Sunday, September 15, 2013

A letter written before his death

I want to tell you about my friend Daniel Rhoda. What I fully understand in writing this is that my experience of Daniel Rhoda was purely my own, that it is but snapshots in the amount of life and love that he was a part of. But in my snapshots he's a fun loving child growing up in our small town. He's an 8 year old singing Free to Be You and Me. He's a popular and good looking pre-teen, one who was friendly and kind to my awkward and gawky 11 year old self.  He's a 20 year old young man having existential conversations with a 20 year old me at a time when my faith in religion was being rocked. He's a 28 year old man showing a 28 year old woman around the island of Kauai, teaching me about Ayurveda and Aloha, and touching me with a wisdom that was so radiant, so enchanting. As a child he was fun and accepting of others. But who he became as an adult was so gorgeous. He was captivating and smart. Wise and  receptive. He was extremely beautiful and most notably, extremely kind.

Daniel took his own life last friday. This event has sent so many, many people spinning, trying to understand, trying to make sense of something that feels unnatural: to consciously want to end your own life.

It is my belief that the people that do extensive personal work have to do so by visiting places that are very dark. Light can never know itself without darkness, and humans are no exception to this grand dichotomy. For someone that spent so much time manifesting his thoughts and his dreams, actualizing a life full of amazing people and experiences, he also had a shadow side. We are all familiar with the shadow side. The universal aspect to the shadow side is pain.

And pain is pain. I think of the excruciating pain of giving birth, howling into the ether with no thought or care as to who heard. In pain it is hard to see straight. In pain we can no longer function under the social norms that society expects of us. And Daniel had tremendous pain. Existentially yes, but physically as well. What I remember of his tour of Kauai was that I had to drive his car, that his debilitating joint pain made the simple act of sitting and pushing the gas pedal unbearable. He was 28 years old then, with more debilitation and physical pain to come. We can never understand what that was like for him. But now we are all faced with the realization that his pain was so much more than anyone understood.

Dan's brother, Les, a dear friend of mine, has asked me to post his final letter on my blog. I realize this is extremely personal, but the Rhoda family have wanted to be very up front about what has happened. As Les writes "I hope this brings comfort to those of you grieving from afar. You are all in my thoughts, prayers, and heart." 

I post this with the utmost respect for the life of Daniel Rhoda, a friend, a son, a brother, a lover, an explorer, a teacher, a student, and ultimately, a shining light. There are many hearts that are breaking with his loss, but isn't that what love is? We love, and we break. The depth of our love can only ever exist with our own vulnerability.

Aloha my friend.

