October 15, 2015
“The changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, is very conformable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted with transmutations.” —Sir Isaac Newton
“My position is perfectly definite. Gravitation, motion, heat, light, electricity, and chemical action are one and the same object in various forms of manifestation.” —Robert Mayer
“Science is spectral analysis. Art is light synthesis.” —Karl Kraus
“What makes a painting good is light. Light is essential to any good painting. You can’t have a good painting without light. You can paint anything you want as long as it has light.” —Davyd Whaley
In the last months of his life, Davyd Whaley worked on a remarkable series of paintings, which he called the Sky Series. I have pondered them in the months since his death. They reflect his fascination with light, energy, color, and the deeper reaches of space. In fact I think one might argue that he was already moving away from his connection to this planet. He was moving into the mystery; his preoccupations were no longer with the dense manifestation of matter, but with the ways in which light defines our existence, makes us see objective forms, and the true nature of our very physical presence.
Davyd was a genius. He didn’t always have common sense, but he had an extremely high IQ. After he died, I found several pages of mathematical equations in his desk. I have no idea what they mean but — between these equations, the writings in his journals, and his final paintings — it’s clear to me that he was trying to make sense of the universe; a task finally difficult for all of us.
His paintings have names like Wave Length, Horizon, Nebula, Grand Nebula (Keyhole), Diamond in the Sky, White Dwarf, and my favorite is called Reinventing En Plein Air, aka Scattering of Light.
Light scattering can be defined as the deflection of a ray from a straight path, for example by irregularities in the waves, particles, or in the interface between the two. Most objects that one sees are visible due to light scattering from their surfaces. This is our primary mechanism of physical observation.
REINVENTING EN PLEIN AIR, aka SCATTERING OF LIGHT — “The dispersal of a beam of particles or of radiation into a range of directions as a result of physical interactions.
“If there be light, then there is darkness; if cold, heat; if height, depth; if solid, fluid; if hard, soft; if rough, smooth; if calm, tempest; if prosperity, adversity; if life, death.” —Pythagoras
“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?” —Job 38:19-20
It has now been a year. Davyd died either late in the evening of October 14, 2014 or early on the 15th. I’m not sure which date is correct and the coroner could only narrow it down to a span of hours.
Everyday I see pictures of my beloved Davyd on the Facebook feature that shows where we were a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, and I recognize such a change in his face. In the late summer it’s clear I was losing him — it’s so evident now in the photos. He was transforming right in front of me. He lost so much weight and seems a shadow of his former self. There’s a sadness and resignation in his eyes, perhaps because he realized something was happening that was moving us apart, and we loved each other very much. It’s painful to look at these pictures, but I continue to look, because I want to understand.
And there are no answers except that it was beyond either of our controls. Something else was at work in his psyche and it was pulling him away from me, just as surely as leaves fall off the tree in autumn.
I keep coming back to the analogy of the black hole. The burning star no longer has enough fuel to resist the gravity pushing in on it. The star collapses inward, and perhaps into some alternative dimension.
WHITE DWARF — “The material in a white dwarf no longer undergoes fusion reactions, so the star has no source of energy. As a result, it cannot support itself by the heat generated by fusion against gravitational collapse, but is supported only by electron degeneracy pressure, causing it to be extremely dense.”
“The collective or star referred to as Black Hole is neither dead nor gone. Its focus of consciousness is just temporarily redirected into other dimensional coordinates that preclude its appearance in your space/time continuum. Your scientists think of it as being sealed off behind its own event horizon. In fact it is human perception that is sealed off behind their current consciousness horizon.” —Elia Wise
“Do you realize that if you fall into a black hole, you will see the entire future of the Universe unfold in front of you in a matter of moments and you will emerge into another space-time created by the singularity of the black hole you just fell into?” —Neil deGrasse Tyson
At the end of his physical life, Davyd suffered severe mental disturbances. His headaches and insomnia became out of control. Noises bothered him, sounds bothered him, smells bothered him. It felt as though he’d become completely uncomfortable in his physical shell. It almost seemed his body didn’t fit him anymore, in the same way that we outgrow clothes.
He disappeared from our house the last two days of his life, checking into a hotel a couple of miles away. I was panicked and not sleeping because I was so worried as I tried to find him. By the morning of October 14 I had tracked him to the hotel by credit card, but the management kept denying he was there. I called repeatedly, asking if he’d checked out or might have used another name, but they kept insisting he wasn’t there and would give me no other information.
