Sander Yari was found dead in his apartment on the South Side of Pittsburgh, PA yesterday morning, approximately 30 minutes after sunrise. Yari’s body was discovered by his girlfriend, Emily, of the past 2yrs.
I told the paramedics that I was picking him up that morning to go jogging down by the waterfront. I let myself in the apartment with the key that he gave me and noticed Sander sitting on his meditation cushion. This was nothing new for me to see, Sander has been a practicing mediator since high school. The next ten minutes I sat in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea and I didn’t become concerned until I saw that his head had fallen forward onto his chest. When he didn’t move I walked over to him calling his name and when I placed my hand on his shoulder I felt nothing. No movement, no breath, no warmth, no blood flow, no life. I panicked. I called 911. I screamed. I froze. I waited for the paramedics to arrive. There he sat in the lotus pose dead, with the slightest smile on his face and a note paper-clipped to his dog tags.
The paramedics told me that it seemed he suffered no pain; his body had no sign of trauma. His heart just stopped…it’s a damn mystery. Then one paramedic zipped up the black bag that now held Sander’s body. He handed me the letter and Sander’s dog tags, gave me a bereaved smile, said he was sorry for my loss and pushed the gurney out the front door of the apartment.
I placed Sander’s dog tags around my neck and read his letter.
The note read:
This is not a suicide letter. This is my letter of samsara; my cycle of death to re-birth has begun. It is my intention to transmigrate from the organic to the ethereal, back to the organic world. I sit…breathe in and breathe out, staring at the sunrise asking my soul to leave this subtle body.
With love, Sander
P.S. I found God and s/he wears shoes
“What…what…what!? Sander!” I screamed…death, samsara, God, shoes…F-you. Why? What do I do now? Who do I call first? I am cold, I am alone…Sander…why?
Not knowing what to do next I sat down in the lotus pose on Sander’s meditation cushion staring out the same window as he did, seeing the view which would have been his last. City skyline, tree tops, white clouds, gray-blue sky and the smell of clean morning air. This is what Sander would have seen. I cried…I pressed his dog tags to my chest and felt the cold steel that he wore around his neck since before we met. For all the time that I laid in his arms I never took notice of what the dog tags had inscribed on them.
Surname, First name, Second Initial: Yari, Sander A.
Army serial number: 3733756 T42 430
Blood Type: Negative A
Religion: No demons
Three days later I was in front of a crowd of 300 people. A gathering of his ex-army buddies, college friends and relatives, all of whom I had never met. I stood in a church that Sander would have never attended and gave his eulogy.
“No demons, that is what Sander had on his dog tags for his religion preference. That is Sander Yari, he no longer cared for organized religion and felt no need to pick any one house of worship over the other. In his simplistic way… no demons…was a perfect fit for his statement of faith.
“I met Sander in November ‘06, waiting in line for coffee. Actually I met Sander when I accidentally spilled my coffee on his hands at the cream and sugar bar. I was so apologetic, he was calm and smiled. We introduced ourselves; we talked, shared a scone and fell in love over the next couple of months. We would go jogging in the morning and at night would cook dinner together. He called it our “cooking therapy”. No television, no music, just us talking about our day while we prepared our meal.
“Every Sunday afternoon we would have dinner with my family. Sunday evening would be spent in my father’s woodshop, building ornate picture frames. It was great time spent. We would turn on football games or hockey games or if there were no games we would turn on the iPod shuffle and listen to our jukebox of music. He would build frames, I would watch, we would both drink beer and sometimes we would dance in the dust.
“Sander held a job that he was impartial to. He was good at his job, or at least the company he worked for liked him. Sander did not like to spend the money that he earned from his job, if he could help it. He did spend it, but he preferred sweat equity. That’s what he called it…sweat equity….hard work in trade for service. That’s what he did with all those picture frames that he built in my father’s woodshop. Trade for service; sometimes he would get a haircut or vegetables from a local produce shop. One time he even got his taxes done. It seems to make people happy….sweat equity.
“I called Sander my twenty-something-disco-monk; energetic on the outside and fully devoted on the inside. He was urban chic, artistic and cultural. He enjoyed experiences of the city life, good conversation and long dinners at home. He took pleasure in meditation, yoga and reading spiritual texts of all types.
“The spring of 2002 he was in the army stationed between the ice cube tray of Alaska and the sandbox of Iraq. Fire and ice, that’s how he described traveling between the two of them. Sander never had to shoot a gun in combat nor was a gun ever shot at him. He was very happy about that. He was a Chaplin Assistant in the Army, which gave him a lot of free time and a large library to read through.
“After reading the Gospel of Thomas he proclaimed an apostasy, a formal disaffiliation with organized religion. Sander interpreted a passage from the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.’ I believe these are the words that have brought us here today. Sander did not believe that there was separation between Jesus and himself. I think he needed to prove it to himself.”
At this time I read Sander’s letter to the funeral congregation.
“This is not a suicide letter. This is my letter of samsara, my cycle of death to re-birth has begun. It is my intention to transmigrate from the organic to the ethereal, back to the organic world. I sit…breathe in and breathe out, staring at the sunrise asking my soul to leave this subtle body.
With love, Sander
P.S. I found God and s/he wears shoes.”
I touched the neckline of my dress and pulled out his dog tags that I had hanging around my neck. Holding them tightly in my hand I repeated the last sentence – P.S. I found God and s/he wears shoes.
Crying, I looked down at my shoes… Breathe Emily, I said to myself, breathe.
Looking up from my shoes I saw Sander standing in the back of the church…
John Craig is the father of one girl, husband of one wife and the owner of one dog and one cat. But he doesn’t think the cat actually submits to the idea of having an owner. He is the owner of Craig Photography, a Pittsburgh-based photographer who has earned a B.A. in communications and has over 15 years of photography experience.