I wanted to spend Saturday afternoon at home writing. But Fabio, my husband, wanted me to meet him in the city center and to have a walk together. He kind of insisted and I loved him wanting us to spend time together. I thought I will create time for writing today any other time but now I will go and spend time with my husband. So I went.
We met in Marienplatz and walked to Odeonsplatz. We passed through the beautiful Hofgarten, we paused in Diana Temple for adoring the beautiful view and then walked through the tunnel which was lit emotionally by a saxophone player’s tunes to arrive in the English Garden We reached the waterfalls where we found a beautiful bench facing the wild water.
We sat there watching the water flowing with force, people being carried away by the current with joy in the little river called Eisbach, ducks swimming and dunking their heads into water in search for fish. We had our lunch that we brought with us there, looking at the beautiful scenery and listening to the music of the water. We were cleaning the breadcrumbs off of ourselves and the bench when we realised an inscribed bronze plaque on the bench: Parker Fairbourne Bradford.
Fabio showed me the dates under the person’s name. He was born in 1989 and died in 2007. First I noticed that he was 6 years younger than me and then I noticed how young he passed away.
I wanted to know his story. How come someone having an English name was being commemorated on a bench in English Garden in Munich? I googled his name and found obituaries about him. I found out that he was a basketball player in international schools leagues. He was the team captain when he was studying in the international school in Paris, I read that he tried to save his friend from drowning and lost his life a few days after that. I read that his parents moved to Munich and that explained why the bench was there.
We stood up from the bench and started walking to the subway station. I told Fabio what I just read. He felt sad. He said “Poor guy”. I said “How do you know he was poor? We only know the life we are living in, we have no idea what happens after that. I read that he was a very kind soul, it seems like he lived like a saint and died like a saint. Maybe he was welcomed to a beautiful place earlier than us. “ When we think of death like that, there is no fear. Is there?
On the subway, I read more about his story. I learned that he dived two times to an irrigation channel to survive a friend who he just met a week ago and in his second dive, “he was pinned for several minutes in a lethal whirlpool, knocked out under water and then flushed out head first over jagged lava rock waterfalls.”He was taken outside, flown to the hospital where he was later exclaimed brain dead and passed away. Now there is bench with his name which faces a beautiful waterfall where people spend time joyously. He went away with the water and he is with us with the water. That explains why his name is on that bench.
During my research I found his mother Melissa Dalton Bradford’s blog and read it with tears in my eyes. Her feelings touched me very deeply.
She swam in the sea of grief and she got transformed by it. Her transformation started with a retreat like it usually (always?) does. She wrote to a friend about it:
“You worry about my withdrawal. Don’t. I know that every tale of spiritual rebirth is a tale of withdrawal: to the wilderness, into a whale, into a vessel, into a tomb, into a mountaintop, into a grove. . .This is no surprise, as mortal life itself is a descent from the light and warmth of preexistence into a dark and isolated womb followed by the stressful entrance into a world of blaze and clatter. (No wonder infants howl at birth!) Right now, I’m in gestation, huddling tightly in a womb. I will learn everything this sanctuary can teach me.”
Many of us go through a transformation through pain, through suffering. Some of us takes a sabbatical to go around the world, some of us meditate, spend time in the nature, some of us close ourselves to the outside world and create a new world in games, internet, and in worst cases drinks and drugs.
Struggle, pain, suffering is part of the journey. But who knows what will come out of this pain, who will come out of this pain, how we will evolve, transform, who we will evolve and transform through our suffering and hence through our transformation?
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” ~CHARLES DICKENS
Melissa was reminded about what mattered through what she found in the belongings of Parker: A notebook where the following question was written with a neon green: ““What do we take back through the veil?” She writes in her blog post “How Will You Compose Your Life“:
“What if that question were our life thesis, influencing our desires, choices, behavior? What if, as I wrote my life story, I were to place that question as my thesis statement? Right there on page one and in neon green?
Hemingway, referring to writing, called this kind of guiding idea the “one true sentence.” It structures creation, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter. When applied to writing our life story, that “one true sentence” works as an underlying grammar or fusing phrase for all we do and are. It is our mantra.
If my life’s aim were reduced to “one true sentence,” as Mr. Hemingway said breeds the best writing, what would that sentence be? And how does that one truth, that driving thesis, move me through my days and weeks? Does that sentence —spare, compact, sleek— train my concentration, make my life coherent, single-themed, resonant with integrity?
As another bereaved mother and author says:
The pain of losing my child was a cleansing experience. I had to throw overboard all excess baggage and keep only what is essential. Because of Paula, I don’t cling to anything anymore. Now I like to give much more than to receive. I am happier when I love than when I am loved. I adore my husband, my son, my grandchildren, my mother, my dog, and frankly I don’t know if they even like me. But who cares? Loving them is my joy.
Give, give, give — what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.
It is in giving that I feel the spirit of my daughter inside me, like a soft presence.
…My daughter Paula taught me a lesson that is now my mantra: You only have what you give.
Think about it: How challenging yet how refining to write one’s life story based on the conviction that what remains with us at death is that which we have given. That by sharing our experience, knowledge, talents, stories, wealth –– even our whole selves –– we don’t just become one with others, the world, and the divine, but we ourselves become people who are bigger, richer, more fundamentally alive. Simply put, there is much more to us when we die.”
And with that again came for me the reminder of having a purpose. We discussed it in a previous blog post but it becomes more powerful when one remembers that life is finite and what will matter in the end.
What will matter for you? What will you give to this world? What will you give to your loved ones? What will you give to people you know and you don’t know? What is your true sentence?
A day in the park turned into a powerful reminder for me. Thank you Parker. Thank you Melissa.
To learn more about Parker and Melissa and to read beautiful writing of Melissa, visit her blog.
Or read Melissa’s book on grief and passing of a loved one “On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them“.