During the night of the 14th I believe Davyd’s energy came to me. I’d been dozing, as I hadn’t slept in two nights, and then I suddenly sat up, as though shocked by an electrical bolt. I felt his presence very strongly and I knew something awful had happened. Though there is no way to prove it, I feel absolutely certain it was the moment he died. But whether that was late on the 14th or the early hours of the 15th I cannot say. Those hours are now a fog in my mind. I only know that after driving to the hotel in the middle of the night, finding his car, and finally appealing to the police to help me with the recalcitrant hotel staff, we discovered he was already dead.
WAVE LENGTH — “In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave’s shape repeats, and the inverse of the spatial frequency. The range of wavelengths or frequencies for wave phenomena is called a spectrum. The name originated with the visible light spectrum but now can be applied to the entire electromagnetic spectrum as well as to a sound spectrum or vibration spectrum.”
“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne.” —William Styron
“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, ‘He fought so hard.’ And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.” —Sally Brampton
I am annoyed by those who would suggest that Davyd’s actions were selfish or weak. People who say such things reveal how little they know about mental illness. They are ignorant of depression and the physical repercussions it presents. Their comments are callous and glib — demonstrating a perspective about life that lacks true empathy or understanding.
Even in my survivor support groups there are those who talk about suicide as though our loved ones had a choice in the matter. But in most cases I don’t believe that. In this case, there was something happening with Davyd, with his consciousness, with the chemicals in his brain, that was no longer within his conscious ability to fight. Earlier in my life I have seen people succumb to other kinds of illness, more overtly physical diseases, like pneumonia or cancer. They grew too weak to fight it; there was a point of giving up to processes that are beyond conscious decision-making.
In those kinds of cases we don’t say things like, “Why was this person so selfish? Why did this person choose to die of cancer?” They didn’t, of course. They succumbed to forces that were beyond their control.
I have come to feel that when people truly reach the point where they are willing to override their own survival instinct, then there’s very little anyone can do. I have talked to many suicide survivors, read many accounts, read a lot about mental illness. It seems to be progressive, like a virus, and one of the foremost indications of a truly suicidal personality is distorted thinking. Something mysterious is happening with the brain, something that is beyond our present understanding.
There is no doubt that my spouse Davyd knew how much I loved him, and yet at the end that wasn’t enough to pull him back. I have berated myself, repeatedly throughout the last twelve months, wondering if there was something else I might have said or done that might have changed things. But I have come to realize it just wasn’t the case.
In my survivor groups, I’ve seen that so many of us were hyper-vigilant about the health and well-being of our loved ones who suffered mental duress. So many of us felt unable to even let down our guard for a second. And yet, in the end, our hyper-vigilance did no good. One of the hardest things about grief is coming to grips with one’s own personal limitations. Our loved ones were ill; they did not have the inner energy to sustain, and there was finally nothing we could do to save them. But I believe those we’ve lost to suicide knew we did the very best that we could for them. And our love endures.
HORIZON — “In general relativity, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman’s terms, it is defined as ‘the point of no return,’ i.e. the point at which the gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible. An event horizon is most commonly associated with black holes. Light emitted from inside the event horizon can never reach the outside observer.”
“I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind, but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature.” ― Gabriel García Márquez
“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” ― Ralph Ellison
We look for order in our lives, and we like to think that we have control. But we don’t. I’ll be sixty years old this fall. My body doesn’t respond as it once did. It’s harder to do certain things. And each time I have difficulty with something that used to be easy, I try to remember that Davyd struggled so hard towards mental health — through repeated head injuries, several trips to the emergency room, a couple of near death experiences, numerous seizures, unbearable migraines — and finally things became too difficult for him.
I feel nothing but compassion for Davyd, and his struggle. And I can only find peace when I accept the fact that I will never be able to completely understand; anymore than I can understand why some people get sick with cancer and others do not; why cactuses survive easily and orchids don’t; why some organisms adapt to their surroundings and others perish.
A friend recently asked me if I was angry at God. It was such an odd question to me, as though in any conception of “God” there would be a God that owes me something. And furthermore, in any case, what would I be angry about? That my life has not unfolded exactly the way I thought it should? Is there anyone whose life has happened without pain, without sadness and difficulty? Isn’t our shared pain the very thing that connects us to the rest of humanity? And I thought, how can I be angry? I had such a wonderful, fulfilling relationship, for many years, in spite of an encroaching mental illness. I am grateful for every single day of that journey, the highs and the lows, and there were many of both. Yet all of our experiences brought us closer together.
INTERIOR RED — “Red giants are stars that have exhausted the supply of hydrogen in their cores and switched to thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen in a shell surrounding the core. However, their outer envelope is lower in temperature, giving them a reddish-orange hue. Despite the lower energy density of their envelope, red giants are many times more luminous than the Sun because of their great size.”
