It may seem incongruous to associate the word “Peace” with “Warrior,” but as history has shown and current events are testing, there can be no peace without warriors to protect it. Janet was such a warrior. She knew peace, how to create it, how to nurture it and she knew when to defend it. And there is no denying she knew how to fight. When breast cancer showed as an opponent, she knew most likely she was fighting for others, that they might have a chance at peace. A peace that she would not know again until she left this world.
I had one last obligation to Janet’s physical presence here on Earth. It was her wish that her ashes be laid to rest in Hawai`i. Janet and I had a number of conversations about what she wished to have happen in this matter. And I have had a year to come to terms with this transition and to think about what needed to be accomplished during this particular journey to Hawai`i, for both Janet and myself. I have a clear sense of peace that I was successful.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
About half of Janet’s remains were released at a spot along the Kalalau trail on the way to Hanakapiai beach. The view from this location is breathtaking and was one of her favorites. (Click images for larger picture.)
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
A few were released at a brief ceremony on the Heiau where we were married. I had devised a special urn for the Heiau ceremony and called it Janet’s hōkū lele (Hawaiian for “shooting” star or “meteor”).
My role in this ceremony was to facilitate the completion of her transition from life on Earth to what Janet believed was the next phase in her spiritual growth. I do not know what was next for Janet. None of us can claim that knowledge. What I do know is what she believed needed to happen on this side of her transition. As anyone who knew Janet could attest, she could be rather particular and in this matter she was no different. She was adamant, for instance, that at least 72 hours pass before her cremation. And so it was. Most of what needed to be done has already been taken care of by Janet herself. My part, while perhaps important, is largely symbolic and pertains to her actual physical remains.
In keeping with how Janet thought about the world, her Hawai`i Celebration of Life builds upon the transition of five basic elements which are common in a variety of cultures and spiritual beliefs. Buddhist philosophy speaks of “go dai”, the five great elements of earth, water, fire, wind and void. Hinduism makes reference to the “Panchamahabhuta”, the five great elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air/Wind and Aether. Similarly, western culture from pre-Socratic Greece up through the Renaissance refer to these same five elements, although “Aether” is frequently substituted with “Heaven.”
Transition of Heaven was completed by Janet on April 22, 2005. She referred to this as her transition into Spirit. Likewise, the transition of Fire has been completed. No one can deny that Janet walked through the most intense of fires during her 10 year battle with breast cancer. Then, of course, there was her cremation. That leaves the transition of Janet’s remains to Earth, Wind and Water. Here, I have a minor role to play and larger forces will see to the completion of transitioning these elements – the Earth, the Wind and the Ocean.
In summary, the Heiau ceremony went as follows. I met with Fern Merle-Jones from Island Weddings and Blessings at the Kalalau trail head about mid-morning. I was delighted to see she was accompanied by four other Hula dancers, including Eana Rose who had recommended I contact Fern for the celebration arrangements. I have previously posted the rather interesting chain of events leading to my introduction to Eana. As we began the short hike up to the Heiau, several of the dancers began to chant in Hawaiian.
Upon arrival at the Heiau and before stepping into the circle of stones, each person was to state their name, the purpose for being at the Heiau and to ask forgiveness and clarity. Fern blew a conch shell several times. A small table was set up upon which a picture of Janet, leis similar to the ones we had at our wedding, leaves gathered on the way up to the Heiau, the memorial book from the May, 2005, Celebration of Life ceremony in Denver and Janet’s hōkū lele were placed. We then sat in a circle and I was invited to share some stories about Janet so they could know a little more about her. I formally began the ceremony (if such a free-flowing and improvised celebration could at all be referred to as formal) by saying:
Thank you each for being here with me to participate in and witness the completion of Janet’s transition and to celebrate her life. The voyage Janet and I shared began on this sacred ground. We were married here. And here, on this same ground, this familiar landscape where we vowed tell death do us part, we do so today. Each on separate journeys, each with new eyes.
