This past weekend, I attended a memorial service for one of my heroes. She was a naturopathic doctor that I had had the pleasure of working with back in the late ’00s at a natural pharmacy here in Seattle. That job was a huge gift in my life, because I got to work with people who inspired me, taught me, and became my good friends.
While I cultivated a more traditional friendship with other co-workers during that time by spending time together outside of work, my connection with Elizabeth (which largely happened under the roof of that pharmacy) felt deep and important to me. I was immediately drawn to her as someone I could look up to. As our conversations revealed more and more similarities in our lives (both pisces, both had lived in Australia, both had married the huge loves of our lives who both happened to be from different countries, and on and on…), we began to relate on deeper levels. My admiration shifted to a deep kind of respect and eventually into what I see now as her becoming a real-life hero in my eyes.
I am so glad I took the opportunity on a few occasions to tell Elizabeth that she was my hero. It wasn’t until the news of her sudden passing a few weeks ago, however, that I really reflected on what that meant to me.
Death is a strange thing for those of us left behind. We experience the loss of each person differently. Finding out that one of the healthiest, most vital and vibrant people I’d ever known had been battling leukemia for more than a year and that she had eventually lost her life (after healing herself into in full remission) to what amounts to a weak immune system and a fever… well, it was a huge shock. Nothing, I realized, is guaranteed in life.
But in the wake of this shock I gained something that is often the gift of being a survivor of death– clarity. Something in the sudden absence of a person we have known or felt like we’ve known, brings them into a sharp focus for us, with an intense clarity of the qualities we most associated with them– often, the qualities we most admired in them.
For me, I realized that I saw Elizabeth as who I could be if I lived my life to the fullest– without fear or doubt. The determination to become a doctor, the compassion to volunteer her skills in places in dire need of healing, the courage to embark on the journey of motherhood after having established a good life with her partner– I admired the apparent ease with which she committed herself to these major and daunting tasks. During the years since we worked together, conversations we’d had became touchstones for some of my own big life decisions. She was going ahead of me– of many– showing what could be accomplished and how it could be done with grace.
That, I realized, was a hero to me– someone who, through their own courage, trials, passions and truth, was blazing a path to inspire those that followed.
The stories I heard at the memorial of how she had handled her illness and even those final days, were no different. She lived with those same inspiring qualities until the end.
In light of these reflections, I took advantage of the power of the first new moon of the lunar new year two nights ago (and the presence of some wonderful and supportive friends), to set an intention for myself for this month and beyond:
Be an inspiration– to myself and to others. Seek out those qualities which I admire in my heroes within myself. Heroes are only worth having if you truly dare (however small a step you may begin with) to step onto the courageous path they have walked before you and let their light inspire your own courageous life.
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” When walking the path of life as a Yogi or Bodhisattva, this is what we aim to do: To live from the heart, giving our full awareness and attention to that which is beyond the ego- beyond our own experience of our self– while standing in our own truth and power.
Thanks for reading! Share your thoughts and replies in the comments below. – xo
In honor of Dr. Elizabeth Thybulle, ND