“What hurts you blesses you. Darkness is your candle.” —Rumi
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” —Frederich Nietzsche
“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” —Og Mandino
This year has been hard for me, harder than I can adequately express. People say to me, “It looks like you’re doing well. It’s good to see you smile.” And I nod and say thanks. But on most days I feel enormous pain. I long for Davyd’s presence so very, very much. It’s awful and unrelenting. It’s hard and it’s arduous, like hiking uphill in bad weather. But it feels that this is what it must be right now. How could it be anything but?
I miss everything about Davyd, but most especially the shape and value he gave to my life. I miss his company and conversation; his intelligence, his gentleness, and his tenderness; his humor and his sweet, kind smile. He gave me so much confidence — he made me believe all things were possible — and he made me feel so very loved. I have never been happier than I was in the years I was with him. He made me understand the nature of true spirituality — true, unconditional love that goes beyond what can even be talked about. I appreciated everything about my life more because he was in it, to bear witness with me. He was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known.
And now I am alone, and learning who I am without him. I struggle, every day, trying to figure out what’s important to me now. It’s often very hard. I have little patience with superficiality, and those who don’t want to dig deep. I can barely watch the news, with its constant exploitation of people’s fears and paranoia and small-mindedness. I cringe at the platitudes of those who want to justify their own greed and self involvement; who think that life is some kind of contest in which there are victors and losers. It’s such a lie.
But I’m also full of gratitude. I have been blessed with work that engages me, and I am appreciative of my colleagues and friends, who have offered me love and support. I’m grateful for the kindnesses and humor that surround me on a daily basis, and I enjoy hearing about other people’s lives and the things that are important to them. I share in their struggles and in their joys. We’re all in the same soup. We are all at the effect of loss. We all suffer and must find meaning in our suffering.
Nevertheless the pain of Davyd’s absence always waits for me at the end of every day, when I return to my solitude. I confront a blank horizon when I raise my head to look at the future. My existence abides on an existential knife blade. I am constantly asking myself, why are we here? What is the best way to use my remaining time?
So my life is a constant circle of the light and the dark: the most extreme and the most mundane; the comic and the tragic; the beautiful and the difficult. It is both.
NEBULA — “In these regions the formations of gas, dust, and other materials “clump” together to form larger masses, which attract further matter, and eventually will become massive enough to form stars. The remaining materials are then believed to form planets and other planetary system objects.”
“The Uses Of Sorrow —
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.” —Mary Oliver
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” —Carl Jung
This last year, it’s been difficult to focus on anything but the dark; I wander there in the deep shadows; in the sad thoughts and the memories of the very best person I ever knew in this world.
I actually find comfort there, because when you explore the dark you release yourself from fear. There are no monsters hiding in the blackness anymore. There is no longer anything that can harm me. The worst has already happened.
A dark room now actually comforts me. We turn off the lights to go to sleep, to travel in our dreamscapes. And Davyd comes to me sometimes in my dreams, and when he does I’m always surprised, and relieved, to see him. “Please don’t leave again,” I say, and he answers, “Where would I go? I am right here.”
And I believe him. I wake up and move into the light again, and I feel him with me everywhere, almost more connected than we were in life (if that’s possible.)
So perhaps there is beauty in exploring the dark. I’ve realized you can see further in the night than in the daylight. You can see into the recesses of the universe, just as in Davyd’s paintings. I look up at the stars and I remember that we are small and passing, and yet we also all know there is something that is constant if we are quiet enough to listen. And that realization liberates me.
GRAND NEBULA (KEYHOLE) — “The bright reds and yellows of this nebula represent gasses that have been heated by nearby stars to the point where they give off light. The dark clouds consist of cold gas molecules and dust. These clouds may be undergoing gravitational collapse to form small clusters of stars.”
“To Nature nothing can be added; from Nature nothing can be taken away; the sum of her energies is constant, and the utmost man can do in the pursuit of physical truth, or in the applications of physical knowledge, is to shift the constituents of the never-varying total. The law of conservation rigidly excludes both creation and annihilation. Waves may change to ripples, and ripples to waves; magnitude may be substituted for number, and number for magnitude; asteroids may aggregate to suns, suns may resolve themselves into flora and fauna, and floras and faunas melt in air: the flux of power is eternally the same. It rolls in music through the ages, and all terrestrial energy — the manifestations of life as well as the display of phenomena — are but the modulations of its rhythm.” —John Tyndall
“The tendency of modern physics is to resolve the whole material universe into waves, and nothing but waves. These waves are of two kinds: bottled-up waves, which we call matter, and unbottled waves, which we call radiation or light. If annihilation of matter occurs, the process is merely that of unbottling imprisoned wave-energy and setting it free to travel through space. These concepts reduce the whole universe to a world of light, potential or existent, so that the whole story of its creation can be told with perfect accuracy and completeness in the six words: ‘God said, Let there be light.’” —Sir James Jeans
If we acknowledge that we are essentially energy, and that energy doesn’t die, then doesn’t it make sense that the same energy which animated the physical shell of our loved ones would be absorbed into the things around us, and even within our own selves? Doesn’t it make sense that the energy that existed as the love between us takes a larger form?
