It has been 5 months since Justin passed…it was one year ago that I drove him to the Denver airport to catch a flight for the Big Island of Hawai'i to begin alternative treatment for the cancer. Getting that last big hug and kiss from him at the curb, I had to accept there was a chance I wouldn't see him again. Yet I also believed if anyone could live a miracle, it was him. And Justin did give it his best shot for that miraculous healing, but truly I think he just wanted to stay as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. To enjoy life. To swim the lava coastlines with the dolphins and the manta rays. To dive off the highest cliff he could find, and walk next to fresh lava flows on a few centimeters of volcanic crust. To charm and tease the hippie mothers at the Farmer's Market, and pick avocados with their kids. And he did, up to the last moments he was able. Beautifully.
As you all know, Justin wasn't a moderate person. He was excessive, larger than life, strong, wild, and fun. The word "extreme" definitely described him at times. When I teased him he could be a "Drama Queen" and a "Diva" he just laughed, because he knew it was true. But Justin played all the notes in life- he could also be quiet, reverent, soft, gentle, kind, and deep. For such a wild and wooly hippie/surfer/athlete/carpenter he could be very elegant, very intuitive. And his sense of design and environment were defining…and legendary. He was a fine craftsman, and our house in Bali was his final testament to his high level of aesthetic design. He was an amazing athlete, powerful and strong in so many disciplines. His parties rocked! He could create an environment for fun, or a "nest" for comfort, or an experience of adventure. Anyone who rode his death defying teeter-totter or the rope swing that nearly launched you across the valley and towards Highlands Bowl knows what I mean. And Justin made 6'4" on the dance floor look damn good and funky, he could certainly cut a rug! Yet despite how crazy he could be, Justin would also make sure people got home safe after a night partying, in Carbondale he would deliver drunk-ass people to their door on his hand painted Javanese rickshaw. Justin would be the first to steal a kiss from the ladies, yet defend their honor and boundaries from any men without respect. Yes, we all knew and loved him for these qualities. But what I want to discuss here is much deeper than that. This is going to get personal, and a bit touchy-feely…so bear with me or sign off now. Just warning you.
Over the last five years Justin struggled with health issues that many people didn't know about. He suffered a lot, and hid it pretty well. He was a complex dude. As open as he could be, his inner struggles were very private. Justin wanted people to remember him in his strength, his power, and his positive light. This was so important to him, that he would rather hide away than reveal his vulnerability. We went through some very dark times together. He struggled through some very painful times alone, not wanting to show or share his pain. But through it all he kept giving. He gave it all, down to the last moment on this earth. Justin gave his courage, his strength and his capacity for love and joy. Although he often couldn't give it to himself, he most certainly would always give this powerful energy to those around him, be they old friends or momentary acquaintances. And he gave it to me. Always.
Justin was a teacher in my life. He believed in me when I didn't know how to believe in myself. He challenged and encouraged me. He also frustrated the hell out of me because he saw my gifts and pushed me to embody them fully. But in our 16 years of love and friendship I think I learned the most from Justin when I really consciously observed how he interacted with the world. The people he would meet each day- friends or strangers- were impacted by him in a very interesting way. He had a profound ability to connect with people on a deep and authentic level, he knew how to crack people's shell- whether they wanted it or not. Justin could open them and create a peak experience- just with his heart, energy and presence. From little babies to grandmas- people fell in love with Justin. In my view, the triumph and the tragedy in Justin's life story is that he had so much love to give, and somehow couldn't love himself…so he gave it to the world instead.
