A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 6

Blake is still just sleeping.

Day 150: but whose counting?

I could actually go out according to stage 3 rules of pandemic. I could go to a bar. I like sitting at Cagney’s with a glass of Butternut Chardonnay. With a book. At the short end where there is just enough light to read. Three guys will be sitting in the middle of the long side, separately, one talking to the owner, another flirting with the barmaid. Cagney’s is a Greek restaurant, oddly, and the owner goes to California to get wines no one else imports. It was tough discovering in the early days of the pandemic shut-down that this was the only hobby which got me out of the house. It was tough that the bars were closed for nearly five months. It was also tough that I had to stop drinking. Something about medication and continual dizziness.

But I don’t. Go out.

I get dizzy listening to the statistics. We are leveled off here in Toronto, fewer cases, fewer deaths. For now. I’ve given up keeping track of the deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. I packed it in around 100,000 departed souls. No the statistic that bothers me is the one that tells me my chances of succumbing. I am 84 and apparently have a 75% chance of surviving. That seemed like good odds when I had cancer. Not anymore. Surviving Covid-19 is an adventure I want to skip. If I want to drown, I’ll just jump in the pool, I’m that bad a swimmer.

So I stay in. Except for weekly early seniors’ hour at the supermarket.

I spend the better part of an hour every day in the mountains of Kern County, California. Via Facetime. My daughter calls every day, realizing that I’m in solitary for my own protection. I know the place well and some of the people and I have her catalogue what’s she’s doing  there. The mornings are getting cold at 6000 ft. Autumn already on the wind. And some days I spend Facetime in a suburb of Brussels, which has seen a rise in cases and less freedom of movement. My brother’s bubble seems to be quite large, but as I reported in chapter 2, he also seems to have had Covid. I see my sister up the street a few times a week without aid of device, but we thrash over Trump every night on the phone. We should be suffering over our Prime Minister’s charity scandal, but the fate of the world is not riding on it. (The first 5 posts are available at 115journals.com.)

Last time, I talked about my idea of destiny https://115journals.com/2020/07/30/a-hundred-days-of-solitude-chpt-5/

In that post, I proposed the idea that we signed up for our roles in life before we undertook incarnation, and that as bits and pieces of God, we had a role in planning events as well. I pondered whether some souls put up their hands to play bad guy. It seemed to me that all types of experience were necessary throughout our many incarnations.

(There are several references in the Bible to reincarnation which the early censors failed to catch.)

I talked to a friend about this idea and she was equally convinced that souls fell into the role of villain through lack of awareness. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Soygal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and  Robert Thurman’s Infinite Life among other books teach us the stages of dying, usually pictured as different kinds of light ending in the vast clear light of consciousness. It is essential to see that light in order to choose your next reincarnation wisely. Confused souls are swept willy-nilly into the next life. This is the way people find themselves incarnating as foundlings who grow into psychopaths or bad painters who found evil empires or rich boys who are given no love or spiritual grounding and become men without empathy. These books encourage us to meditate on this path to clear light so we are prepared when the time comes.

I find that I can’t even keep the stages in order and my experience with death tells me that it’s not  the only route. My father, who was the foundling, was not even likeable and even thoroughly evil and yet, I loved him. Before he died, he made an act of contrition, calling each of the children he could get hold of and saying ‘Sorry’.  I watched his cruel death. While many others wished him in hell, I knew that heaven makes no judgement. He had put in his time in hell on earth, as most of us do. I knew that he had been welcomed and that his nature there was as pure and good as it had been when he was born in a New Hampshire work house and sold to a ‘nice couple’. Years after his death, he appeared at the bedside of a loved one who was in the grip of acute psychotic terror. He assured her he was there to protect her. It was he, of course, who had caused the terror when she was a child.

In another case, a young-gish woman died in a state of rage, which no doubt prevented her from sorting out firefly light from moonlight or clear light. Almost instantly, several of us were aware of a great love she was sending back to us. We had striven to help her on her way, but the people closest to her fastened on her anger and grieved without consolation.

