The Stranger?

A warm evening melting into night, soft breeze rippling Aspen leaves. I was meandering home through back alleys after a sumptuous massage, floating in a dream world. And then. A man, solid, silver-haired, stepped out of his car and faced me. “Can you tell me how to get to McCloud?”

 

As I took in this surprise apparition before me, a dagger of pain – sharp, searing – arrowed into my chest. So intense, I had to put my fingers to my heart and massage it. His face was steely, as if he was making a concerted effort to hold back tears, as if he knew once he let down even a little bit, he would collapse into a thousand shards of glittering, shattered glass.

 

I stumbled over words. McCloud? I could see it in my mind’s eye, the tiny lumber town 10 miles east of here. I’d been there dozens of times but how to get there? How to convey to a man with a truck load of pain the easiest, simplest route to wherever it was he needed to be?

 

In the few moments it took to point to the main boulevard, explain that he needed to take 89 East, my heart had contracted into an unruly, vicious fist. This man was in deep pain, some electric sorrow so intense, it shot out of him, suffocating the air around us. I tried to breathe, to recall the sweet ease of only minutes ago. But I was swaying on my feet, working to balance this abrupt shift of sensation.

 

For a second, I stared into his piercing blue eyes, my being flooded with a kaleidoscope of emotion. I wanted to weep for him and I wanted that peaceful mist to descend again.

 

For hours after, his image seared in my brain. The way he held himself, tightly, with extreme care, probably unaware that he was broadcasting the truth of his sadness, that his grief was so immense, it had penetrated beyond the solidity of form.

 

Days later, the ache of his being drifted through my awareness. I felt sadness, regret that I hadn’t been able to step out of my cosy dream world to offer him something. Anything. I could have asked, “Are you okay?” or “How can I help? I could have folded my arms around him, made a blanket of love and solace and consolation for this man who was treading this undulating path of life as nobly as he possibly could. But I could sense he was in a hurry. He had somewhere – perhaps not pleasant – to be. And he was a stranger.

 

But was he? He couldn’t be that separate from me or I wouldn’t have imbibed his pain so directly, so profoundly. He was a companion on this earth, someone I might have offered an ounce of support to, made his journey a little less harrowing. But I did nothing, only waved him off. Did I even wish him well? Did I offer specific enough directions? Was it excuse enough that I was not quite in my body even as he brought me back to it with lightning speed?

 

If we were to have a do-over, would it be any different? Could I stretch across that vast bridge of etiquette, of societal norms, and take his hand? Say, “I feel your struggle, dear man?” Brother? Friend?

 

He entered my body. Surely that was permission enough to admit we were connected. As we all are, clumsily moving forward with as much dignity and grace as we can. Let us offer a hand, a warm word when a fellow traveler crosses our path. We are more intimate with each other than we can imagine. Let us lay down our protective cloaks and embrace whatever is before us. Together, holding each other, we can get to wherever we’re going more easily, and surely, our ultimate destination is the very same: Home, oh god, Sweet Home.

 

6/12/16woman-hugs-man

Destiny

One spring afternoon, my friend Lee and and I were driving home after a 5 day silent retreat. Just north of Shasta, on I-5, a beautiful deer raced across the road in front of us. Though Lee braked hard, we couldn’t avoid him and the bumper of her car hit his hind leg. He flew through the air and landed on the meridian behind us.

While Lee called Highway Patrol, I raced back towards the deer. He was on his side, breathing heavily. In tears, I lay down beside him, stroking his warm fur, singing softly to him. I asked Lee what the police would do. “Oh, shoot him.” She said. I was stunned. Another man who chanced by offered to slit his throat to put the gorgeous animal out of his misery. I couldn’t stomach either option and just kept on loving him.

As grace would have it, a beautiful man in our sangha happened by and he quietly sat down next to us and laid his hand too on the deer. Together, we just breathed silently with him, ushering all the love from our hearts towards our new friend.

By the time the policeman arrived, the deer had eased out of this world, his huge brown eyes staring into infinity. I was supremely grateful for this as the cop kicked the deer hard, declaring, “he’s dead.”

Although Lee and and I were badly shaken, I remembered that it was the very same day my beloved Ramana, the Indian sage, passed on in 1950, a radiant star shooting across the sky in his wake. Ramana was like St. Francis of Assisi. All the creatures who came into his sphere fell in love with him. And he too had once placed his palm on his dying deer’s heart, the other on his head. He held them there until Valli issued his last breath and was liberated.

That night, as I watched the shadow of earth draw its cloak over the burnt orange moon, it seemed a sign: how our true light, no matter how it appears, can never be extinguished.

