The Courage to Be Your Beautiful Self:
The Legacy of Darcy Belanger
Continued from part 2: Steering Our Ship Through the Storm
Image credit: Jeff Gerald, photographer; Jellyfunk, art direction
Many of us at Parvati.org were awake most of last Sunday night. We were all in varying degrees of shock and disbelief that Darcy, our dear friend and Director of Strategic Initiatives for Parvati.org, had been on the plane that had crashed in Ethiopia that day. We also had countless logistical tasks connected with Darcy’s passing that needed immediate attention. He had given so much to the successful realization of MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. There was no way we would let his voice and the optimism he carried be silenced in the rubble of the crash.
The family asked that Parvati.org keep the news amongst ourselves until we had their permission to share it publicly. They asked us to then be the point of contact with media on their behalf. I knew it was for me to step forward and protect their privacy and fulfil their request to make sure the world knew why Darcy was on that plane. I wanted to honour all he had given to MAPS and Parvati.org, and all he had given to me personally, through our friendship. He always had my back.
Behind our social media blackout on Monday was a blur of activity at immense speed. I worked on notifying and consoling our volunteers and fielding a wide range of questions. I also crafted a press statement with my friend and colleague Pranada. Writing it was painstaking and took hours. How could any words even come close to doing justice to Darcy and the work he did for Parvati.org – and us all through MAPS?
The United Nations Environmental Assembly had begun in Nairobi, Kenya. A man we had never met before, Meredith Beal of the African Media Initiative, was at the event. He had heard of Darcy’s death, was moved by MAPS, and kindly offered to act as a physical presence on the ground so that Vandana could conduct every meeting Darcy had set up. By video chat from Vancouver, she was the official, legal voice for MAPS.
Once we had the family’s permission later that day, Pranada began making calls under embargo to news outlets to let them know who Darcy was and of the tragic loss, while we finalized the official Parvati.org statement. I oversaw the updates made to our websites so that they would be current before we went public. I also had a good talk with Darcy’s wife and sister. I was in awe of their steadiness, open-heartedness and wisdom. They too had been feeling that Darcy was with them.
That evening, our core volunteer team joined Rishi and me at our home and remotely for a much-needed crisis bereavement and planning session. Our usual meetings are lively. Serving MAPS for the good of all is meaningful and energizing. In the wake of the tragic news, the room was quiet. People were clearly shaken, raw and red-eyed. However, a palpable unity filled the space. Our hearts had entrained to the same pulsating truth: our love for Darcy, our sense of loss, and our commitment to see MAPS realized for the good of all.
I had not stopped since the news and knew I needed a moment to prepare to lead the meeting. My spiritual practice has been the foundation of my life for as long as I can remember. Just as I had the day before when I first heard Darcy was missing, I knew I had to turn within for meditative guidance and prayer. I went to my room to be alone and shut the door. I set my timer to make sure I was present for the meeting in 20 minutes, and lay down on my back. My arms stretched out alongside my hips, my palms rolled open and my eyes slid closed. I allowed my yoga practice to lead me towards greater stillness, wholeness and healing. I sensed my body softening into the ground, as the boundaries between me and it dissolved into light.
As I went deeper, my awareness settled on the understanding that my body, my breath and everything that has form are energy. For the first time in 36 hours, I was allowing myself to truly process the news. Images of the crash flew through my mind. I still felt Darcy with me and well, as clearly as I had the day before. I could hear his voice, as though he was speaking right beside me. I opened to possibly sense what Darcy may have felt as he understood that his flight was about to hit the ground. So with sincerity and innocence, my heart moved to simply ask him.
I was immediately shifted into a new reality, one beyond the limitations of form. It was similar to the awakenings I had when healing from the spinal cord injury that had left me paralyzed from the waist down in 2011. That recovery had been deemed medically miraculous. As I lay on my bed now, alone in my room, the bed, ceiling and walls disappeared. I felt that I was within an infinite field of light. It was not vacuous, but profoundly intelligent, beyond the grasp of my thinking mind. I felt no wanting, loss or absence. Everything simply was in perfect, harmonious balance.