Janet had a profound respect and appreciation for sacred places. Her skill at creating such places was unparalleled. She would have begun this ceremony by calling in the light and that is what I will do my best to accomplish now.
Father, Mother, God.
Pele, Laka, Hinahina.
I ask that you surround each and everyone here with the Light of Aloha for the highest good.
Mai ka piko o ke po`o a ka poli o ka wāwae, a la`a ma na kihi `eha a ke kino.1
A Warrior of Peace comes to you swift as an arrow shot into the sun. I knew her as Janet Laurel. Please accept her.
Fern then lead the dancers in two absolutely beautiful dances for Janet. One of the reasons I think Hula appeals to me so much occurred to me while watching. I thought of Fred Astair, and watching him from an Aikido perspective – he is incredibly balanced and centered. I can see this when watching a single Hula dancer, but the really amazing experience happens if you can view all the dancers simultaneously with soft eyes and absorb the story they are telling as a group. Its like seeing the forest in the trees. Not easy, but its very cool when it happens. The five dancers assembled for Janet’s Heiau celebration were excellent and did a wonderful service for her transition.
It was my turn to complete the ceremony with the hōkū lele. As I spoke the words returning Janet’s remains to the Earth, I tapped the hōkū lele on the stones at the edge of the Heiau to release a few of her ashes onto the ground. As I spoke the words returning Janet’s remains to the Wind, I held the hōkū lele high and shook it to release a few of her ashes onto the sea breeze blowing up from off the waves below the Heiau. After I spoke the words returning Janet’s remains to the Water, I held the string tail to the hōkū lele tight and wound up for the best shooting star I could muster and launched it far out over the edge of the Heiau and into the waiting Ocean below.
The holes in one half of the hōkū lele would allow for Janet’s ashes to be released into the Ocean’s water. The Colorado granite stones and Anini Beach sand would insure the sphere would sink and not wash up on some beach for a tourist to find and pocket as a souvenir. The Colorado granite stones also provide a symbolic link back to another part of the world that Janet loved so much. In short order the glue (water soluble and non-toxic, of course) holding the hōkū lele together would dissolve and spill any stones, sand and remaining ash into the Ocean. Over a short period of time,the wood and cotton string would degrade, thus leaving no trace to its purpose.
Watching the hōkū lele sail over the distant Ironwoods, the Hula dancers began to chant. I stood on the edge of the Heiau and allowed this moment to wash over me, then ended the ceremony by saying:
Ua ola loko i ke Aloha.
A hui hou, Makamae Janet.2
Before we left the Heiau, Fern again blew the conch shell several times. At the base of the trail leading up to the Heiau, I walked out onto the rocks at the end of Ke`e Beach and threw the leis into the Ocean while the Hula dancers chanted.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
As is my tradition, I made my way to Hanakapiai falls. I was on the trail before sunrise and made it to the falls about 7:30 AM. Each time I make this hike, it serves to remind me the guides to living a balanced life in a complex world are simple and easy to grasp – watch your footing, keep your balance, notice the beauty, take care of your self, help others, wrong turns have their own lessons and can be just as beautiful…
I ended up with a full 3 hours by my self at the falls before anybody else arrived. While soaking my sore feet in the cool water, I noticed I wasn’t alone. An `Auku`u (Black-crowned Night Heron, native to the Hawaiian Islands) was across the way, intent on some fishing. `Auku`u, while belonging to the same family as the ubiquitous cattle egrets found on the Islands, are quite rare and don’t care for the company of humans generally. I’ve been fortunate in that for some reason they tend to find me or when I stumble upon them then don’t fly away. This has been true of the Great Blue Herons back in Colorado as well. Janet used to marvel at my affinity for birds in general and herons in particular. She decided they were somehow my protectors or guardian angels. Perhaps. I just think they are magnificent creatures and I tap into a deeper sense of peace and confidence whenever I am near one.
