does not need to be a problem, and since it's the human condition, I can choose to turn it into a strength.

My brothers, your generous hearts did shine through on Wednesday night, which inspires me to say: wherever you're headed, whatever comes next for you, please remember how much you have to offer, and what a difference you can make in the world.

You've made a difference for the Amandla Singers.

Thank you.

With love,

Eveline (rhymes with "green")

Beyond Fantastic: Responses from the Jail

Eveline has received letters, artwork and phone calls from the folks who attended the performance that day. Here is her unedited account:

1) Phone message (transcribed) from Kathy, the jail's community outreach officer:
"I can't even begin to tell you how magnificent your concert was. It was absolutely fabulous and the men enjoyed it thoroughly. They can't say enough about it. It was just absolutely incredible and I appreciate you coming and doing it, especially during such a sad time for your chorus. But you carried it off beautifully and I'm very, very impressed with the whole group. It was above and beyond fantastic!"
2) A fellow named Don sent thanks, a beautiful piece of artwork, and a passage from Gibran's "The Prophet" entitled "Giving." 

3) A fellow named Miguel sent a beautiful, long letter. Here are some excerpts:
Miguel expressed some things about his own hardships, and then said that our music "opend my eyes and heart to new things." He wrote about feeling a lack of support, and having family members drift away. But he added: "I come to relise that this incaration [incarceration] is good for me. It change my life. The music u guys all sang has alot of meaning behind it and I am for ever greatfull. Everyone looks at us inmates as bad people. They all so fast to judge us but deep inside we are just like everyone else. We are kind hearted and respectful people. I kno I am an I have alot of good i can do. So thank u for touching my heart and soul with the wonderful music u shared."
4) Here's another letter, which came with a beautiful handmade card, which this fellow Patrick drew and 22 of the other guys signed...
"Dear Eveline and Friends,

My name is Patrick, I have attempted to write this letter numerous times and just cannot find the right words to express how you all made me feel and the way that you opened my eyes to a new happiness.

My story is unique (I guess everybody's is) I wish you all knew it so that maybe you understand why I appriciate the way the you came to you came to our jail and shared your beautiful music with us...And as much as I did love the music and the diversity of your songs, I grew to feel that same love for all of you for the way you presented it. Like I said, I can't describe it but the atmosphere in our visiting room was amazing.

There was a certain energy in that room and it created a type of genuine happiness that I had forgot existed and now thanks to all of you, I will never forget it. I was very sorry to hear about your friend, Rahima, and I couldn't help but to cry when you told us about her. I believe for all of you to still be able to perform and to dedicate the performance to her showed incredible strength and dedication to one another. That is something that all of us need to see since we are all facing certain hardships in here together. I feel like drawing you a card and writing you a letter is not enough but it's all I can do so please just know that we all appriciate you and hope to see you again.

Thank you,


P.S. I'm interested in learning your songs and the meaning behind them...they seem very good for the soul."

Amandla means "power" in Zulu. The power of music met with compassion is indomitable. What do you think happened at the jail that day? Tell the story.  ~Andy

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Coral Rose

The room is filled

with the aroma

of the rose,

coral pink

with veins of deep orange,

that had been

plucked by the gardener

and pressed to its essence,

the exquisite rose

that had bloomed in the garden

and opened to the sun,

beaming like the face of a child.

apg 4.11.12

I wrote this poem to reflect on how I have experienced Rahima since her death: physically absent, yet very much present, as if in the atmosphere. Have you felt Rahima's presence since her passing? How so?   ~Andy

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

First Bird

Remember: Our tears help us heal. They relieve stress and activate the immune system. Let them roll. Make space for a good cry when you need one. Get with friends who understand this.

This is advice that I gave recently to a loved one for whom Rahima's death is excruciatingly difficult, advice that I am trying to follow for myself.

The tears come often and it's okay. They alert me to what is stirring in the depths, my fear and sadness at losing Rahima. They also sharpen my awareness of the beauty that is all around. Somehow the tears help to clarify my vision, to sweep away what keeps me from seeing and appreciating life in its fulness.