Then I saw Darcy in his seat on the airplane barreling toward the ground. His head was bowed, but he was unafraid. He had shifted from momentary terror into a state of unimaginable surrender. He was in absolute non-resistance to the moment. He had become the immense, luminous, expansive peace he had been cultivating every day in his meditation practice. He was experiencing what he had longed for and spoken to me about many times–a unity with all that is. Before the moment of impact, Darcy merged with total equanimity with the light that I was now seeing and feeling.
Then I saw a dark, murky sheath spontaneously pull away to reveal a long, thin cocoon of billions of tightly-wrapped light filaments. I understood this was him. Free from containment, no longer hidden, the light strands unfolded and spread into immense wings that merged with an effervescence that was everywhere.
Before the end of his life, Darcy had come to see and understand who we really are–and he was showing me now: bundles of light, masked by the layer of our ego-personalities. We think we are the thin layer of wrapping. But we are the infinite, brilliant expanse within. I had experienced periods of myself as light within the filaments of the universe while recovering from my spinal injury. Darcy embodied that sublime truth fully in the moments before he passed, and was immersed in it now.
As I lay in the field of light, I reveled in the feeling of unity. Darcy was light. I was light. We are all light, not separate but joined through the luminous filaments that are in everything and are everywhere.
Then my alarm chimed and it was time for me to go hold the meeting.
I slowly rolled over, sat up, and took a few deep breaths to integrate the gift in the experience. I was about to step back into the storm, while in a totally new reality.
As I went downstairs contemplating what had just occurred and what it meant, Pranada walked through my front door. She was on the phone with an Edmonton Star reporter who had contacted her with questions about Darcy. She put her phone on mute to quickly fill me in on what was happening and ask if I could take the interview. I agreed and quickly poked my head into the living room, where friends and colleagues were already gathered, to delay the meeting so I could take the call. Then Pranada handed me her mobile and I walked into a quiet room to answer the reporter’s questions as best I could.
I recognized the power of speech, held within the filaments, and how each of my words would now become public record. I spoke with calm care, and deep attention. I aimed to do Darcy’s family proud and do his life justice. Yet I knew that there was no way to measure the value of a life. I even said so in the interview. The thought felt like trying to fit the infinite into a teaspoon, stuff the universe’s light filaments back into the cocoon from which Darcy was now free. I focused my answers on the love and support he had from his wife, family and friends, his implicit trust in my vision for MAPS, and how he gave so selflessly to MAPS, Parvati.org and the world.
When my interview was finished, I joined my colleagues for a vigil with meditation and prayer. I shared that I had just sensed Darcy in his final moments expanding into light and I knew he was both at peace and with us. For a moment, we took in what that meant. We could each tap into the light that we are, the light that he is, and serve MAPS and the world that much more fully.
We reminisced about many of Darcy’s amazing qualities: his compassionate commitment; his fierce determination; his dry humour; his tuck-in, head-down, get-to-the-goal-line attitude with a smile on his face; his gentle yet firm nature; his deep spirituality – the list kept going. But above all, we thought of his courage.
As I had told the reporter and would tell the ones that followed, Darcy was courageous because he knew he was interconnected. Out of compassion, he was ever willing to move beyond his personal comfort for the greater good of all. He rose to each challenge he was given and shone. He did not do it for personal accolade, but to ensure everyone around the world has the basic resources needed to survive. We resolved to carry forward that legacy of selfless courage.
Darcy’s presence continued to be strong, as though he was now helping MAPS from the other side. At one point, when a colleague and I started to cry, I distinctly and unmistakably heard Darcy’s voice say, “Come on, guys!” as though he was asking us to not be so soppy. I shared what I heard with my friend and we laughed through our tears. It was so Darcy, not wanting us to make a fuss over him! He wanted us to know he was fine.
At the end of another whirlwind day, beyond exhausted and emotionally drained, I fell into bed around 1:30am or 2am. I continued to sense and hear Darcy. He was still with us, just in a different form, beyond the body, inviting us all now into a new reality.