"Dear Mom, Dad, and Les,It’s with great humility and sadness that I leave this letter to you today. From a place of deep chaos and yet quiet clarity, I lost a longstanding battle today. I’ve always been a delicate, sensitive soul and have questioned many times if I was supposed to be here this time around. I’ve spiraled in past months to places I didn’t know existed in me. Despondency over my physical health and latent mental illness from my youth and early 20’s came back with reckless abandon. Despite knowing the ‘right’ things to do clinically, I allowed the cycle to continue, while barely keeping it together on the surface. My physical health has deteriorated way beyond what people know. Every single day, it’s a struggle to function, and pain is ever-present. I feel like I’ve tried almost everything at this point, and I’m destined to live a life in which my physical health continues to deteriorate. Yes, I made some great strides forward and managed to do a lot over the past 10 years. However, I don’t have any fight left in me. I truly mean this, and haven’t just succumbed to a momentary sense of hopelessness and weakness. It’s weighed on me so heavily in the past years, particularly knowing I may never be well enough to have a family of my own. 
My biggest regret right now is not the loss of what my life could have been like. It’s the impact this decision will have on all of you, as well as my closest friends. I’m sorry you will have to live with questions whether you could have done more to help me. I’m particularly aware of how selfish this is to you, Mom, only shortly having healed from cancer and also what you went through with Uncle Fred. For that I am deeply sorry. It literally breaks my heart to think of the three of you mourning my loss and having to live with this the rest of your lives. I know there will also be social repercussions living in a small town, and I wish this did not have to be the case. The reality, however, is that you couldn’t have done any more for me. I know you questioned if you should have me hospitalized, but even that would not have changed the course of my actions. The choice of life is one that only an individual soul can determine. Through all my studies and experiences, I’ve become less attached to “life for life’s sake” in many ways. I haven’t been scared of death, and I’ve only wanted to be here if my soul is truly evolving. I don’t feel like this has been the case for many years now. I’ve enjoyed school and work enough, but I’ve had these deep existential questions of “why” and “what for” forming the backdrop of my being. I know my decision will be viewed as avoidable, tragic, and even cowardly by some, but it’s a decision I can only make alone. There will be so many questions and confusion about how this could happen. People will seek an easy explanation, however, so many different components led to my decision. 
The greatest smile in my heart right now is when I reflect on how blessed I have been with family. I couldn’t have asked for more loving and supportive parents. You have given me every opportunity in life. Mom, your compassion, thoughtfulness, strength, energy, and intelligence are so incredible. Please know that I will always be your “little boy” and one of my earliest memories- that of you rocking me in the chair- remains my fondest. Dad, I’ve appreciated your genuine care, interest, humor, randomness, and easy way of being. You’ve been an amazing father and friend to me. I cherish our time on East Grand Lake and our hour longs talks on the phone. Les, I’m so glad we grew closer as we got older and were able to bond through music. I have always been your biggest fan and have no question about your innate talent and passion for what you do. 
It feels ridiculous to try to encapsulate my love and appreciation for each of you in a few paragraphs. Mom, you have been such a remarkable support to me over the past few months. You took all my call and I felt so cared for without judgment when I got home. Your wisdom literally astounds me at times, and I feel proud to be your son. Dad, I also appreciated all of the times you reached out to me just to check in and let you know you love me. Les, I know you’ve been there for me even when we haven’t been in touch as much. This is something I have never questioned. 
I also leave feeling beyond grateful for the role that grandparents played in my life. Gramps literally allowed me to consciously discover what it felt like to really love someone, and Gram was so incredibly loving and caring towards us. Grandmere and Grandpere also passed along their own forms of generational wisdom. Auntie, Charlie, and Jody- you have also been important family to me, and your deep family bond and resilience have always been inspiring. 
I have also been blessed with incredible friendships, and I know my decision will come as an utter shock to people. There will be attempts to analyze what happened- did he lose the fight against his physical illness?; was he actually disturbed all along and just putting on a show?; did he have a nervous breakdown?; did he study so much about spirituality and the mind that it ultimately became a disservice?; did he break down after losing a relationship etc.? The truth is that the answer is no to any of these single explanations, despite the fact there may be elements of truth in each of them. None of these explanations alone justify my actions, because this is something that’s lived within me since I was around 19. I’ve been a deeply contemplative, lone wolf of sorts, despite what I may have shown on the exterior. The recent relationship stuff was simply a catalyst for uncovering much deeper levels of disturbance and concern within my being. Even when I moved to Hawaii, I wondered if I would conveniently get lost in an ocean wave one day, so this existential angst has been with me a long time. I’ve pushed through trying to make the best of things, but I feel too tired and worn down to keep doing so. Please don’t feel like you could have prevented this. The biggest factors in this decision in order are: feeling hopeless about my health and that I’ve exhausted my options at this point. As I said, this ways on me so heavily with respect to ever having any future quality of life and family. I also feel a lack of optimism and motivation for my career path and potential. Lastly, there’s no question that months of little sleep and food have contributed to my mental state. These were brought on by the relationship stuff, but this isn’t a case of taking my life because of a break-up. It’s more that all the factors came together at once, along with the move, and completely overwhelmed me beyond knowing how to get out of this hole. 
Regarding friendships, I’m not able to do justice in this letter to all those who have touched my life so deeply. 
Jim, you’ve been the single biggest influence in my life outside of family. Our journey together has been a soul-level journey and you have given me nothing but love. Your battle with cancer has given me strength every single day, and I know how much you love and care about me. I appreciate you letting me come visit, and I can’t thank you enough for your support, guidance, compassion, and wisdom. I know how much this will hurt and for this I am sorry. You deserve more from our friendship. I love you my friend, please always know that. 
Joe, you will always be my second dear brother. Your gentle wisdom and outlook on life is so pure. We had a good run my friend, and Ski With will be putting up walls from another place. I’m sorry I couldn’t fulfill the one request you asked of me. You are such a good soul, and I wish you nothing but happiness. Thank you for coming back to the lake for one last time together. 
Tsega, thank you so much for being in my life and for our recent time together. You are such a bright, beautiful being, and you have had such a huge impact on my life. I know that life will only continue to bless and nurture you. Thank you for coming here with such a loving heart. 
Kim, you are goddess incarnate and taught me so much about what it means to live as a conscious, creative male. Our time together on Kauai was such a gift, and I hope you always know how much I adore and respect you. 
Elliot, we’ve had such a journey, bro. From London onwards, we’ve held such a special connection. I’m sorry to leave you, Dallis, Lottie, Harlan, and Tilly. I have not fulfilled my godfather duty for which I am sorry. Please do good things for yourself and family in Cali. 
Hayes, our friendship has spanned two decades. You’ve got such a good heart. You’re also a great father and I send you and Ali love and gratitude. 
Tim, we watched each other grow from Moore 13 days, and I’ve been in awe at your ability to move so fluidly throughout life, as a father, scholar, and dear friend. 
Jericho, we’ve had such a journey together for which I am grateful. Your creativity and talents are destined for big things beyond island life…I know you know that. 
Jason, from Maine to London to NYC, we’ve had so many good time, bru. I hope this next chapter of fatherhood treats you well and I send love to you Adrienne and Amelia. 
Tom, you’ve been like a brother to me. I was grateful to bathe in your wisdom for so many years. Your thread of humanity and endless compassion are unlike anything I’ve known, and you’ve selflessly touched the lives of so many. I thank you for our last days together and for your unwavering friendship. I send love for your soul’s journey as a father, sage, and healer. 
Suhas, it’s been an honor to learn from you and be in your presence. The opportunity to study and work with a master is a true gift. I know that this will deeply disappoint you, but I ask that you do a blessing for my soul’s journey. I know you will continue to spread wisdom around the globe, and I wish the best for you Manisha and the kids. 
Jacyn, you are so amazing, and please don’t personalize this. Our recent journey is not the major factor behind my decision- please know this. You are such a bright being, and I know you will shine even brighter. I am thankful for our time together and send you nothing but love and Aloha. 
Whitney, I appreciate how we’ve laughed together, and you’ve been a good friend to me. You are such a kind, thoughtful person. Please do good things for yourself. 
Ras, we had a special sibling-like relationship almost from the beginning of grad school. I’m glad I got to introduce you to beats etc. and it’s been great to see you flourish. 
Molika, I’ve so appreciated your kind, grounded perspective. You are a talented woman and will touch the lives of many. 
Mitzi, I enjoyed our time together and what a sweet, genuine person you are. I trust that good things are in store for the one and only lady jaja. 
Gina Marie- You’re heart is one of the most beautiful I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Please spread your wings and teach women around the world to be powerful, just like you.
Felcher- Big Jer, thanks for taking such good care of me bro, and for sharing your pearls of wisdom. I hope you’re catching waves for another 50 years.
There are so many others I could write about, but at the least please let those you can know I am grateful they were in my life: Rahul, Johnny, Alicia, Chad, Alaya, Milind, India, Angela, Jeff, Charmayne, Hilary, Shanly,Vir, Terri, Jon Rasmussen, Lori, other Kauai connections, Deerfield, Bowdoin, and Shaman school classmates, NYC friends, and the list goes on... 
Mummers, Dad, and Les, please always know that I love the three of you so incredibly dearly. I thank you for bringing such joy and blessings to my life.
As Gramps would say: Je vous aime, je vous adore. Que voulez vous de plus encore? 
With Love Always,
Daniel (Deeper)

