After Bernie had his stroke he was taken to Franklin County Medical Center, and from there down to Bay State Hospital in Springfield, 45 minutes south of us. I still remember driving down US 91, telling his daughter and my brother the news and seeing the ambulance transporting him in my rearview mirror, veering to the right lane to let them pass. Once in Springfield, he was taken to Emergency, then to Intensive Care, then to Neuro-ICU, then down to a regular bed, and then to Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital—all in 6 days.
Some 7 weeks after his stroke he came home. He moved downstairs to an office turned into a bedroom, then two months later upstairs to our bedroom, with a layout and furniture that we have reconfigured time and time again. And at some point during this time I began to think of my life as moving practice.
I had a few modest, nice homes in my first marriage, but in the interim years between that and my marriage to Bernie I traveled light. At times I owned furniture, at times I didn’t. At times I had a car, at times I didn’t. Never a lot of clothes, always a basic amount of cookware; books were a problem, and I parted from them in major waves over the years, and now use the Massachusetts system of libraries.
After I married Bernie I came not just into larger quarters but also into Buddhist art: Japanese sculptures and calligraphy, Chinese paintings, Tibetan thankas, portraits of ancestors, Indian sandstone Gandharas, not to mention plentiful urns of ashes, including the ashes of various dogs, which only this year I finally emptied by the roots of a welcoming maple in the back yard. They’ll be happier there, I told Bernie. Once we mislaid Maezumi Roshi’s ashes for about a year, only to find them in storage.
I don’t want to live in a mausoleum, I also told Bernie; in fact, I don’t want to live in a museum. I would fantasize about several rooms, fully carpeted for weak legs, with no stairs, white walls with only one thing hanging on each, the picture straight rather than askew, clean rather than dusty, and just the right lighting. For years I felt that anything I owned had to be maintained, otherwise I didn’t want to have it. For this reason I do rigorous monthly cleaning of our fancy coffee machine, regular car check-ups and sewer inspections—and never, ever own silver I have to polish (my mother’s lifelong remonstrances notwithstanding).
All this is part of moving practice—where do I live? Under what circumstances? And can I, laden with stone and wooden Buddhas, five or six altars in the house, photos and urns and even gorgeous Japanese kesas, still be light on my feet?
And what about the living Buddhas in the house? When someone walks on two legs and a cane, moving very slowly from room to room, the house feels bigger, the stairs taller, the furniture obstructive. Bernie walked in the back yard yesterday for the first time since winter and sat at the picnic table that just emerged from the shed. Do we really need this much space, I wonder as I look around me, if it’s just Bernie and Stanley, me, squirrels, chipmunks, and hundreds of goldfinches, with occasional visitations by wild turkeys?
In September we will have lived here for 13 years, and still I feel like we’re always moving. Things have a temporary feel. On weekend evenings we settle down to watch a movie on a 50” screen (I know, I know, not portable at all), go to sleep, and the next morning I’m surprised to see the familiar apple tree outside the windows. Even asleep, I expect to be in flux.
Always feel at home, my friend M from Florida told me long ago, when I lived in a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. And off she took me to Roche Bobois to buy a gorgeous sofa I could not afford, but somehow I knew what she was talking about. It wasn’t about sofas, bookcases, or a massive manzanita dining room table. How do you feel at home while floating in the air? How am I solid in times of uncertainty, of illness, old age, and Donald Trump?
M, who always had beautiful things, has herself done lots of moving lately. From her Vineyards condominium to independent living to assisted living to a psychiatric hospital to a memory care unit to a hospital to rehabilitation—all in six months. At the age of 91 she can’t figure it out. At the age of 67 I can’t figure it out either.
I should call her more often.
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