Today was my birthday and was filled with such love from friends and family. As this strange world would have it, it has also been six months to the day since my dad passed away, so naturally it has also been a tender time of remembrance.
My mind drifted back to this day last year. Dad had been in severe pain for several months already, but through a misdiagnoses we didn’t yet know it was cancer. I had just come up for a visit from LA and because of the circumstances we spent my birthday alone, just mom, dad and myself. I had been leading kirtans in LA, so I thought maybe one way I could help would be by playing some chants on the harmonium to create a devotional vibration. I played some favorites of mine and some new ones I had been learning. I enjoyed giving in this way and dad sang along, his voice full and strong. He mentioned one that he had found particularly meaningful recently. It was one I knew, so I began chanting it: “How shall I love thee, Lord my God? With every breath I breathe! Just as a fire can burn a whole forest, burn to the root my desires!” It had always been one that I loved for its powerful call to love God in every moment. When thinking of it from my dad’s perspective though I saw it in a new light. My dad was in intense pain and could hardly move. The doctors didn’t seem to be able to do anything to help. He was basically confined to lying on the couch. Everything outward had been taken away. His body wasn’t working as it should and was causing great him great pain. What do you do when there’s nothing left? Where do you turn? For my dad it was clear in that chant. He would offer every breath with love to God. I could scarcely continue singing as I thought of dad lying there in pain offering even his breath up in service to God. He wouldn’t delay his life-long search for God because of his body. His search would simply have to change form. Instead of meditating and joyfully serving, he would simply offer every breath with devotion to God. Every breath became a prayer. Dad sang on, louder still “…with every breath I breathe.”
The chant ended and we sat in silence for some time. I was quietly trying to absorb the example I was being shown. Some time passed in silent meditation, dad lying on the couch and me sitting nearby. Dad’s pain level soon began to increase until it was becoming more than he could bear. I suggested that he might be more comfortable if he were lying flat on the carpet. He crawled down to the floor, but it clearly didn’t help. The pain was clearly still increasing as he lay there flat on his back, his arms outstretched. He then told me “Peter, this is a mantra to Lord Ram.” His voice was shaking with the pain. I knew that Ram was the ancient saint-king of India who is still revered to this day as a divine incarnation. In that moment though, no other explanation was given. Dad had never mentioned Ram much before, but I listened intently as he started reciting the mantra.
“Ram, Ram…” he started, his voice was weak and still trembling from the pain. The Sanskrit syllables were unfamiliar to me as he spoke them, but immediately I felt an immense power and love enter the room. It felt as if Lord Ram himself was standing there in our home. I visualized him there, in his golden armor, answering the call of a sincere devotee. His incredible light and power radiated outward far beyond the limits of the four walls around us. Dad’s voice grew stronger as he continued reciting those ancient Sanskrit words. It seemed that dad was permeated and lifted by that powerful vibration.
The mantra continued on for some time until dad began speaking softer. His voice again began to tremble slightly, but this time it was due to the gratitude and devotion he felt. Finishing the mantra we returned to silence for some time. The power had been replaced by a vibration of deep peace. Dad let out a long, quiet sigh of gratitude.
As he crawled back up on to the couch, dad said to me “When you’re little, pain can be overwhelming, but when you’re big, it’s nothing.” He settled in on the couch and we again returned to silence. I sat there for some time in grateful silence for what I had just witnessed. I then quietly said goodnight, and made my way upstairs.
I believe in that evening, dad gave me the greatest birthday gift I have ever received.