Rabindranath Tagore
passage from Gitanjali (1912)
translated from Bengali
The same stream of life
that runs through my veins
runs through the world
and dances in rhythmic measure.
It is the same life
that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth
into numberless blades of grass,
and breaks into tumultuous waves
of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked
in the ocean cradle
of birth and death,
in ebb and in flow.
My limbs are made glorious
by the touch of this world of life;
and my pride is from
the life throb of ages
dancing in my blood this moment.
The song I have come to sing
remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my life
stringing and unstringing
my instrument."


Jesse Adams said...

Thank you for posting this. It's been over a decade since I saw Dan. We worked together at Credit Suisse First Boston. I had just chatted with him in July while he was in NYC, trying to figure out a time to get together. He was a man I was drawn to, and from what I'm reading, I'm not the only person who felt that one. He was different. I'm shocked by the news... and yet, also not. Thanks again for posting... it helps.

Stephanie Marrone said...

This is the second time I have read Daniel's letter. I met him 2 times during 2 ZRII corporate events. I said to myself, not only is extremely handsome, but this is someone I want to get to know. I struggle with mental illness myself and just over 2 months made an attempt on my life. Reading Daniel's goodbye letter, I know exactly how he was feeling right before he made his decision to leave this Earth. I found out about the tragic news of his passing on Facebook about 2 and half months ago just after I received the book he co-authored, Eat, Taste, Heal. My only regret is that I didn't get to know him. He was a bright and shining light in a very dark place. I continue to find hope and strength in my own struggle with my journal. Like Daniel said, a soul must keep evolving, otherwise it will die a slow death. To his family and friends, I say, I'm deeply sorry and feel your sadness. You were blessed with one of kindest, most gentle and fun soul you will ever meet.