As she was facing her own death, Rahima and I observed how gratitude and grief are two faces of the same reality: the appreciation, through gain or loss, of something in this life. I am finding too that grief touches on beauty. The sorrow I feel somehow opens my senses to the splendor that is all around. I clasp my hands and say, "Thank you." Who am I thanking? Good question. The spirit of Rahima and the divine beneficence that brought her into my life, but words don't really work for this. Better a generous silence...

View from the Brown House
I woke up this morning on Woolman Hill. Last night, a small group of Quaker men—wise, strong, vulnerable, funny—had their monthly gathering at my new place. It was a rich time of sharing and it felt like just the right way to start my time there. One of them stayed overnight and that too was reassuring.

When I stepped outside this morning and saw the sky lightening in the east and heard the birds, I smiled and thought to myself, "First bird." I remembered pitching a tent behind the Woolman Hill meeting house and sleeping outdoors with Rahima for a couple of weeks late last spring. Just wanting to be out in nature, we slept there at night and went to work in town during the day. We had a little game: Call out, "first bird," when you hear the first bird of the morning. "First bird."

The memories come and so do the tears. I welcome both.


Mailing Address (until September 1, 2011): 103 Keets Rd, Deerfield Massachusetts 01342

What does crying do for you?

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Paperless Marriage

Carnegie Hall
Feb. 2, 2012
Yet another lesson from my time with Rahima: "Better to keep a vow not made than to make a vow not kept." I offer this not as a knock against the institution of marriage or my previous two marriages. Rather, I am writing it down here as an affirmation, a discovery that is consistent with my intent to live with my feet on the ground and my eyes and heart open.

From the start, I knew that Rahima was special. We had only been dating two weeks when I asked her to move in with me. She thought that was a crazy idea. So I said, "May I ask you again tomorrow?"

About six months later, during her treatment after the initial cancer diagnosis, she did join me in the second-floor apartment I was renting on Madison Circle. After an initial adjustment period, that arrangement went swimmingly well, shattering one of my personal myths that I may be likable but I'm impossible to live with. Rahima loved living with me. Moving together to the house that she purchased on Haywood Street was a natural next step.

We got together in the spring of 2009 and we never spoke openly about marriage until the terminal diagnosis in January 2012. "This would have been a great marriage," I said ruefully one day. Or, "My most successful marriage wasn't, on paper anyway." In our recent sharing, she told me she had a startling vision of us as a married couple in a former life. Should she survive, we both saw it in our future.

Nonetheless, in truth we met the standard of a healthy marriage:
  • fidelity—"I will never leave you" was her mantra to me, especially in the early days
  • deep friendship—we actually liked each other's company, it was easy to be together for hours
  • comfort—we created a home space that was comfortable for us and our loved ones; our children felt secure and happy with us; we delighted in welcoming people into our home for parties, groups and get-togethers
  • communication—learning to listen well was a top priority for both of us; we worked ceaselessly at the risky task of speaking truth in love
  • spiritual grounding—we shared a sense of transcendence and sought to enliven the spirit within 
  • forbearance—"great forgiveness, great compassion" was a catch phrase for our interpersonal work, and we faced hardship well together
  • love—she showed me exquisite tenderness in body, mind and spirit
  • fun—we delighted in doing countless activities together
I am most grateful to have succeeded with Rahima in the realm that marriage attempts to codify, in effect to have had a "paperless marriage."

A deeper paradox for me is that the acknowledgement of Rahima's terminal condition, first to the Society of Friends, then the Amandla Chorus and ultimately at her memorial service, had the effect of a wedding announcement in the presence of beloved friends and family. In these sacred circles, a testimony of our great love was held in community. Further, Rahima expected that I would find such a love again after her passing. These observations are all rather confusing to my conventional mind, but wonderful just the same.


What does marriage mean to you?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What about that Program Cover?!

What about that program cover? Well, it was all Rahima's idea. She wanted to go out with a splash, so for the front she chose an especially apt poem by Mary Oliver:


May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.
May my ashes,
when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean,
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.

~Mary Oliver

To that she added a fanciful picture of herself wearing the mermaid suit that she had purchased online. Yes, that's really her body. This photo was made in our living room on February 24, the day of the dance party. I did some Photoshop magic to add the shell and beach scene which is her actual "mermaid put-in spot" in Scituate, Massachusetts.

