Last Saturday, my husband Karl and I addressed the elephant in the room. It was time. And lucky for us, the weather cooperated on that lovely day of 5 May, enabling Karl to lug the two ungainly cardboard boxes out of our living room and deposit them onto our front lawn. It was much better to spread Karl’s clothes and sketch books, camping gear and toiletries, out onto a big blanket than do the deed in the confines of our living room. And even though there wasn’t much, it somehow felt more appropriate to give each item its "space" to nestle in the grass of Karl’s home, and to allow the spring breezes to disperse the dust of a Traveler’s life.
Nothing like sifting through the meager possessions of the man who was our son to mark the six month anniversary of our loss – and his rebirth.
Within 10 days of Karl’s accidental death in a hot spring in California, I’d traveled with his youngest brother, Sage, and cousin Ellen, to gather his possessions, reclaim his car, and visit "the Slabs," where he’d been visiting, and the hot spring where he drowned under a full moon. He’d only been in Niland for a couple of weeks, which was usually about as long as he could take the idiosyncracies of that place and its inhabitants. As with many things in Karl’s life, he had a love/hate relationship with "the Slabs." He loved the avant-garde creativity and "Mad Max"-esque wildness of "East Jesus" and the performances that would be staged every Friday night on the Range. And yet the jealously guarded privacy and professed love of freedom of its residents was often surprisingly and severely restricted by their own harsh judgments and beliefs about the world. The irony and potential for hypocrisy – even here – disappointed, but didn’t escape him.
Suffice it to say, for now, that our subsequent trip to the junk yard where Karl’s car had been towed was yet another kick in the teeth, another irony shoved into the white hot fire of our grief.
The totality of Karl’s life – except for the electronic music equipment and accessories that had been blatantly stolen by the tow truck company – were hastily shoved into the back of our rented SUV and then packed, the next day, into two 8 cubic foot cardboard boxes for shipment back to Pennsylvania. And no, we didn’t get to donate Karl’s car, or do anything Karl would have wanted us to do with his talisman of freedom, because that very same thieving tow truck company claimed to be owed $2500 for towing the car 25 miles and storing it for less than a week.
But I digress. The details of what transpired on our trip to California and the ironies that continue to pile upon each other will have to wait for another day to be revealed in full.
Thus, the boxes that arrived at our home in early December were more a depressing reminder of what was NOT in them, namely, and most importantly, the electronic synthesizer he’d been obsessively learning to "play," composing music with, and inputting audio bits and pieces into, memorabilia of his experiences as a Traveler both across the country and up and down the west coast of the United States. The Korg Electribe, which had been temporarily housing Karl’s artistry and creativity, which he affectionately referred to as his "girlfriend," and into which he poured his passion for cutting edge music and visionary, edge-of-consciousness exploration, was gone. And so those boxes sat, for five and a half months, the elephant in the living room, until last Saturday, until the sixth full moon since Karl died.
In the end, it was all about us. It was our ritual. Our goodbye to the son with whom we’d been enchanted from the moment we met him, almost 31 years ago. It was our farewell to the #3 of "the three of us," which we’d always uncannily felt we were ~ even after his two brothers arrived six and twelve years later, respectively. It was our obligation to sift through his belongings and see what had really mattered to him: tattered copies of The Holographic Universe, A Course In Miracles, a hardback book on Tai Chi that was his father’s. Sketchbooks, pens and pencils, letters and photos. Toothpaste. Lots of toothpaste – and hand sanitizer.
We shed some tears. We toasted his life with some Jameson’s that a friend had given us in the days soon after Karl’s death. We laughed at the bitingly sarcastic cartoon figures lurking in all the sketchbooks, many book margins, and on loose pieces of paper in odd zippered pockets. We laughed at the enigma he was: A Traveler ~ and yet a homebody ~ and a fastidious one at that.
As we wrapped things up and chose what mementos to keep, at least for a little while longer, I decided to ask Karl (the Son) if he had anything he wanted to say to us. A tarot deck, the Wildwood Tarot, a gift I’d sent him for his 30th birthday, was one of the things he’d cared enough to keep and carry with him. From the looks of it, I could tell he hadn’t been blowing smoke when he’d told me that he was, indeed, using the deck. I was glad for that.
I held the deck to my heart, blew my breath into the cards, and asked for a message. And this is what I chose on the 6th full moon since the night of his departure:
"Description: The great World Tree marks the end of the Wanderer’s journey…
Meaning: As the symbol of the conscious bridge between the living macrocosm and the inner universe of the human psyche, the World Tree marks the end of one journey for the Wanderer and the beginning of another. The Wanderer began the journey around the Wheel with an innocent and childlike curiosity, but the subtle growing process experienced on the way has brought inner gifts of wisdom and awareness. The final step is to follow the path through the living maze and enter the heart of the World Tree to become one with the wholeness of the universal mind.
Nothing is hidden and no misleading or cunning diversions are set to lead the unwary off the path, but to gain access to the tree one must walk the path and complete the journey. The unicursal labyrinth has no dead ends or false routes but leads on one wandering pathway from the entrance, inexorably to the centre. Perhaps symbolizing the passage of the sun or guarding the souls of dead ancestors and spirits in their place of repose, it remains a pathway to the core of the mysteries and an easily recognized image of the human journey. Though the doorway at the base of the tree is clearly visible and nothing stops the traveller from directly approaching it, walking the labyrinthine pathway is a ritual requiring patience and insight and enabling contemplation and meditation on the meaning of the journey.
What may be found beyond the door is both individual and universal, for encompassed within the branches of the World Tree are the four seasons of the cycle of life. Through the restful healing of winter to the fertile freshness of spring, the power and joy of summer and the wisdom and maturity of autumn, the cosmic light of universal understanding shines from the heart of the tree, creating a bridge to the source of all consciousness and life.
The World Tree represents all individual life and all knowledge in one holographic field of consciousness and, paradoxically, remains as one entity, whole and complete. This complex concept is not only stranger than we think; it is stranger than we can think!
Reading Points: The universe and all its blessings are available to everyone who seeks knowledge and wisdom with a sincere heart. On every level, the cosmos has a generous bounty and gives freely of its rich nourishment and fulfillment. No matter how long the journey of life may be, however many twists and turns the maze may offer us,in the end, if we persevere, we will reach the point of fulfillment. This may relate to material gain and wealth or to spiritual happiness and emotional security, but after the long process of learning, responsibility and rebirth, it is now time to bathe in the light of renewal, attainment and personal triumph. Breath in the rich air, drink of the sweet water and rejoice in the warming fire of the universal life force." (emphasis added)
Could we have asked for a more personal or thoughtful message from our son? I don’t think so. And the coolest thing about all of this is that this is only one example of how Karl does continue to speak to me. His "death" has only confirmed for me that there is so much, much more than our limited view of "reality." And that’s what we’re going to continue exploring – together.
Oh – and as a last little nod to "the three of us" that is no more (at least in the physical), the card that was on the bottom of the deck when I chose The World Tree was this:
Rather than the keyword associated with this card, the image instead – to me – acknowledges not only our pain, and the pain felt by Karl’s brothers, but also that our family’s heart, which encompasses a profound love for each other, is on fire. And while we bleed tears over our separation, these same tears ultimately serve…to feed The World Tree.