A Piece of Memory

Since you’ve no doubt seen me write about my memoir in process, I decided to post this piece I just read, and remembered, learning to trust the journey I seem to always be on, in one way or another. Marion a yoga teacher, and a few months pregnant at this writing. We are at Kalani Honua, a retreat center near Kilauea on Hawaii Island. We both were off work and resting.

Marion and I lay in our beds Saturday morning. Time, that most precious gift of the protogenos gods, given and stretched, wrapped us in glorious freedom. Rain, pocking through the jungle, woke me briefly during the night, but morning wore a sapphire gown ruffled with bird song. The garden below our window glittered green, the wet lava chunks varnished to a high black gloss. Breakfast smells rose from the kitchen: coffee, pancakes, eggs. I pulled a muumuu over my nightshirt and walked downstairs to fill a tray. We ate in the room. If there’s one thing a nomadic life teaches, it’s how to make a comfortable home wherever the stopping happens to be. We sat cross-legged on the bed, my writing table, emptied of notes and Smith Corona, our dining table.

“I wish I could see where all this was heading, this whatever-we’re-doing-here thing,” I said. “You’ll go home to a family and a new baby. I don’t even know a direction.”

“Where do you want to go?” She popped the stem of a banana.

“That’s just it. If I knew where I wanted to go, I’d be there. It doesn’t appear I’m staying in Hawaii. I want to. It feels like home. But I don’t think it is. My dreams were showing me… maybe places. Maybe people. But I haven’t dreamed lately.”

She peeled the banana skin and tossed it onto the tray; a soft ripe smell hung in the air.  “What kind of dreams?”

I picked up the discarded peel, stalling for time, unsure how much to reveal. “Did you know banana trees talk? I lived above a banana plantation once, up on a mountain-side. Well, visited. On St. Lucia. We lived there one winter between semesters, one of those happy times. I’d sit on the patio to watch the sun come over the mountains and listen to the banana trees talk. I told you about Bill.” Marion nodded.

“Is that what you’re dreaming about?”

“No. I’m not dreaming about Bill. Or St. Lucia.” Marion looked at me. I looked down, tossed the banana peel onto the plate. “Things I’m running from like scary men and monsters; things I’m walking toward, a home in various stages of construction, lots of those; churches. Mom was in some of them—the dreams, not the churches. I’m entering the churches. I was dreaming of a man, brownish-hair, sorta my size, for several months.” I shrugged. “He’s usually in the house dreams. Sometimes there’s white all around him. He’s rescued me a few times. Not lately, but I’m not having monster or chase dreams anymore, so maybe I don’t need rescuing. Now I’m just a crazy lady in the jungle minus a spirit lover.” Marion smiled at my half-hearted attempt at humor but didn’t shift her gaze. Her eyes pinned me like a moth in a display case. “The other night, I woke and my arms were above my head, like this.” I lifted my arms, head back. “I was praying. That’s what I mean when I said I wish I could see where this was heading. What am I supposed to be doing? Or going, as the case may be.”

My own voice surprised me. It wasn’t tough or strong or questioning. Only quiet.

Marion smiled that slow, wise smile she wore during yoga. “Maybe we have to give up measuring by any yardstick or any road or any doing. Maybe we have to accept. The greatest power lies in accepting. Accept the gifts and the challenges. Give up judging our lives in order to stop judging others.” She broke off a piece of banana and handed it to me. “Not knowing is probably the biggest gift of all. If you were sure what was coming, maybe you’d think too hard and decide not to do it.” She laughed. “Look around you—friends, smiling faces, peace. People who love you. What’s so wrong with that?”

I blinked. “Bhante Kamalasiri said that. He was my teacher in D.C.—a Buddhist teacher. I loved his name. Bhante Kamalasiri.” The syllables’ sweetness rolled off my tongue. “From Sri Lanka. He barely came up to my shoulder. About twenty minutes into sitting meditation when our arms and legs were aching, he’d say, ‘Lift the corners of your mouth.’ And we all did…at least I did, I expect everyone did…and we’d smile.

“One day, I asked to talk to him…a bunch of stuff happening in my life; I was worried about my son. Bhante fixed tea and we sat in the library. He listened patiently to my litany of worries. When I ran down, he said, ‘But Janet. You are with a friend. You have a warm cup of tea in your hands. What is so very wrong right now?’”

Marion laughed suddenly and rocked, arms wrapped below her stomach. “That… is…so… monk-like….” She stopped, inhaling as deep a breath as she could. “They say the best things. He’s right, you know.”

Yeah. I knew.


Me and Job and E-mail

Woe Is Me!

“Woe is me,” says Job. In fact, throughout 42 chapters, except for 12 verses at the beginning of chapter 1 and 6 verses at the end of chapter 42, Job woes loudly to anyone who will listen, including God, who finally thunders back and essentially says, who are you, anyway, to whine so much.

A passage from Job was the first reading from the Sunday Lectionary this week; in the second reading, a passage from Mark, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. The readings from this time of year usually have to do with healings.

I’ve always liked the idea of Job even if 42 chapters of woe gets a little tedious. We’ve all taken turns of being Job, I expect, as we whine and complain why me, why isn’t my life moving forward, why does my boss treat me so badly, etc etc. We don’t often end up with our bodies covered in boils, as Job did, but sometimes it feels that way.

We’re two and a half weeks from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent and the questions posed in this post-Lenten period deserve reflection: how do I heal? who am I and how do I fit into my environment? what am I supposed to be doing in my life? how do I live in order to have meaning in my life? how do I live the realities of pain and suffering?

I’d had two days of mental exhaustion and suffering by Sunday morning: the email address I consider my professional address and which has been with me through all of AT&Ts many changes from dial-up to dsl to absorbing sbcglobal to u-verse wireless disappeared. The loss occupied many hours and several technicians. By late Friday night, after being told twice that a tech person had come to the end of his/her second tier competence and couldn’t retrieve the address even though they could see it, and not only that but there was no one above them to refer to, I went to bed feeling dislocated–friends and colleagues across the various countries where I’d lived had that address. I was adrift with no electronic identity and no connection to web site/blog/ social media/or the world. A very odd feeling.

Thankfully, Saturday, after more calls and more tech people, I finally found a young man who considered his job an adventure and dug through the bowels of cyber language to pull the address forward again. I was once more connected. I was not alone. I was brought back into community and healed.

And of course, I wasn’t alone, ever, but helplessness in the face of trial often feels very alone. I could physically survive losing an email address, even an address that I’d had for some fifteen years, but still, the helplessness and loss felt real.

Life is about loss. Loss is the way of the world. Why me is a valid question but in truth, questions are not essential to living. The courage and faith to live a meaningful life is what’s essential, and “faith” whatever else it is, is an adventure.

What’s essential is the way we live with one another. Meaning comes through relationships and community. Not through stuff, we all know meaning doesn’t come through stuff, and yet that’s often what we accumulate. The people Jesus heals return to participation in a community: Peter’s mother-in-law gets up and serves food; the lepers return to the temple; the broken return to the family; the demons banished. How many demons are you carrying around in your head?

Perhaps this Lenten season, instead of “giving up” something that you will only take back, you might want to consider what you need to “give up” in order to heal. Anger? Judgment? Financial fears? Self-pity? Resentment?

What needs healing in your life?