When I say that I carry Davyd within me, I mean that in a very literal sense. It is the scattering of light. I feel that I have absorbed his energy within me; the same energy that was always the great affection that existed between us; and my dog has absorbed that energy too, as have my cats, and his friends, and also the birds that fly around me.
As anyone who knew him will tell you, Davyd’s energy was generous and soulful and beautiful and expansive. I can’t help but believe it continues in every single thing I encounter, in every reflection off every surface around me.
I have heard theories and ideas that suggest the world of spirit often communicates through electricity. I cannot speak to the objective truth of that, but I can say definitely that the lights in my house will frequently dim for no reason and then come back on full force. If nothing else, it reminds me of Davyd and that’s enough to make me feel the continuing presence of his love.
If I can believe that he came to me, in that moment of his physical death, and that I knew so definitively something had happened, it’s not that big a stretch to think that he still comes, in gentler, warmer ways, to reassure me that all is well; that perhaps, at last for him, he’s free of the illness, the difficulty that made it hard for him to be in his body. I choose to believe his spirit is bigger now, because it includes all that he loved; he is the very light that he so loved and looked for in his paintings. And if I can receive that love, and see that light, then I feel a sense of peace descend.
SUN PILLAR — “A light pillar is an atmospheric optical phenomenon in the form of a vertical column of light which appears to extend above and below a light source. The effect, sometimes also called the crystal beam phenomenon, is created by the reflection of light from numerous tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere or clouds. The light can come from the Sun in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar. Since they are caused by the interaction of light with ice crystals, light pillars belong to the family of halos. Their collective surfaces act as a giant mirror, which reflects the light source upwards and downwards into a virtual image.”
“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul.” —Hermes Trismegistus
“Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon. It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, and to be able to grow.” —Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” —Carl Jung
“Life gives you change. It’s your job to take the pain, recycle the parts that work better than before, and find grace and beauty among the chaos.” —Davyd Whaley
It is difficult to accept Davyd’s death. I frequently fall victim to nostalgia and find that I am living in the past, in the comfort of the memory of his physical form. Every day I wrestle with the change in my circumstances. But I choose to believe there’s so much we cannot comprehend or understand, because we are too focused on the dense manifestation of matter, rather than the space between the atoms. If only we could find another way to look at our lives; see the expansion; have the full realization that out in the blackness of space there is also color, there is energy, constantly reshaping itself, regenerating, renewing. Loss and hope: two sides of a conundrum, not likely to be resolved within my limited awareness.
Without doubt, the loss of Davyd devastates me, and I struggle every day not to let that devastation define the rest of my life; but I feel such gratitude that I had the time with him that I did. In any conception of “God” we are acknowledging that we believe in order. That “order” does not include no pain or no disappointments. But I think the most essential nature of that order is love. A regenerating, renewing constant presence of love.
DIAMOND IN THE SKY — “With the help of a pulsar, astronomers have detected an Earth-size diamond in the sky. A pulsar is simply a spinning neutron star. But as a pulsar spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves stream from the poles of its powerful magnetic field. If they sweep past the Earth, they’ll give rise to blips of radio waves, so regular that you could set your watch by them.”
“My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?” —Wernher Von Braun
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” —Anne Frank
“What was in that candle’s light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?
Come back, my friend.
The form of our love
is not a created form.
Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something
from your soul.
I drank water from your spring,
and felt the current take me.” —Rumi
So what is there finally to say, after a year? I know that I must find a way to continue to hold the opposites: I’m no longer able to see my dear, dear Davyd in the flesh, and yet his love surrounds me and holds me up. His light remains, reflected for me in his paintings and in the stars. The knowing of him, the memory of him, the constancy of him gives my life meaning.
I experienced such deep love with Davyd, both given and received; love that I did not even know was possible. He defined grace and beauty for me. He still does.
And now, in getting back to life, I realize that love is always our task. And holding to that thought I continue.
STAIRCASE TO HEAVEN — “And he dreamed. And behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” —Genesis 28:12