My entrepreneurial pal Dawn Moore
sells chic must-have goodies to enhance your living space.
When an upscale lifestyle magazine featured her Los Angeles home, it was a 16-page full-color spread of my Jealousy. The green-eyed monster drooled all over her Ming porcelain. It hunkered down on her French settee. What is a settee, anyway? I plunged elbow deep into the horse manure of my envy in order to recover my previous affection.
I emailed her a cheery congratulations.
She responded immediately. "BTW," she said. "I love your blog."
Ohhh. My words were her treasures, perhaps displayed on her turn-of-the-century Rococo game table. Elegantly back-lit, because after all, she has exquisite taste.
While visiting a Trappist monastery for a weekend retreat into the silence, I was pleased to learn that a walking trail began just beyond the front door. Along the initial half-mile of the path, monks had planted shoulder-high crosses made of tree limbs, to represent the Stations of the Cross. A wooden sign was nailed into each cross, identifying an aspect of Christ’s suffering along His march to crucifixion. Catholic faithful walked the Stations as a spiritual pilgrimage.
For me, they represented a contemplative stroll through Ozark Forest and a challenge to my irrational fear of getting lost, the latter deepening as I aged. I envied friends who sensed God’s love while hiking in the woods.
I passed Station I: Judgement. The trail ran alongside a gorge, a creek meandering at the bottom. II: Carries. I followed the gentle slope downhill. III: Falls Down. I bored the location of an uprooted tree into my memory, hoping it would help me find the way back––as if crosses planted three yards apart were insufficient signposts. The trail bottomed out where the creek trickled over it. VII: Falls Again.
I started toward a bench just ahead, when my knees began to tremble. I wasn’t even lost, but my knees didn’t care. I'd hit an invisible wall at the edge of my comfort zone. Anxiety would turn to panic. It always did. To hell with contemplative strolling. In my haste to retreat, I nearly crashed into Station X: Gamble.
I risked three more steps. The bench within reach, yet my terrified feet refused to close the gap.
Ashamed, I raced back toward the monastery. Irrational fear, Dawn. You should have stuck it out. Rested, panting, at Sation V, which I hadn’t noticed on the way down: Compassion. I traced each letter with my fingertip, the painted wood cool and smooth to the touch.
Tomorrow I’ll walk a little further.
Cancer had shrunk Mother’s sweater-girl figure until she was a speck in her king-sized bed. Magazines she could no longer read lay scattered around her. Her sketchpad topped a stack of books on the floor. Brass figurines crowded her nightstand: Lord Ganesha on his throne, Shiva and Shakti intertwined and Buddha touching the earth. Her earrings hung from a cork board leaning behind them. Next to it, a bottle of Chanel #5.
When a hospital bed replaced her California king, she looked exposed and temporary, lying in the center of a stripped-down room.
She liked to sit in a rocking chair in the living room, until fatigue overcame her. I helped her back to bed, sliding backward in my sock feet as she shuffled forward facing me. She held my hands like a baby learning to walk. A muffled moan, buried deep in her throat, punctuated each scuff of her feet. We stopped to rest, alone in the house, toe-to-toe in the grief-shrouded hallway.
I searched her Natalie Wood eyes for the woman who’d waited up for teenaged me to come home from dates. For the woman who’d lived in swashes of color: pink lipstick, turquoise jewelry, violet dresses. For the woman who’d painted our dining room red.
She looked right back. Unflinching attention replaced the morphine stare. I was startled for a beat. And then I leaned toward her, careful to maintain our fragile balance, yet longing to close the space between us. Remnants of our past––harsh words and good intentions––drifted away on our mingled breath. Her gaze drew me in, cradled me halfway between this world and the next.
No longer daughter.
No longer Mother.
Men wearing dark suits wheeled her out of the house, through the living room where my family had gathered, past the rocking chair where Dad sat weeping. I curled up in the hospital bed, tucking her blankets under my chin. Eternity sung me to sleep and Chanel #5 wafted through my dreams.
I lingered with friends outside the metaphysical bookstore, after our meditation class. We puzzled about how to sustain the sense of connection that had permeated our past hour in the silence. An unshaven man wearing stained trousers, wrinkled shirt, and a baseball cap strolled toward us, singing. His good cheer was contagious, the perfect complement to my aspirations of inclusion.
“Hi,” I said.
He stopped. “How are you young women this fine evening? Would you have any spare change?”
We reached into our wallets, each placing coins into his hand.
“Much appreciated. Let me sing you a song.”
The suggestion embarrassed me. Ick, you don’t have to do tricks for the money.
He launched into a solo that resembled an out-of-tune violin. It turned into an incomprehensible monologue. He wagged his finger in our faces. "G*&@#d people, think they own the f*&^g world …"
I nodded in faux sympathy. Truth be told, I had expected him to perform a trick for the money. I’d expected him to disappear.
He stormed off in full rant, then stopped, turned around, and tipped his hat. “I’m going to get a beer, thanks to you ladies.”
Now I may have suspected he’d spend the money on liquor, but he wasn’t supposed to say it. I wanted to snatch back my seventy-five cents. It had strings attached. I’d paid that panhandler to leave me alone, so I could remain safe in my spiritual bubble.
Kindness is a privilege for the giver, not a gift to the recipient. It doesn’t expect the beneficiary to be polite, stop drinking, or move along. It does not anticipate future benefits or recall that it gave at the office.
Because I still do those things, I have much to learn. Thank goodness the bodhisattvas of the street will continue to approach me with their alms bowls.
Well past sunrise, time to get up. I brushed my teeth, mint tingling my taste buds. And then I paused at the bedroom window to reconsider my commitment to the day.