I moved in a little closer and got a pretty good picture.
|Black Crowned Night Heron
We hung together for about 15 minutes during which time he caught two pretty good sized fish. Then with a magnificant spread of wings, he caught the draft of wind coming off the falls and sailed effortlessly down the valley. Can you find him in this picture?
|A hui hou, my friend…
And of course, the falls were as magnificent, inspiring, healing and replenishing as ever.
|View from the ledge.
||View of the ledge.
Back out at Hanakapiai Beach, it was an opportunity to experience some excellent, thunderous wave action. The surf is still really rough and the rip tides looked particularly vicious.
Monday, May 29, 2006 (Memorial Day)
The last of Janet’s ashes were laid to rest on top of Haleakala on Maui. Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” and is the place where the Hawaiian God Maui captured the Sun and brought it to Earth. Fitting, as Janet was certainly my sunshine, and my star to steer by.
I made the trek to the top of Haleakala well before sunrise, carrying the last of Janet’s remains. Finding a suitable place to sit in the dark wasn’t particularly easy, but find it I did. Looking to the horizon I could see the faintest hint of the new day begin to color the edge between Heaven and Earth. Time to wait. And remember. Janet was fighting cancer barely three years into our marriage. Most days, I have to struggle to remember what it was like to be married to someone who didn’t have cancer. I thought of all the hopes and dreams we had on our wedding day – thoughts of children, family, friends, laughter, flowers, travel, music, writing – the images were rich and endless. Somehow, they didn’t seem to belong to me anymore. They weren’t mine to share with Janet. Our time together was for a different purpose.
On top of the world, surrounded by an Ocean of tears, there was no need to cry. What was my sorrow when compared to all those who have suffered before me or were suffering now? Since Janet’s death, I, too, have added tears to this Ocean and so have come to understand a greater depth to loss, courage, power and love. My life with Janet expanded my experience of what it means to care, trust and understand. So how shall I apply the gifts Janet has left me? How shall I and the world gain by this loss? This, it seems, shall be my koan into the next moment.
The very first rays of sunlight were dancing with the cloud tops when I released the last of Janet’s ashes onto a wide flat stone in front of me. The wind had picked up and immediately began to carry her off to greet the rising Sun. Looking out across the vast panorama of volcanic ash, the thought occurred to me, “ashes to ashes, sure enough” and I wondered what magnificent Phoenix would rise from this humble collection of dust.
I rested there on the top of Haleakala, watching the wind carry away Janet’s remains into the morning sunrise. I was remembering the last words I said to her for which I know she acknowledged having heard. “Peace be the Journey”, I said, and she nodded. I looked down to the wedding ring on my hand. The ring Janet put there close to 15 years ago and during that time had never once left my hand. The ring inscribed with our wedding date and the simple phrase “With Loving” – our affirmation and promise to each other, our challenge to fulfill each day.
For thirteen months I could not bring myself to remove this ring. I have continued to feel like I am still married. Where can I place the experience of 14 years with Janet? “Until death do us part” turns out not to be true. I can never leave her behind and yet what is there to carry forward? Part of me died with Janet and part of her lives on with me. I cannot stay and I do not want to go. This was the void feared for so long and I had arrived at the trailing edge of that unthinkable moment. I said the words aloud, “With Loving,” to be carried away by the wind along with the last of Janet’s ashes. As I watched the barest trace of ash left upon the windswept stone in front of me disappear, I slipped the ring from my finger and shifted my gaze to the horizon.
A hui hou, Makamae Janet…
I was reminded today, while reading what the Anchoress wrote on the passing of her brother-in-law, of the solace I frequently find in a simple haiku from Shinsho,
Does one really have to fret
No matter what road I travel,
I’m going home.
I had thought of this simple, yet powerful expression while reflecting atop Haleakala. Indeed, it is our poets and composers who best speak for us when we are struck dumb with grief and sorrow.
Came across this quote in my collection:
The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.
The woman knew.
Edited for clarity.
1From the crown of the head to the soles of the feet and the four corners of the body. A call to be mindful of one’s entire being- spiritual, mental and physical.
2Love gives life within. Until we meet again, Precious Janet.