And then there was Blake, my ex-husband, whom we sat beside for ten days. He was grumpy with his pain and childlike, still arguing that he should be able to drive when he got out of hospital. Eventually, he sank into a sort of coma. We didn’t stop talking to him. The ‘girlfriend’, who said old men disgusted her, got into arguments with staff and had to be led away for private chats. His son and step-daughter talked to him and held his hand. I read him Rumi poetry and sang when we were alone. On the last day, we were all 4 there, telling stories about him. He could be very funny, sometimes intentionally. So we laughed a great deal. And cried too. As his executor, I was ready for my final duties, but when he shuddered out that last breath, I lost it. I could barely remember how to dial the undertaker, I was so shaken, So shaken, that I forgot his clothes and he went to the fire wearing a blue hospital gown.

My sister reported that he made an aerial pass through her living room that night, blue gown flying, clearly in bliss. The next glimpse we got of him, he was hurrying off to an advanced physics class, completely absorbed in his tablet and books.

Blake was not spiritually woke in his last years. He had some dementia. He left me his confirmation Bible, which he never, ever read. I have the King James Bible, the New English Bible, the NIV Study Bible and the Amplified Bible, so he thought I was the right recipient. He knew that to me the Bible was literature. He left his fervent wishes for Bernie Sanders, who was still in the running, and a colossal mess in his home and his affairs. I have cursed him many times as we sorted it out, but Blake is preparing to come back and implement a universal wage. Presumably, he will branch into advanced economics next semester.

Which is to say, with all due respect to the Dalai Lama, the Rinpoches and Thurman, that there are many ways to pass and not get swept into the gutter next time.

Having helpers is useful. I have chanted with the Taoists for the departed. I have lit candles and prayed by myself. During the pandemic, I have been very conscious of the dying and the dead. There is an army of us thinking and praying for them. And Angels. I worried initially about dying sedated on a ventilator. No worry now. I’ve opted out. DNR. At the worst, I’d just die sedated. Now I think it doesn’t matter. We don’t need religion to show us the way. And we don’t need to be there with a check list: “there goes the moonlight, clear light coming up.” We don’t even need mental health, although the one necessary thing may lead to that. All we need is love.




All Is Well: another contradiction to despair


“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
Hildegard of Bingem

“No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
The Desiderata

Faithful followers have already met my sister Georgia. Not as funny as my Brussels brother, but then she doesn’t smoke pot.* Georgia’s more into the wisdom market and she lives closer, just up the street here in westernmost TO.

I was weeping to her on the phone this morning and she started quoting Aunt Mae. I hate that. She said that Aunt Mae predicted I would be very unhappy for a long time, but that it would lead to ….enlightenment. At least I think she said ‘enlightenment’. By then I had my fingers in my ears and I was yelling, “Yabba dabba dabba dabba”. She’s such a good sister that she didn’t hang up.

I was crying because
-someone I love has realized there should be no more chemo
-a sailboat I love should, therefore, go to the scrap yard
-a sweet boy, who came to swim in my pool in 1975, and who has spent 25 years in solitary confinement for two murders and 14 rapes, is back in the news because he is applying for parole and I want him never to get out
-Donald Trump mocked Dr. Blasey Ford
-Brett Kavanaugh is going to be a Supreme Court Judge.

Now Georgia and I learned long ago that, despite what seemed like gross deficiencies, and even though one of us did not entirely accept it, that our lives were perfect. They were exactly what they needed to be.

Reasoning that out could be diverting but also unbearable. Better to retreat behind the ‘mystery of God’ or personal destiny. It’s just too hard debating the role of ‘evil’: how could there be a Jesus if there wasn’t a Judas. No one wants to go down the road to Hitler’s positive contribution to spiritual development.

Earth is a planet of pain. There must be others that aren’t.

It’s been a while since I could take comfort in God the Father. Not sure Georgia ever did. But I do believe very profoundly in Supreme Goodness, a divinity that we all embody, whether we let it shine or not. Even if we are drunken, 17-yr-old sex abusers. Even if we are sweet boys that turn into rapists and murderers. Even if we seem to have no redeeming quality.