Likewise, she gave specific instructions for the back: a diving tail in between the words, "Thank you for coming to my Mer-morial Service," and, "The End."

In typical fashion, Rahima mapped the whole thing out. It was my job to make it happen in a brief period of time, which I did with the help of a friend who has superior graphic design skills. Thanks, Sue! The final result was fabulous and brought a smile to many an eye.


What other "splashy" things do you remember Rahima doing in her lifetime? What was the effect of these surprising turns?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

And the Dance Goes On

When Rahima's daughter Mira left yesterday to return to Australia, she gave me instructions, things she knew her mother wanted for me. One was that I go dancing. So I did.

Last night, I returned to the contra dance at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, the place where Rahima and I met and where she gave her "Save the Last Dance for Me" farewell dinner/dance/fundraiser on February 24. An article about that event appeared in the Friends of the Guiding Star Grange spring newsletter.

Feb. 24, 2012 - photo by Roger Katz
It felt hard to return, but right. The kindness of my friends helped. I put her dance shoes on the stage in tribute to Rahima.

The hardest for me was the waltz, a dance that Rahima and I had always reserved for each other. In fact, the photograph shown here is my favorite of the evening. It shows us weeping while waltzing. It proved to be our last. We were immersed in deep love and loss, overflowing with gratitude for each other. I was amazed by her fortitude. Earlier I was uncertain that Rahima would make it to the event at all, let alone dance.

Last night it was good to be in the swirl of the dance again. I kept looking for Rahima in the line as was my habit. I didn't find her, but I did sense her presence—turning with delight. And the dance goes on.


From "Save the Last Dance for Me" (Feb. 24 )
  → Video by Will Loving

What are your memories of the "Save the Last Dance for Me" party? Or of Rahima dancing?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Acts of Kindness

During this time, my Jewish friends have reminded me that giving someone the opportunity to do a mitzvah, an act of kindness in the general sense, is itself a mitzvah, an act of kindness.

Another friend told me a story from the Buddhist tradition:
While Seietsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umeza Seibei a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.
Seisetsu said: "All right. I will take it."
Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher. One might live a whole year on three ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.
"In that sack are five hundred ryo," hinted Umeza.
"You told me that before," replied Seisetsu.
"Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money," said Umezu.
"Do you want me to thank you for it?" asked Seisetsi.
"You ought to," replied Umeza.
"Why should I?" inquired Seisetsu. "The giver should be thankful."
Both accounts were offered in response to the hangup I have felt in recent days about being the recipient of so much kindness, or more to the point, needing so much help. Literally hundreds of people have been engaged with helping me help Rahima—cleaning, organizing, moving (twice already!), singing, praying, giving rides, cooking—over the course of her cancer diagnosis and treatment, her recuperation from the broken hip, and right up to the present. The way the community rallied in her final days was breathtaking.

If I weigh the receipt of kindness as a future obligation, I feel that I am falling into debt that I will never be able to repay. But that's not what this is about, is it? So I pause and look at the expectations that mount up within me, about self-reliance and industry. I consider that music and its source, harsh and pressing. Then I reflect on the sweeter music of community, the glow that surrounds people who come together around a need, especially when life and death are in the balance. We are all changed and enriched.
62 Haywood Street

It seems that Rahima's service-learning career is not over. She knew all this. I am still learning.

With the help of a couple of coordinators, we are scheduling morning and afternoon work parties at 62 Haywood Street for the next week or so, to prepare the house for sale. If you are local to Greenfield, Massachusetts and want to help out, please sign up on Rahima's Wings. (Or if you prefer not to use the scheduling site, just call me.) Thank you. I need the help.

Smiling and with an grateful heart,


What is a lesson that you learned from Rahima about giving and receiving?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Photograph

This photograph was taken on November 14, 2009, not long after a malignant lump was discovered in Rahima's right breast. We had been together six months and were on a trip to Canandaigua, New York to visit her best friend, Lois, whom she had not yet told the alarming news.

When I made this photo, Rahima complained that it was obvious she had been crying so I culled it out of my collection.

