In college, I studied psychology. Although I don’t regret a single course I took, because I learned so much about the human condition, I decided not to pursue it as a career when I graduated. I still come back to the things I learned as an undergrad. One particular experience that truly shaped me as a person was a weekend course I took called “Spirituality and Wellness.”

The class ran over a series of weekends, which was an ideal way for a young person like me to nail down another credit in my major rather quickly. The professor was from the religion department, and I had taken several other classes he’d given, including the seminar on Buddhism, which also rocked my mental world and forever shaped my outlook on life.

The weekend course was equally great, particularly the documentary video called Fierce Grace we were shown part of. The class felt so strongly about how moving the documentary was that we asked to watch it in its entirety. I’d highly recommend watching it, if you get a chance.

During the video, they talk about a letter the subject of the documentary, Ram Dass, sent to a couple who’s daughter was murdered. The letter, which the mother tearfully reads, has stayed with me all these years.

Dear Steve and Anita,

Rachel finished her work on earth, and left the stage in a manner that leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our hearts, as the fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so violently. Is anyone strong enough to stay conscious through such teaching as you are receiving? Probably very few. And even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and desolation.

I can’t assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is Rachel’s legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice, but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love as God loves.

Now is the time to let your grief find expression. No false strength. Now is the time to sit quietly and speak to Rachel, and thank her for being with you these few years, and encourage her to go on with whatever her work is, knowing that you will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience.

In my heart, I know that you and she will meet again and again, and recognize the many ways in which you have known each other. And when you meet you will know, in a flash, what now it is not given to you to know: Why this had to be the way it was.

Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts– if we can keep them open to God – will find their own intuitive way. Rachel came through you to do her work on earth, which includes her manner of death. Now her soul is free, and the love that you can share with her is invulnerable to the winds of changing time and space. In that deep love, include me.

In love,
Ram Dass

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m not religious, although I try to understand my place in the world knowing there must be something bigger than me out there. It just isn’t something I can connect with, in spite of my efforts. However, if I ever got close to it, it is through reading this letter that I understand everything.