Soul Upgrade

I woke up today. I typically wake up everyday. There have been a few days where I’ve slept through the whole day. I have yet to never wake up. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for a few of my friends who’ve been in accidents, had cancer, or otherwise took measures ensuring they never woke up again. I’ve almost been in that last camp and I’m glad I’m still waking up everyday (or close to it). I’ve been in a few accidents and while just a few different variables would have ensured I never woke up again, things were as they were and I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful I continue waking up a new day to meet new amazing and interesting people.

Today, I woke up. I was slightly more hungover than expected and, somehow, slightly more entangled in the soul of a friend who, just over a week ago, was hit by a car going full speed while trying to flag down help. At first, she was someone who talked to me at the local bar where she worked. Eventually, our relationship grew little by little. Before long we were talking about art, our traumas and struggles in life, and how we wanted the world to change. About a month ago, she told me, “I’m doing it. I’m giving my notice. I’m going to work on art full time. You should come by my studio sometime and we should work on a project together.” Replying excitedly, I said, “That would be awesome! Yes, let’s plan on it.” — which was all I could get in before she hurried off down the bar to serve a new customer, popping by every now and then to exchange a few words. It was becoming obvious our friendship was blossoming beyond what the structure of hanging out at the bar while she worked could hold.

I saw Chaya on her last night working at the bar. She was buzzing around helping everyone. She was completely embodying the work she did there in the service industry, even if she would rather have been mixing pigments. She saw me sit down at the bar. She moved over to where I sat down and said, “Tonight’s my last night. I’ll be working on art full time now.”
I reply, “That’s exciting! I’m so glad you’re going to do what you enjoy full time.”
“There’s just a few things to get lined up. I’m a little nervous, but I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“I’m sure things will work out. You’ve got tons of ideas.”
She looks around to survey the state of the bar, then intones, “You still need to come by my studio. You’ve been working on that dress, right? Maybe we could do a sewing project together.”
“Yes, let’s get together! Sometime soon.”
“Ok, I’ve got to go help this guy over here. I’ve probably kept him waiting longer than I should. I’ll be back over.”
She went to go take orders and mix drinks. Business picked up and we didn’t get to talk more until I was leaving. She gave me my check, and said “Let me know when you’re taking off.” I left her the last tip I’d give her at that bar. As she started making another drink, she noticed I was getting up. “Oh, come over to the side of the bar.” she said. We hugged. That was our last hug.

Between my time dealing with being an adult, starting yoga, taking time for myself, planning a trip to Portland, and working a full time job, I never got to see Chaya again. I figured I’d call her when I got back from Portland, OR and go visit her a half mile from where I live. That never happened. I found out her fate while taking a break from driving up to Portland, OR while checking Facebook. I broke down and started sobbing. We’ll never get to grow our friendship outside of that confined space of the bar. We’ll never get to see what kind of art we both created as our ideas flowed between the two of us. We won’t be able to make the world a better place together. It was starting to get late and I still needed to get to Portland, OR from Albany, OR. I pulled myself together for a while and finished driving to Portland and immediately got a drink in an old haunt of mine. Seeing no one I knew, I went to go see a few friends who work at a classy strip club. While my dancer friend wasn’t dancing, we sat, talked and caught up on happenings in our lives. I told her what had happened to Chaya. I was certainly glad to be with a friend.

Some of Chaya’s artwork.

Today I woke up with the images of my friend’s artwork swirling around in my head, almost as though the swirls of the images were her artwork itself. I woke up thinking about my life in contrast to hers. She always took a principled stand for what she believed in. She would get riled up about the things which were wrong with the world, especially the illogical priorities we humans and legal systems seem to have at times. She was really alive. She was really present, except for some of those awkward moments when she’d seemingly step away from the world for a moment. Sure, she had struggled to get to this point. She wasn’t afraid to get an idea out into the world even if it wasn’t polished. She was raw, alive, and impactful. She didn’t back away from people or put up a guard to keep people from seeing her as she was. She was also sweet, kind and loving. Here I am stuck in this house, this room, these sheets, protected from the world outside — isolated from having to interact with people. I haven’t even written anything in months. Here I am in my cocoon, my womb, waiting to actually be born into this life. Here I am timid, shy, unwilling to be seen with work which isn’t fully thought through — paralyzed by the task of perfection — this standing in contrast with my long held idea that there is beauty in imperfection, that imperfection is the driving force which makes us unique and human. We must continually practice to not struggle with imperfection but to find the beauty in it.

