The Space Between Us?
Blessings To, For, From John

In Tribute to Poet, Philosopher, Friend John O’ Donohue….
Jan. 1 1956 – Jan. 4 2008

Our last e-mail, on Jan. 1, was just Happy: Happy New Year! Happy New Book! Happy Birthday! Happy Everything!

I know he went Happy.

But all of us in his circles -- intimate, expanding, infinite -- are bereft.

On Jan. 4, we lost our beloved John O’Donohue.

Or have we? Because as John always said, “Nothing is ever lost or forgotten.”

And he gave us more to remember, think about, hope for and grow towards than anyone I know.

I had the privilege of working with him last year.

Amongst phone calls, e-mails, meetings, we had fun thinking, talking, laughing, drinking, challenging each others’ beliefs and expanding each others’ horizons.

John is a spiritual mystic, Irish philosopher, prolific writer, part-time farmer and former Catholic priest.

I am an urban, agnostic entrepreneur.

In the birthing of his latest book -- Benedictus (to be published as To Bless the Space Between Us in the U.S. this March) -- we talked a lot about love, life, death, and everything before, after and in between.

“The dead,” he would say, “are nearer than they seem.”

I could grasp this in the same way that my Dad lives on in me through DNA and jokes we well as from a particle physics perspective: “We are in the universe. And the universe is in us. Isn’t that enough?” (Neil DeGrasse Tyson)

But anything beyond that would have to seen to be believed....

“You’ll see," he would say, "In the Celtic landscape and all over. Someday....”

Who knew how soon someday would come?

I don’t usually ask for signs. Or see them when they're there, but....

On the night of Jan. 3, in a rare effort to clear clutter, I came upon obituaries, eulogies and wills from one branch of my family tree. I was moved beyond words...into that reverent space where the sadness of loss balances perfectly with the appreciation of presence.

I can’t put my finger on why, but on a train ride north, I read poems from Linda Pastan’s An Early Afterlife, and was struck by these lines:

“Why don’t we say good-bye right now
In the fallacy of perfect health
Before whatever is going to happen

Hours later, I received the devastating, unexpected news: John had died peacefully in his sleep while on holiday in the South of France. No further details were available.

Immediately, hearts all over the world went out from his group of friends, fans and colleagues...all of us to each other, and most of all to his family and Kristine. Sadness, memories, stories, love and consolation were shared in unbelievable concentration and constellations via e-mail, on the Internet, over the phone. Tributes went up…on and elsewhere, from friends and colleagues like David Whyte, Gareth Higgins, Jesse Kornbluth and from venues he appeared at often, like Miriam's Well and Kripalu. We were able to hear his voice on NPR, BBC and elsewhere.

Those who could gathered in Ireland, where he was laid to rest. I took solace in the thought that two soul friends, Linda and Loretta, might be bookends that would bring true a line from John’s “Blessing for Death” from Anam Cara: “May your going be sheltered and your welcome assured.”

Me? I drank whiskey in his honor, and prayed as best I could at the time...including for a sign.

Bizarrely (though I’m sure it wouldn’t have seemed so to him), a lovingly inscribed copy of Benedictus: A Book of Blessings, arrived on the day of his funeral: He had sent and meant it to be there by Christmas. But it had gone to a wrong zip...sitting at that post office for a bit before finding me at just the right time.

It was one more way for John to say: “You are never alone” -- a proof point of the paradox, merriment, bedevilment, fulfillment, embodiment, humor, joy and generosity that is John....

Almost all the words I can find to express my sadness and hope are in that book and his others.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will go to the sources to hear, read, share the soul-satisfying stuff he is made of.

Here, I’ll simply end with Stars, a poem that I hope brings comfort and that perfectly expresses what I've come to know and believe about the universe, those that we love in it, and the way they live on....


By Hannah Senesh

There are stars whose radiance is
visible on earth
though they have
long been extinct.

There are people whose brilliance
continues to light the world
though they are no
longer among us.

These lights are particularly
bright when the night is dark.

They light the way
for human kind.