My mother turned 92 today. I called her.
“How are you?” she asks.
“t’s crazy around here, what with covid,” I tell her.
“I don’t want to hear it anymore,” says she.
“And stop saying crazy, Chavale. Try to put away the word crazy and say something else.”
“You mean, something more precise?”
“Yes,” she says uncertainly, voice fading a bit. “Something like that.”
My brother likes to say that precision is a spiritual practice. You can be lazy and say it’s all crazy, or you can really pay attention. So I got more spiritual with my mother:
- The streets continue to be fairly empty, lots of parking spaces available, and the traffic lights seem to blink for their own entertainment.
- All you have to do when you go out is put on a little eye make-up because no one can see the rest of your face anyway.
- I’ve gotten more sensitive to the smile and laughter wrinkles around people’s eyes.
- I’ve started seeing black masks, which I didn’t see earlier, and more masks with logos.
- I say a heartfelt “Thank you, stay well” to store staff that serve me because I know they’re more exposed than I am.
- I once hated the phone, but now I appreciate every single call that comes in.
- When the Green River Zen group meets on Zoom I notice people’s small squares of home, humbly reminding me that even as we meditate, meet, and talk as one, each one has a personal life, personal challenges, personal practice.
- I notice when people sit in the dark so that you can barely see their faces and when they choose to sit in the light.
- I love seeing couples sharing that same little square.
“Finally, mom, I’ll tell you a little secret. You’re ready? I hugged and was hugged by two different people. Don’t tell anybody.”
“I want to hug you, too,” she says.
“I’m working on it,” I tell her. “Just don’t shut down the airport.”
My mother lives in Jerusalem, my brother 5 minutes away from her, and he plans to get married before end of summer. No restaurant or banquet facility will host them because of the virus. Do a small, potluck wedding outdoors, I suggested to him (it’s his third marriage). By hook or by crook, I’ll get there.
At the time of a virus, some of us wish for our family again. Our husband, our brother, our sister, our parents. You want to take shelter in someone’s arms, the person closest to you, who’s been there with you for so long. I remember that Bernie, after the stroke, could only raise one arm to hug me.
I continue to take boxes out of the house. Some 15 boxes will go out within the next few days, followed by various trips to the dump. That’ll be the end of Round 2. I give it lots of attention because I know what this is about. I’m making space for an unknown future.
“You can finally come into your own,” a friend said to me. She had just lost her husband as well, but she talked about mine, Bernie Glassman. “Bernie relied on you and needed you, he made demands on your attention and your time, he needed your energy. I’m not talking about after the stroke, I’m talking before. Now that he’s not here, you can discover who you really are, your own power, your own voice. It’s time.”
“You were his backbone,” someone else told me.
I would do anything for him to still be here, with me, stroke or no stroke. Instead I pack and tape shut boxes, look through historical documents, page through history with my fingers. I found his notes, exactly 50 years ago, of preliminary koans he did with his teacher, Maezumi Roshi.
So who am I exactly? I wonder about that even in this blog. How honest can I be? I don’t want to write as a Zen teacher, I don’t want to write as any kind of teacher. Can I stop worrying about what others think? Zen doesn’t encourage focusing on a personal self, it often points you away towards an absolute reality. At the same time I can mine that personal self for experiences, insights, humor, and beauty. Can I let myself do that fully? Will others get turned off, make a face, unsubscribe?
It’s not a matter just of caring what others feel, it’s also a matter of re-interpreting and re-imagining one’s life. Of creating and re-creating a new story. My life has such different parts, and rather than rejecting any, I prefer to create new connections between these contrasting parts, based on a fully lived, fully experienced life. And go public with them.