This morning I went outside barefoot and sat on my porch waving and saying “Hi!” to people walking by as I let my bare feet bask in the sun and rest on the carpet of yellowed fall leaves. This morning I let the bugs land on me and walk around, tasting my skin, while I talked to them and let them bask in the feelings of love I had for life this morning. This morning I had the strangest desire to get on my motorcycle and ride the back roads of Talent and the surrounding areas, to feel the wind rush past my body, to hear the friction of the air against my helmet as the friction of my tires against the road propels me forward and the road rushes past me, shortening out in front of me as my momentum increases and frame of reference causes time to lengthen and space to contract. I don’t own a motorcycle, nor am I licensed to drive one. What is happening? I wanted to come back refreshed with ideas to turn into fantastic shading, swirls of color, and writing coming from a pure stream of consciousness. The artistic drives are natural for me, but I’ve never had so strong an urge to be on a motorcycle.

My own tiny art: imagining being on a bike as the road shortens in front of me as I speed forward.

“What is happening with Chaya’s bike?” asks a stranger who inferred I knew more about the state of Chaya’s property than I do. “I don’t know.” I replied, “I’m sure her family will figure it out after they mourn.” We are both at her memorial service organized by the students at the Southern Oregon University art college where Chaya was attending and, if I heard right, slated to be teaching intro to art this winter term. I feel strange hearing that question. I guess it’s a way of finding a connection through the way he met Chaya after I told him how I knew her. He relates a story of how he met Chaya out in the plaza as she was getting on her bike. Chaya had instantly agreed to go on a ride with him at some unspecified time in the future. We exchange how nice it was to meet each other and continue staring at Chaya’s art. I end up meeting Chaya’s mom. She is a graceful human being. I don’t believe I could handle myself so well in a similar situation. I can tell she has lost others, too. We stare into each others beings for a while after I tell her how I knew Chaya, exchanging smiles and extending a field of love. She tells me she can feel her daughter’s presence.

Where does the soul go? On some internet presence of hers, Chaya is talking about learning what happens to transient things, like photons, in the context of the conservation of matter and energy. I can easily imagine her asking the question. I have an answer, but I’m not sure I ever told her. I’m not sure we broached that topic yet. My answer is mostly couched in physics, it’s reminiscent of what Douglas Hofstadter has to say, but is way more technical. I’m sure she’d actually like to get into a discussion about entropy and the structure and state of the universe and the possibilities which can exist within it and the indelible changes each life leaves on that structure. I needed to write the long blog post in which I explained it as I grieved the loss of another soul. Then there’s the 50% chance we’re all in a simulation — an idea which makes death seem so impermanent. It’s also excitingly inspiring as a generator of ideas and questions about what the outside of the simulation is like. I might not be able to have that conversation with her, but I can have it with you.

This morning I woke up feeling like a fragment of Chaya took over a part of me. It’s like she’s pushing me to go out there and fully enjoy my life. I need to be unabashedly me. It’s like she’s pushing me to recognize the spunk in myself, that I am not just this fleshy body, that I am the total sum of the universe’s ebb and flow, that I have the full energy of the universe coursing through my veins. Maybe I have such a strong desire to have deepened our friendship further that my own mind is grabbing hold of as many fragments of her life as possible to recreate it and driving me to experience it. Still, I want to believe she’s in that unimaginable beyond outside of the simulation and has found a way to reach in to me in the simulation. I feel like my soul has been upgraded — the best possible outcome of any sudden and tragic loss.

I feel like a fragment of my friends’ souls have come to live more fully in me and those who take the time to properly grieve the passing of those souls. Grieving a loss of a soul is taking the time to remember that dear lovely person, recreating parts of their soul in ourselves and spreading their essence through all the world they touched, so that it can diffuse outward to the rest of the world. Proper grieving is like a soul upgrade. We take the best of them and lesson from them and slot those parts into our own soul, so they can keep living within us.

Chaya Stillwater-Lanz, I will miss you, you beautiful soul. I will find a way to put a bit of your spirit and creative spark in what I do. The edges between all things have blurred. You are no longer held captive in this small inertial frame of reference. Perhaps you have merged with the dark matter. Perhaps you now know where the soul goes. Perhaps it is your soul which has had the upgrade. Travel well.

Smooth sailing through the lightness of spacetime. Art by Chaya Stillwater Lanz.