[This is an excerpt from “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a book by Nyerges about the death of his wife Dolores, and how they dealt with death. Nyerges is the former editor of Wilderness Way magazine and the author of 9 books. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041, or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
Terumasa – Nami’s friend from Japan – had arranged to visit Nami and Dolores in December of 2008. As it turned out, Terumasa arrived a few days after Dolores had died.
In the evenings of late December and early January, I would often sit with Terumasa and Nami and have dinner together, often watching television, and always trying to converse with Terumasa in English. Terumasa was a noble man who exuded greatness. I loved to be around him, and wished that our language barrier was reduced.
One late afternoon, after we had the memorial for Dolores, a few people lingered in the backyard and living room to talk. Terumasa sat there next to me, with Mel sitting there listening. Terumasa looked at me while we talked about Dolores. He said, “Christopher,” to gain my attention.
“Christopher,” he repeated with great concern in his voice.
“Why are we born? Why are here? Why do we live this life? Why must we experience all this pain?” He paused. He was about to cry. He added, “Why do we die?”
We were all silent for a few moments. Joe Hall looked at me, wondering what I would say. Joe had previously made it clear to me that he didn’t believe in reincarnation, so I suppose he wanted to see how I would respond. Mel commented, “Those are the questions, alright.”
I nodded to Terumasa. What could I say? Should I offer my opinion as to the meaning of life and death in a few simple words with the attempt to cross the chasm of our English-Japanese divide.
“Yes, what is this all about?” I asked rhetorically. I felt that I was certainly able to intellectually approach those questions, but I did not feel emotionally up to it in that moment.
“Let’s talk about that some more soon,” was all I offered.
Eventually, only Joe Hall and Mel remained talking, and when I finally walked Mel to his car, he turned and said, “We should get together and talk about Terumasa’s questions. I’d really like that.”
“OK,” I told him.
About a month later, we planned a Boy Voyage party for Terumasa, who would be soon departed to Japan. We invited many people, and planned to have Japanese tea and Japanese food.
We set up an outside table up on the hill at our non-profit wildlife sanctuary, with lights and a table full of dinner. Nami came up with Terumasa and we invited them to sit down. It took a little while for Terumasa to realize that this was a party for him. He laughed loudly when he realized this was a surprise for him!
We filled our tea cups and touched them together for our toast, reciting the words of a little cartoon – Love Is…
Then, all holding hands in a circle in the darkness of the evening, we recited a work called “Friendship Bridge.”
After asking Terumasa about the details of his departure, and what he’d be doing back in Japan, we made the effort to answer his questions. Prudence and I prepared with different parts of the book “Thinking and Destiny” by Harold Percival, along with our own insights.
We didn’t want our bon voyage to Terumasa to become a metaphysical study, but rather we wanted to provide some preliminary answers to his serious query. It was as much for us as it was for Terumasa.
We decided that we were born upon this world in order to continue our spiritual evolution. Each of us added some comments to this, but everyone seemed to concur that this is why we are here, and which is why we are here to live this life.
The subject of pain was much more complex. Yet, we quickly denounced the notion that our pain is something given to us, or done to us, by “god,” as is so often averred by religious zealots. In fact, in all the cases of individual and large scale pain that we could list, we felt that we are our own worst enemy. We men and women are the sources of pain on the earth, which usually come about by some violation of natural law, some breaking of the Ten Commandments, not abiding by the Golden Rule, and by partaking of the Seven Deadly Sins. Our pain is the result of our own choices, and when we learn from our pain and our choices, we – if we are intelligent – learn to make other choices.
This was a big topic, but again everyone was in agreement that we bring our own pain upon ourselves, and that pain is largely unavoidable.
Then we talked about death. Prudence read from “Thinking and Destiny” and pointed out that death can be a friend to our Spiritual Self, that our bodies are simply not destined to live forever, and that – like it or not – we will all die as part of our long progress towards spiritual perfection.
This was not wholly agreeable to all, but the topic of death is so full of emotion and opinion and religious dogma that we did not attempt to have agreement all around, and that was OK.
By now we were feasting on some delicious Japanese fish and soup, and we gave Terumasa some gifts to take back to Japan. He really enjoyed the roll of the new George Washington brass dollars that he was given.
We all exchanged phone numbers and emails and we all hugged. It was clear to all that change was coming soon, and that this wonderful warrior would soon be gone. By 9:30 p.m., we all departed, and on the following Saturday morning, Terumasa flew away to Japan. We fondly remember this modern Samurai who was not afraid to ask the only questions that matter.