Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


After the Memorials

I've been to the two memorials for AH in the past couple of weeks. First was a public one that took place the last morning I was in San Francisco. The second one took place for our Sangha the week following. Immediately following each departure something kind of special happened.

First was trying to leave the public memorial at a chapel inside of cemetery grounds set above the Willamette River along a road that wound through cemetery grounds. In leaving CK waved me ahead, calling out, "since you know your way better."

I would then proceed to get the two of us lost. Plus another car behind CK who had the mistaken notion that the person in the lead car (me) would know what they were doing (wrong). So around and around we all went.

At first I was so demoralized by this. Not knowing where I was going. People thinking I should and now I've let them down. All that "Blah, Blah, Blah" of the Inner Critic layered atop my feeling beyond exhausted by the day. I'd slept fitfully, awoke at 4:30 to drive hard, fast, but safely, in order to make it just on time to the service. The incense offering, while beautiful, had me coughing painfully and my whole body ached.

Tears came to my eyes at this indignity of being lost in the cemetery. Soon however, the absurdity of the moment sunk in. Her we all were in our cars, in mourning, and unable to figure how to get away from the memorial chapel. It was as though we were in a comedy.

For several moments, as I tired to sort out the maze of the winding road, I would burst out in loud, helpless laughter.

"How inappropriate" I could hear my Inner Critic remark, perhaps in my Grandmother's voice.

Since I was the only one in the car, and a part of felt like AH would appreciate the absurdity of the moment, the voice didn't take hold. I laughed some more, wiped tears from my eyes and eventually sorted out how to get back onto the bit of winding road that lead out.

The next memorial was a week later for our Sangha. Several members of the women's practice group had decided to read some of AH's poems. I had picked one to read and doing so just depleted me of all the energy I had for the day. I left immediately afterward, feeling crushed, leaving behind the carrier I use for the cupcakes I'd brought, and going home to bed.

On the way home, my face pale and my eyes red from crying, I had to stop and get gas. The light had come on in the car and I didn't want to chance running out. I pulled in and asked the attendant to fill the tank. His face was worn down, he'd seen a lot of living, but his eyes were bright and compassionate.

He came back to ask me if I was alright. I said I'd just been at a friend's memorial service. He asked if she was young or old, was the death expected. I told him she was young and her death was unexpected. He shook his head in sympathy and compassion, said how sorry he was, and he then said he was going wash my windows.

When he came back again he told me his name was Ben and told me a really sad and terrible story of losing his wife of 2 years to a car accident. He found out as the driver of the tow-truck called to the scene to retrieve the vehicles. Truly a tragedy.

Ben made sure I knew that he hadn't told me to cause me more pain at hearing his awful story. He said that he told me so I knew that when he said he was sorry for my loss that he truly understands what it is to loose someone precious. I thanked him for his willingness to share with me, to make sure I felt his compassion for my suffering. He patted my hands with his beat up ones before I left and told me to drive safely.

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Thinking About AH in San Francisco

I've been.... Well, awfully busy for someone without a job. Let's see, I've been:

Taking Mom to see the naturopath/Chinese medicine doctor, plus errands, once a week for a few weeks. For those in the PDX Metro area that's from North Portland to Gresham to Lair Hill to Gresham to North Portland. For those for whom that makes no sense, just be assured that it is a lot of driving around. These days exhaust me physically and emotionally, often well into the following day.

I've been working with my Zen community to address the pain trying to practice with them as a vegan has been for CK and I. Trying to improve things for us all. This too is uncomfortable and painful. I feel singled out around being a vegan and experiencing this now reminds me that this sensation was one associated as dangerous as a child. It is very hard work to try and learn that being singled out can be an expression of loving-kindness.

I also have been making art and trying to work in the garden. These things have been really good.

CK and I also started making plans for our wedding ceremony. This is filled with all kinds of exciting emotions, mostly lovely.

Then CK got sick. Then I got it. Then we drove to L.A. to see Peter Gabriel perform, I was still quite sick. A day there and then driving up to San Francisco with a friend while CK took a flight back home to get to work. I was still sick and slept much of the drive up I5. The drive through the mountains, away from the Interstate was beautiful.

It was outside of Gilroy, CA, when I got the news that AH had died uxpectedly.

And it hit me in the chest, between the heart and the throat chakras. Hard, cold, dark, painful. Today's massage tried to work some of it loose.

Where I got the news the cellular signal wasn't great and CK was still in the air, flying home. Besides, I felt like I wanted to be stopped, not driving, somewhere safe to try and convey the news. I didn't phone her right away, waiting until I was parked outside my friends' house in San Francisco, alone to phone her. Ultimately she felt disappointed I hadn't left a message earlier. I just felt so stunned at the moment I got the news, I just froze.

I also started to think of my mother and all the challenges to her life I have witnessed, including those she dangers she chose. These memories found me as I drove alone out of Sunnyvale up I280 after dropping my friend off for a short visit there.

So there I was, in San Francisco, staying with one of my very closest friends, on vacation. There's really nothing could be solved by rushing home and KK, the friend I'm traveling has plans she is looking forward to as well. Heck, I have plans and many friends who enjoy my company who have made plans to spend time with me.

No amount of DO-ing will fix anything at all. There is this dichotomy of new pain, old pain, feelings of inadequacy, and a holiday in a city I really love to visit with people who love me. Just staying put, letting life tick on forward. Trying to let myself just enjoy the company in the present moment, the present place.

In the mornings there I woke to the constancy of traffic noise, the busyness of San Francisco. I'd lay in my friend's office with my mind thinking about AH, my Mother and CK. In and out, back and forth. Having been coughing hard for nearly a week I found it even harder to settle my mind by watching the breath because of the painful way my breath moved in my body.

It was a quieter visit than many. I was still coughing badly and conscious of the sorrow I felt. I didn't feel capable of rushing. I mostly rested and relaxed in the mornings. A bit later in the day my friend and I'd go out. One day to SFMOMA and the second afternoon he drove us across the bay to Berkeley. Each day was quieter and more reflective.

It was in the glorious, golden light of evening that streamed across Berkeley that I was just struck at how happy I am - how lucky, how fortunate.

Right there with that simple joy I felt welling up in me was this hard, sharp point of AH's death. My mind returning again and again to her smile, sometimes so sly, and so often gleaming in her eyes with mischievousness. Her hugs, the warmth I felt in each and every one of them. Her curiosity about life which makes her death so hard to process. I nearly felt silly, but I kept thinking how I'll miss her wonderful sweaters & scarves and how seeing her in them often brought a lightness to my heart when it felt heavy.

I commented to SJ as we walked that there is this strangeness in practice where we learn to accept that we feel all of these things at the same time. If we are present to everything there in front of us, it is all in there together. The awful and the glorious.

There is the unspeakable grief that sticks in the space between my heart and throat chakras, stealing my voice, incomprehensibly intertwined with a gratitude & happiness that is too precious for words. All there, all together. I noted that I could just sit down with a thump into that dark sorrow, or rush back pointlessly to Portland, but if I did so I'd be turning my back on the dear friend with me that moment and the incredible beauty surrounding us.

So I was simply happy strolling across Berkeley in the evening light. Choosing that brightness and wrapping it around the jagged edges. There's nothing that makes that sharpness go away, but there is some cushion between the points in allowing myself to be present to the joy that exists simultaneously alongside them. I'm grateful to have so many loving people in my life, so many safe havens where no one minds that I go from tears to laughter within moments.

Good-by, AH, I will miss you.
May we all be at ease.