And I believe, as does Georgia, that she and I chose this path we’re on, one we are stubbornly sticking to into old age. Why is a bit of a muddle, but not much. It’s about love.

In other news, my new glasses finally came and things are clearer.

* Georgia’s deadpan one-line stingers don’t hit you until long after you could have made a come-back.




The Opposite of Fate: destiny or random chance

I have borrowed the title of Amy Tan’s book, The Opposite of Fate as a focus through which to consider the week’s events, public and personal. This non-fiction book is a series of musings, leaning toward autobiography, in which the Chinese-American writer posits hope as fate’s opposite, according to The Penguin reader’s guide. As I recall, however, the opposite of fate is destiny: fate is something imposed, whereas destiny involves conscious choice. Some cultures, including Tan’s parents’ culture, believe in fate. Some, like the Greek culture, are even called fatalistic. Certainly, the idea of destiny involves more optimism. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being ground down by the gods, anymore than we like to admit that life is just a series of random events. We crave meaning as a way to survive.

Thornton Wilder in his 1927 novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, takes a fictional event, the collapse of an Inca rope bridge in 1714, as the starting point from which to examine the idea of fate. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, researches the lives of those who died in the collapse in order to see whether there is “direction and meaning in our lives beyond the individual’s own will”. He produces a large book and, for his pains, he and his book are burned in the public square. Wilder formulates a clear question but leaves the reader to decide the answer.

That question occurred to me as I listened to the 6 o’clock news last Monday, where the bombing of the Boston marathon was reported. Sifting quickly through fate and destiny, I arrived at random chance. Random chance can, of course, lead those so inclined to postulate that such things are tests and it is the way we respond to them that matters. On the off chance that is so, I resolved not be terrorized and demoralized. Living in a relatively terror-free city helped, as did Friday’s manhunt in Watertown and its positive outcome. But the agonizing puzzle remained.

In the very early hours of Tuesday morning, a member of my extended family passed away at the age of 104. He was a distant in-law, long since divorced, but still a part of the lives of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my nieces and nephews. They visited him on his birthday and holidays. I had seen the photos of the family gatherings on fridge doors but, until then, I hadn’t really thought about his advanced age. He was 27 years older than I am now, lucky double 7. He was older than either of my parents would be if they were alive. He had outlived my grandmother, who died at 96, a mere 19 years older than I am now. I was still doing the math when a friend phoned to ask me when I had last seen Sally S. A week ago, on Friday, I thought. The caller had seen her on Sunday and so, comparing our answers and others, her daughters arrived, forensically, at her death date, Tuesday April 16th. Unable to contact her, they had found her in her bed on Thursday.  She had apparently died on the same night as the 104 year-old, but there the similarity ended. She was 74. Personally, I’m inclined to go with Sally’s choice, if choice it was. I lack the oldster’s courage.

Meanwhile, I was knocking about asking why. Why did the ancient grandpa live so long?

My grandmother used to ask why she was still alive when she was only 85. Her husband had died 15 years before, but he still turned up in her dreams, telling her, for example, that the potatoes in the woodshed had sprouted blossoms and needed to be put in the ground. She still lived in their farmhouse, out of sight of the next house, surrounded by fields, pasture and woods and without transportation. Selfishly, I assured her, when she asked, that she was the center of the family and that her many grandchildren depended on that. Toward the end, she went to live in a nursing home where the staff was French and she was addressed not by her husband’s last name, which she had had for 78 years by then, but by her maiden name. Her question became ever more valid, but she was too muddled to ask it.

Do we come here with our own scripts and requirements, plans for what we need to do and possible exit dates? My Aunt Mae thought so and she thought there were several possible exit strategies, which we can choose depending on how complete our mission is or how consciously we are living. Did she mean we can avoid fate if we fulfill destiny? I know that she thought a child’s death did not mean a wasted life.

In answer to the question, why did the 104 year-old live so long, someone answered that it was just divinity wanting to experience itself as a very old man.

That darned divinity, I thought, always such a mystery.