Monday, May 23, 2011

Minor miracles

I’ve been living spontaneously lately, letting one day lead into the next in a way that you can only do when you are “unburdened with duties,” as the Metta sutta says. After writing the post last week about persimmons and friendship, I felt moved to return to the source of the persimmon, and go and do a bit of painting with Venerable Tejadhammo at his new centre in Wingello. I rang Bella and Janey, some friends of mine who live in that neck of the woods, and giving them one day’s notice, asked if I could come and stay the night. No problem. By the following evening I was sitting on the lounge in their mud-brick house, listening to their daughter Lucy tinkle the ivories of my old piano and admiring their son Edward’s Buddha collection. So far his collection consists of two small Buddha statues, one green, one black, both laughing (a bit like his parents).

Guido Reni's archangel Michael
Despite being made of mud bricks, the house where these Buddhas reside is not your average hippy-built dwelling. It was constructed by a former SS officer who ended up marrying a Jewish woman he met while working in a Socialist Union library. This man has seen the archangel Michael three times during his life. The first time he told him he would survive his internment in a camp for prisoners of war. The second time he told him to build on this plot of land. The third time, he said that my friends would come to buy the house from him. And so they did.

Finding myself somewhat unexpectedly in Wingello, it occurred to me that I was more than halfway to Canberra, so I sent a Facebook message to Lisa, an old friend who lives there now and whom I haven’t seen in over a decade. It seemed like a fairly long shot.

I then spent the night sleeping in a huge bed with some of the smoothest sheets I have ever encountered, in a little stone cottage which was warmed by a wood fire in a little pot-bellied stove. I felt like a medieval princess, or a seed encased in the smooth flesh of a persimmon. I was quite reluctant to abandon either of these fantasies in the morning, which resulted in such a late start to the day that the children had already left for school by the time I emerged.

Bhante Tejadhammo was also wondering what had become of me. But I did arrive at Vejasalla eventually, and spent an extremely enjoyable day chatting to him while getting creamy splotches of paint on my holey old tracky dacks, which are possibly holy now, too, having been employed in the painting of a meditation and shrine room (a good deal of the paint made it onto the walls). My princess persona was definitively shed when Bhante asked me if I was all right as I maneuvered my paint roller onto a particularly tricky bit of wall. He said the grunts I was emitting made me sound like a boxer.

After the job was done, I drove off in the direction of Bundanoon. Unexpectedly quickly I found myself at the turnoff to Santi Forest Monastery, and made a brake-screeching, dust-stirring decision to drop in (Darryl would have approved). I wasn’t consciously looking for a fight, although I have found that Santi is often good for a bit of intellectual boxing. But when I arrived this time, all was calm and quiet. I checked my emails on my laptop while waiting for some action. Lo and behold: a message from Lisa, saying, come to Canberra!

I hopped back in the car and hotfooted it into the Australian Capital Territory. When I got into the city, I discovered that the road where Lisa lives was blocked off at the end I was coming from. This led to a rambling, circuitous journey around the streets of Canberra, which miraculously ended in front of her door. When she opened it, we started talking, and apart from a few hours for sleeping and (in her case) tandem bike-riding with a blind companion, we basically didn’t stop gasbagging for the next couple of days. We did have more than a decade to catch up on.

On Sunday afternoon I drove home to Katoomba via Oberon, passing through some magnificent country on the way. Mentally joining the dots between different parts of our conversation, I realised that Lisa and I have both responded to turning forty (Lisa a couple of years ahead of me) by making some pretty radical changes: leaving jobs, houses, relationships. I guess we both felt a sense of urgency – death is closer now, we have started to believe in our own mortality, something that for me at least always seemed rather theoretical when I was younger. And knowing that this life won’t last forever, we both preferred to leap into the scary but expansive freedom of the new, rather than trudge along in situations that felt stale or stuck. The very first time I met Lisa, she got the impression I didn’t like her, which was weird because I thought she was wonderful – and I still do. A line from one of Leonard Cohen’s songs comes to mind (as I remember it, a bit different from the original I’ve since discovered):

“I saw a woman leaning in her kitchen door. She said to me, hey, why not ask for more?”

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