Storms had buried our patio under white powder and sculpted hoary mounds atop planters. The skeleton of a rose bush danced in the wind. Our deck umbrella hung in frozen folds impervious to the bluster that had overturned Ben’s hammock. It seemed impossible anyone had ever rested there. Birches stretched peeling spines toward heaven, as their branches reached out across the yard, abandoned by robins, sparrows, cardinals, and jays. I mourned the absence of their morning chatter.
I slumped back to bed, but winter stalked me there, too, robbing me of sleep. Like a cold breath down my neck, an air current from the furnace sneaked under the blankets. I wrapped covers around me tight as a mummy; still, I shivered. The comforter offered no comfort.
There’s a deficit in the amount of attention I get, versus the amount I crave. Not so with my husband. The receptionist at the Y greets him by name. She tells him her college plans. At the Kirtan, an Indian violinist (they’ve never met) invites him to his next concert. “We need more people like you,” the musician says. I agree, but how the heck did the other guy know? At the department store, the clerk tells him about her son’s fifth deployment. Hey, what about me? Over here, wearing the sweet smile. I’m charming. Funny, too. You bet.
I can’t get enough attention. If I had my way, I’d get as much as my sweetie. No, as much as a movie star. No, as much as the Leader of the Free World. They’d discuss me on Fox and CNN.
On the other hand, a spotlight that bright would wither my fragile psyche.
Can’t get enough. Don’t want too much. When attention deficit disorder strikes again, I‘ll consider this: My poor mind will never find satisfaction.
“I need your help working through a problem. Can we talk in the morning?” My husband’s request filled my heart with love. I loved giving advice. Loved solving problems. Loved that he finally acknowledged my superior intelligence.
Four a.m., our talking time, rolled around. “You awake?” he whispered.
“Oh yeah.” Alert. Cheerful. Ready to lay some wisdom on him.
He described a challenge with one of his friends. Ahh. Relationships. My area of expertise. The longer he spoke, the more clear the solution became. I held my breath. I planned to insert my counsel as soon as he paused.
A little voice said, “Try listening.”
The advice balloon deflated.
Hubby continued, winding through the tangles of his friendship, until his story ended. In the dark, he couldn’t see my face scrunched up in an effort to keep quiet. He’d asked for my help. Surely he was waiting for my insight. It felt awkward, even rude, to withhold it. He rolled on to his side. The bed squeaked. The furnace kicked on. A dust bunny drifted across the hardwood floor.
An hour later (okay, maybe ten seconds) Hubby said, "Thanks, Honey. After talking this over with you, I know exactly what to do."
Yeah. It was about time he recognized how smart I was.
The Levis were tighter than usual. After snacking my way through the holidays, I doubted my jeans had shrunk in the wash. So, while the doctor was treating Hubby for a pulled muscle, I stepped onto the scale. The digital read-out shaped itself into a number. 146.
The doctor laughed. “That’s what everybody says in January.”
As we walked to the parking lot, I turned to Ben. “We will not be eating again until March.”
“I’m going to search your car for contraband snacks.”
“We’re heading to the Y as soon as we get home.”
Panic fizzled before we pulled into our garage. In the past, panic led to the opposite side of beauty-angst: screw it; I’m going to eat what I want; who cares, anyway. This time something weird happened. Calm.
It was clear that my established treadmill/yoga routine would continue. Clear that weight had not caused my suffering, because those pounds remained exactly the same before and after the scale’s report. Clear that the cause of suffering was a number. A thought. One of a legion of thoughts that will rise and fall for as long as I live. Just like my weight.
A friend’s annual holiday letter reported that her schedule was “… light this year." Five days in Burma, five in Thailand, a week in Virginia, and two five-day reunions.
Her life astonished me. Exotic travel. Reunions. How did she learn to accumulate these adventures? How did she acquire people with whom to reunite?
The other night, I spent five hours on the couch in front of the television. From the news to a sitcom to a movie and then the weather. The following morning, I awoke to a deafening barrage of self-recrimination. Five hours wasted. I vowed to introduce activities into my schedule. I’ll volunteer to read to pre-schoolers. (This time I’m serious.) I’ll hike that trail behind the yoga studio. Drive to the botanical gardens. Invite someone to lunch. Or the art museum. Or Thailand.
Peeking from under a corner of the comforter, I caught sight of my reflection in the closet mirror across from the bed. Me … looking at me … looking at me ….
The mental racket stopped.
This is my life.
Rolled out exactly as The Great Intention Behind Everything intended it.
I sit in front of the computer. I sit in front of the television. In between, I nap. If The Great Intention places a trip to Thailand in my future, it will occur to me to buy a plane ticket.
I’m excited to announce my book will be available on Amazon by the end of January. Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over My Principles on the Road to Transformation. A seeker examines her foibles and accidentally makes peace with politicians, Precious Moments, family violence and the emptiness of life.
Wouldn’t you know it, just as I was reaching around to pat myself on the back, one of those foibles showed up: I’m afraid somebody’s going to be pissed.
Leslie will be angry because I told the world Dad gave her a black eye. Dad won’t be mad––he died in 1994, but his friends will be irate on his behalf.
Collectors of Precious Moments will be offended because, even though I tried to be neutral in that essay, there was some sarcasm seepage.
Ben will be upset because I wrote too much about him. My first husband will be annoyed because I wrote too little about him. My college friend will fume because she had to find out about it through the alumni magazine. Oh, Lord. Why didn’t I call her? Should I do it now?
To play it safe, I changed a few names in some chapters, which was an exercise in self-delusion. Those pseudonym'd people will recognize themselves. They’ll be mad.
It’s not a book. It’s another opportunity to face my favorite demon.
Hello fear. Have a cup of tea.