At Norm’s Memorial
At my friend Norm’s memorial a couple of months ago, his son Matt got up to speak. Norm died at 94, so Matt was closing in on his own seventies. Here’s a story he told about his father.
“This was back in the ’80s. My Dad got a frantic phone call from his cousin. The cousin said, ‘Norm, I need 15 grand and I need it now. Today.’ Apparently he was in trouble from gambling.
“Dad came through, got him the money. This was when $15,000 was a fortune. Of course his cousin never paid him back. Years went by. They would see each other from time to time at family functions. It was always excruciating because everybody knew the story.
“Finally at one get-together … Christmas, Thanksgiving, I can’t remember … they were both there and the tension was terrible because they hadn’t spoken since forever. My Dad started across the floor toward his cousin. Everyone in the house was watching. Dad walked up, didn’t say a word. Just put his arms around his cousin and hugged him. Everybody started bawling. The spell was broken.
“That was the kind of man my father was.”
Remember, as you hear this story, that this was a son summing up his Dad’s life. Matt could have talked about success, achievement, family, whatever. But instead he chose this one story.
And it was perfect.
Here’s what I take from this. I’m sure that, over the years, Norm had many thoughts like these: “That deadbeat cousin of mine! We grew up together, played ball, chased girls. I came through for him when he was in desperate trouble, when it broke my own household bank. And he totally blew me off. He hasn’t paid me back and he’ll never pay me back. That sonofabitch!”
But then something changed. Norm must have thought something like this:
“What’s really important here? On my deathbed, am I gonna begrudge my cousin a few lousy bucks or a bad moment he once had under pressure? What counts is I love the guy. He’s my flesh and blood. Forget what he did. It’s nothing.”
In story-principle terms, Norm had an All is Lost Moment, followed by an Epiphanal Moment.
The change in Norm was he shifted from the ego to the soul. This is monumental. It’s the equivalent, if you ask me, of what the Buddha would call Enlightenment.
The ego holds grudges. The ego sees only its own self-interest. The ego hoards slights and grievances. The ego hates.
But the higher self sees soul-to-soul. It pierces the Little Picture and perceives what’s really important. It loves. It forgives.
All this is a long-winded way of getting to this question:
How does a Wilderness Passage end? How do you and I come out of a period of exile-from-Self and get our feet back on the ground?
I think we make the same transition Norm did, only instead of the shift happening in relation to another person, it happens within ourselves.
We perceive at last our own crimes and failings. We can say of ourselves, “What you did was unforgivable. It was a betrayal of all that you love and honor and hold dear. You failed yourself and your calling, grievously hurt those who love you, etc. But ya know what? It’s okay. It’s all right. I put my arms around you and hug you to my breast.”
An All is Lost Moment comes when our ego hits the wall. We cannot find a way around on that level. We must upshift to the plane of the Self, of the soul. This can mean resolving to change our lives, to make good on what we have previously crapped out on. Or it can mean a simple acceptance (as in the final scene of the movie, Big Night) of a reality that we cannot change but that, with love, we can live with and muddle through.
So I take my hat off to the son, Matt, for telling that story about his Dad. And I stand in even greater awe of Norm for how he resolved the issue with his cousin.
That was the kind of man he was.