In this dichotomy, Justin helped me experience what unconditional love truly is…love that is challenged time and again by pain, disappointment, illness, sadness…love that accepts those human frailties and continues to grow and evolve in our hearts, continues to flow. He showed me through his presence and his actions that joy and love can be cultivated in the darkest of times, to be a constant fire illuminating and nourishing us. I am not saying he taught me this just by embodying it, but also where he resisted and refused it- sometimes strongly. He was so much more comfortable giving than receiving authentic love, this warts-and-all LOVE. Because it was difficult for him to show his pain, his confusion, his fear…Justin kept the world and even his closest friends from loving him back. Somehow he believed his only value was in his light, his joy, his golden energy. And if he couldn't give that fully, then his life had less value. I understand this. I think we all feel that at times, I certainly have. But I want to challenge this! I invite everyone reading this to think deeply about how we do this to ourselves. Is our only value in our light? If we project a "perfect" exterior are we better humans? Do we need to hide our true selves to ensure the world's love and our own self-acceptance? My answer is NO.
In the suffering and pain that Justin and I went through together I learned that by cultivating and allowing our vulnerability and our authenticity we open ourselves to be truly supported and loved by the world, and to honestly love ourselves. This True Love is the ground inside each of us that we can trust- it is personal, it is powerful, it is universal. Unconditional love may be challenged time and again, by pain, disappointment, illness, sadness…but there is room for these human frailties and this authentic love continues to bloom our hearts open, continues to flow all around us. It may be the scariest thing on the planet for someone as strong and powerful as Justin to be vulnerable and authentic about his darkness and pain…but maybe we can learn through him that it is necessary to share this part too. None of us are perfect, but we are all capable of and deserving of unconditional love. If we can give, we must learn to receive…or we will drain our energy to the point that depression and finally illness takes away our vital spark.
This energetic fire, our birthright, must be consciously nurtured. We have to OPEN to this energy. We have to choose to give it away time and again, be able to receive when it is offered, and most importantly (and most difficult) to offer it to ourselves first, and to ASK for love and support when we need it. I know now, that a broken heart is an open heart. Justin's passing broke my heart wide open. I am now a stronger vessel. I am able to hold an infinite flow of love, this I have come to accept and honor. If I feel any scarcity in my life, I simply need to touch into this truth to be reminded of my capacity for joy no matter what. Now I deeply know that as long as I choose to open to love--along with the pain, and the sadness-- there will be light, there will be healing, there will be transformation. If I can have gratitude for this experience of being broken open deeply, be in that space and just hold it tenderly, the energy will shift, I will learn and soften into wisdom, and I will receive tremendous blessings.
This experience with Justin taught me I must continually and consciously choose to open, to connect, to share, to receive and most of all to love and appreciate myself as the vessel that holds and channels this love into the world. Justin's life and death showed us all how transformative, how powerful, how exciting one big guy using the power of Love and Joy like a laser beam could change the world- one person at a time. How much more powerful and healthy this world would be if we could also honor our sadness and darkness with honesty and clarity. To be grateful for all the emotions in our lives. Because until we accept both sides and all shades of gray, we will be cutting ourselves off from the full-spectrum of being human. I invite us all to live from our soft and tender heart while still being strong and capable, and honor and love those places where we are still small, afraid and contracted. Vulnerability and authenticity is beautiful, and it creates a doorway into a joyful and balanced life.
At the memorial party in September, Justin's friends and family gathered together. In his last week of life, and even his last hours, Justin made it crystal clear that he wanted us to be together to celebrate each other, and our connection with him. He wanted his friends to meet his beautiful and strong mother Marcia, and for her to be supported by all those hearts together. We gathered because Justin touched us in our own unique way, but we also gathered to connect to each other- friends new and old and "spread the joy!" On that day I saw and felt that sacred space, the beautiful "broken open" quality that grief and joy are uniquely capable of creating. And I want to remind all of us to keep going with this energy, keep deepening our connection to our own hearts and those in the world around us. Every time the pain of the world seems too much, maybe it is a cause to rejoice a little bit, because as our hearts break open we can share our light in the world in a more profound way. We can be honest with ourselves and others. We can begin to support each other instead of compete against each other. We can be tender instead of tough, caring as well as capable. Vulnerable and resilient. And we can learn to truly love and value ourselves- dark and light- and share that sacred truth with the world. Thank you for listening and sharing this with me.
Namaste. Aloha. Blessings. Love and Light!