Lovers

There are some things we just fall in love with, we can’t help it. people, animals, the natural world. For me, it’s a man, two cats, a dog, and water. Perhaps because of my history, I’ve always been drawn to animals because they’re safer than most humans. And as a result, they seem to be drawn to me. When I lived off the grid in Weed, California, I’d pedal down Old Stage Road and share intimacies with every horse I encountered. When I moved to Mt. Shasta and returned for a visit, the horses came galloping down the field to the fence and we traded soft strokes and kisses. Just last week I came upon a donkey in a garden and we warmed to each other in moments. Last winter, a tiny bird got almost smothered by an avalanche of snow by my garage. I thought he was dead as he lay mute on a mound of sparkling white. Whenever I passed, I sang lullabies to him and wished him a safe passage to his new life. But hardly a week passed when I was drinking in the beauty from my sliding glass door, I saw something move. Across the garden, this little bird had picked himself up, shaken off the snow, and stood staring directly at me. I was astounded and began to sing softly to him. And miracle of miracles, he set off on his little claws across the hills of snow towards me. I was convinced he’d stop before he got too near. But no, on he trundled, brave warrior, in baby steps, right into my waiting arms. Oh, I combed my fingers along his bristled fur as he gazed deeply into my eyes. When I set him down, he inched into a burrow in the snow and exhaled his final breath. It remains an honor true and profound that he chose to spend his last moments with me. When spring melted into summer, a ginger cat arrived in my garden. He seemed nervous and I just whispered to him as he wandered through the grasses. Weeks passed until one evening as I sat out on the porch, he jumped into my lap. I offered him my palms to soothe his back and he lapped it up. Over time, he made tentative steps towards my front door and one fine afternoon, mustered the courage to come inside. 

I hefted him into my arms, delighted. He was a heavy boy, obviously well fed, but he seemed to enjoy his daily visits, which became longer and longer, until he followed me into my bedroom one evening and spent the night, nestled on my tummy. Each morning, at 5:59 a.m. precisely, he meowed to wake me so we could play for an hour or two. I’m not sure what timetable he subscribed to but it surely wasn’t mine. Yet the hours of lost sleep were more than worth the growing love we shared. Then one morning in the fall, as I was preparing for a trip, loading up my car, a second cat appeared. Well actually, he was more of a kitten, tiny with silky black and white fur. In a word, adorable. I was marveling at the sight of him and had picked him up when Ginger appeared. Well, the black kitten, a quarter the size of Ginger, leaped out of my arms and lunged at the big cat. He moved with such ferocity that Ginger scarpered away. Gypsy, as I later called the new arrival, chased him under my car and proceeded to leap into the passenger seat himself, as if to declare who was boss. After that, it was a wrestling match between the pair. I felt torn, loving them both, feeling loyal to Ginger because he’d arrived first yet helpless but to be wholly smitten by Gypsy. Gypsy took to my bed in rapid order and nuzzled right under my chin, purring all the way through the night, I might add, in no particular hurry to greet morning. I sensed by his manner that he too had an owner who cared for him. So I fed neither of them. I tried keeping them in separate rooms and dividing my time between the two but that soon became exhausting. So I opted for giving preference to the one who showed up first on any given day. I remember one particularly snowy night, cosying on the couch with Gypsy when Ginger showed up at the glass door. My heart ached to watch him sitting hopefully outside in the snow, waiting for an invitation. I told him how very much I loved him – through the glass – and how I’d welcome him any time he got here first. It was a tricky game but I was happy to play, enchanted by the affection and undying loyalty of both beauties. By December, Gypsy had grown into a full fledged cat. And then my life changed dramatically. It became clear that I had to move house immediately. I was grief stricken, having put off finding out who the cats’ owners were and just enjoying the time we shared. Then the neighbor came over to borrow a wine opener and told me that both cats belonged to a young woman around the corner who was hardly ever home. So I plucked up my courage and after several attempts, walked up to her door and rang the bell. She seemed surprised to see me. I asked if I could speak with her and she invited me in. We sat on her living room floor as I poured out the tale of two kitties (!) who’d spent most of their days at my house and now I was having to move and well, I’d fallen in love, dare I say it, especially with Gypsy and well, if she ever wanted to part with him… At the mention of his name, Gypsy sauntered into the room and sat at my feet as I stroked him and wept. The young woman seemed surprised that the two cats had been warring as she said they lived peacefully in her house. She also said, devastatingly, that she was quite attached to Gypsy, whose real name was Juan Diego. She’d rescued him from the parking lot of the local health store where she worked and where someone had left him soon after he was born. Even though he’d spent most of his life with me, I had no rights to him. I had to take a deep breath between my tears, thank her for her time, and leave. For good. A friend told me several weeks later that he drove past my old house and both cats were sitting in the garden looking around as if they were still wondering where I’d gone. My new home was a rustic cabin that perches on the edge of the wetlands. It has a superlative, front row seat to the magnificence of the mountain, and is probably not a great home for a cat, given the variety of wildlife beyond the back door. Still, I missed my furry friends terribly. And then… on New Year’s Eve, I asked the man I was seeing if he’d bring his dog over so we could welcome the fresh year together. I’d barely met Mitchell before that. But in he sauntered, all circling tail, and bright eyed. He’d been a rescue dog who was about to be put down when my friend took him home. He’d been brutally abused as a puppy and barked at almost everyone, particularly men. I learned that at first, Mitchell crawled around like Bambi, paws splayed as he shambled forward. It took months of love and special care before he felt safe to inch himself off the ground and stand upright on all fours. My friend traveled a lot and I felt for Mitchell, being home alone all day with only a bowl of dry food to comfort him. The three of us took a walk that new year’s day and oh, the heart pain washing off Mitchell was profound. And back home, sitting next to him, I thought my heart would crack with the weight I felt. We looked at each other in a moment of true communion and all his pent up grief washed up to the surface of my heart and I burst into tears, his or mine, who can say? But I lay down next to him and fondled him, stroking his sad body, as he somehow shared with me how lonely he’d been and how cold and dark the house was. And I vowed that this noble creature, so good and patient, would not suffer any more. So Mitchell moved in with me. Every morning, he’d wait for me at the bottom of the spiral staircase as I came down from the sleeping loft. I’d fall to my knees and sing him made up songs with him, of course, as the hero. And it was exquisite to watch him slowly shake off his innate tension, his fears, and blossom into a relaxed, wide open lover with the innocence of a puppy. I’d massage his body from top to bottom, and his paws would untense themselves, as he allowed me full access to his beautiful being. It was a love affair made in Heaven but materializing on earth. We snuggled and cuddled for hours and he’d follow me from one part of the cabin to the other. Wherever I sat, he lay by my feet. I bought juicy wet food and offered him treats occasionally and he thrived. It was both heart breaking and heart opening to watch him unfurl like a late flower. And then my friend said it was time for him to come back home. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. This life of ours is so temporary, so fleeting. So many new beloved friends floating on and off the horizon. Easy come, easy go, I consoled myself as best I could. Enjoy what you have while you have it. And move on. I remembered reading a spiritual teacher who said, “If God gives you a red sports car, savor the experience. Enjoy driving it. But if God takes it away again, don’t complain.” So I eventually got used to coming downstairs in the morning to a quiet house, to the silence of no dog leaping up and down in ecstasy when I came home, to the absence of snuggle fests we’d shared on the floor. But I have to be honest. I did miss my beautiful pals. And one afternoon, I decided to go to the Humane Society and just pet the resident cats and dogs. Just love them and feel their love in return. But of course, as soon as I walked in, a virgin white cat caught my eye. He was stunning, endowed with a blue eye and a green eye. Long haired, silky, he smelled like fresh milk. As I held out my hand to him, he leaned forward and licked each finger with a tenderness that moved me deeply. Before I knew it, I’d signed up to adopt him. I’m not someone who usually makes rash decisions but I just couldn’t resist this loving lad. So home he came, little Bowie (named after David, who also had different colored eyes). And though he was shy at first, he now leaps into my bed around 5 a.m. (when Ginger would have been leaving!) and settles down next to my pillow, purring like a warming car. He drops dozens of snowy fur balls around the house – I could almost make a hat of out them. And he may have a girlfriend now. He plays out in the meadow beyond my cabin most days. And I see him racing around with an array of felines – that is, when he’s not chasing flies or racing up trees. 