It has become my favorite picture of Rahima. This was a beloved place that she wanted me to see, Taughanock Falls near Ithaca. She is radiant and with a full mane of auburn hair. There is water. A lens flare adds a touch of magic. I recognize Rahima's strength, beauty and tenderness.

The photograph also marks the beginning of our saga, the discovery of the illness, triple-negative breast cancer, that would later take her life.

This is the Rahima with whom I had fallen deeply in love. I long for the innocence of the time before the diagnosis and the potential we felt; yet I am open to the lessons of this more arduous path. We loved each other well to the end.


What does this photograph evoke for you?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

10:54 P.M. Tuesday

One week ago at this time Rahima breathed her last. I miss her terribly. So many things—a comb, eyeglasses, the recycling, food in the fridge, a word game, a song—remind me of her, all sounding the refrain of her physical absence. Yet I sense her spirit very much present, especially out in nature.

Today, I firmed up plans for an extended four-month stay at Woolman Hill, the nearby Quaker retreat center in a natural setting with fields and forests. I'll be staying in the Brown House. It feels right, and was something that Rahima had wanted for me. The house at 62 Haywood Street will soon go up for sale.

I'm exhausted. Tomorrow I plan a long hike in the woods to stretch my legs, clear my head and have a good cry.


Journey with Compassion

For me the title of this blog, Journey with Rahima, has three references:
  1. A personal account of my journey with Rahima as a beloved partner.
  2. A forum for many people who traveled with Rahima through life for whatever length of time but especially as she faced a terminal diagnosis.
  3. A basic stance toward life itself, a resolve to "journey with compassion." Rahima is the feminine form of the Arabic word for compassion, a quality that she embodied.
Thank you for joining me on the next leg of this journey. I am setting off with confidence and a full heart, intent on remembering well our dear Rahima.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Final Journal Entry

In her Hippocrates journal, Rahima wrote:

Mar. 17, 2012 
Sometimes this seems so hard (and the probability of my dying anyway, so clear) that I think, hey, screw all this. I think I will just take it easy, eat what I want and go more easily toward death.
And then it all shifts again and I dream about marrying Andy, having a long and active life, seeing my children get married, having grandchildren.
And then that becomes a tidal wave crashing over me, telling me that it's a fool's dream.
Two things seem clear (beyond wanting to live — which is also clear).
  1. I need some joy to my days — whether I am doing the program or not.
  2. I want some clarity soon. I am praying for it. Either a turning in my health improving OR a clear sign that death is coming.
This proved to be Rahima's final journal entry. We returned home to Greenfield, Massachusetts, and the symptoms of her metastatic breast cancer intensified, mainly overall weakness and diminishing capacity to breathe. She had her sign. Rahima died at home at 10:54 P.M. on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. We are still in the afterglow of a community memorial service that was held yesterday. In the summer, her ashes will be scattered in the sea at her "mermaid put-in spot" in Scituate, Massachusetts where she was raised.

Earlier in the Hippocrates journal, Rahima outlined the book that she planned to write: "Embracing Life: How to Live With a Terminal Diagnosis." If she beat the odds of dying from triple-negative metastatic breast cancer—what she described as a speck of sand on the beach—she envisioned a new consultant career, inspiring people to live well in the face of death.

Rahima did live well, exceedingly. This blog is my attempt to illuminate just how she lived. It is mainly for myself that I undertake this work. I sorely want to remember how Rahima loved me, how she loved life.

I recognize too that there is a community that formed around the concern for Rahima's health, first with the fractured hip that mended and then with the progression of the disease that took her life. I am willing to continue that conversation, to share with you what I have seen and learned, and I am open to continuing the conversation.

Our CaringBridge journal began on February 7, 2011, after Rahima slipped on the ice on the way to a contra dance and severely fractured her left hip. It traces her recovery process to the point of a near-complete healing without surgery. The story continues on February 1, 2012 in the aftermath of medical findings that breast cancer for which she was previously treated had metastasized. In this fourteen-month period there were more than 15,000 visits to the site, mostly in the last two months.


Sunday, April 1, 2012


Use this page to let us know who you are and your connection with Rahima. It's also a good place to make general comments about this journal or to share your experience. Thank you!  ~Andy