And though no one else can claim him as their own (and therefore take him away), and though I cherish every sweet moment of communion we share, I let him roam freely. Knowing there are bears, birds of prey, even cougars roaming round – creatures that would love a little white beauty. But slowly, slowly, I’ve been mastering the art of cherishing the moment and when the time comes, letting go.Image

Circle Of Love

After my father died, I couldn’t feel him. For about a year, I would search for a sign of him, sometimes a dove – his bird, symbol of peace – would appear on my birthday. The dove would settle in the eaves and sing his mournful lament and my heart would break open and imbibe. Then I began to have strange feelings, heaving depression, wanting to die, profound pain in the body. I’d have ferocious headaches, something unknown to me before this. And I’d find myself holding grudges against someone, stubbornly holding on to being RIGHT. After a while, I realized these symptoms were my father’s. That the shell of the ego when it is formed is not only yours, but is the sum of the relations among you and both of your parents, a three-way affair. I had internalized so much of my father’s angst, fear, righteousness and now that he was no longer in a form that could embody these, they manifested through me. For three years, I wandered in a haze, flailing, uninspired to do much of anything. I distracted with movies or food until I felt numb. There were moments of such intensity, I felt I couldn’t bear it any more. I prayed to God to take me. And somehow I stumbled through if not forward, hoping it was healing something for him. And then, fours years to the day that he passed, I went to Satsang and an enormous presence arose inside me. Words fall short of describing how it felt. Perhaps the closest I can come is to say that this presence felt like God, the true Self, saturated in love, in light. And into that hugeness, my father had finally dissolved. An overwhelming sense of peace washed over me, like a bath of grace. And just like that, my father was no more. He had vanished into, how can one speak it, infinity. Tears of gratitude, of all-encompassing love overflowed from my eyes, now seeing the truth of everything. The story of my father – after all the wild wrangling, the collision of love and need, the suffering that yoked us together – had melted back into the source out of which it arose. Not my father AS Presence but my father vanishing back, subsumed into the all pervasive Presence that he always was. And as I slowly emerged from meditation, a vision arose: vivid as if it were happening right now. My father at the front gate of our house in Dublin, white hanky in hand, frantically waving me off as I left for America, his face a sunbeam of smiles. I watched him get smaller and smaller, shrinking until there was only a gossamer hint of tissue waving in the breeze. Goodbye, dearest Eily, travel safe, be happy, goodbye.