Monday, April 14, 2008

Nikky Found

After nearly two weeks of not having seen Nikky, I began to think I might not see her again. After all, her family had no real reason to let me know her whereabouts. I tried to breath through my feelings of loss, and think back, instead, about how much I have learned from knowing her. But tonight, Nikky's daughter-in-law, Rita, called to let me know that Nikky is in a new residence, not far from where I live, where she receives 24 hour care. I can't wait to see her!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Where's Nikky?

I visited Nikky a few times in the hospital during the week she was there. Each time, she was more and more herself. The last time I was there, two of her granddaughters were there too. To them, she was not herself at all, and probably has not been for quite some time. To me, she was my angel, my "paysan," again.

The last time I went, she had just been discharged, and I don't know where she is now. She did not return to Walpan, and I have not heard from the director there, or her family. It is possible that I will never see her again. And why should I? I am not family, or even a friend of the family. I am just someone who found an angel, and will always have her with me.

Hindsight and Foresight

I almost never like pictures of myself at the time they are taken. The "me" that looks out of my eyes is in many ways the "me" from photos taken in high school and college, but with all of the wisdom of the 20 years since then. So I am always taken by surprise with the crinkles, wrinkles, and chronic fatigue that I see in new photos. I've noticed, however, that when I look at a photo from a few years ago, I like it a lot more than I did when it was taken. I think, "boy, I looked really good back then. How come I didn't realize it at the time?" And come to think of it, I wasn't that happy with myself in high school and college anyway -- always wishing I were a little thinner, a lot taller, that my hair was straighter, my waist smaller .... So maybe the trick is to always look at photos with the eyes of my future self. Because then, in hindsight, I'll look pretty damn good.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Disposable Lives

Today while searching for my reading glasses, I was struck by the disposable nature of our lives. My initial thought when I couldn't find the glasses was, "time to go on ebay and get some more." This is what I do periodically -- order about 10 pairs of readers and wear them until I've lost the last one. This means that in my house, car or the Costume Shop, there are about 40 pairs of glasses sequestered away -- behind dressers, under beds, in odd places like behind the baking soda in the pantry closet (truly - I once found glasses there ... I've even found them in the freezer). They keep good company with the stray socks, earrings, missing car keys, theater tickets, and sometimes cash that magically evade my best efforts to find them. After exhausting my patience searching, sometimes I wonder, are they lost or am I?

Here is a nice article about losing glasses. Time to go on ebay...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Gains and Losses

I have seen Nikki three times since my trip to Tulum. Each time, she was less present than the time before. She hasn't walked since before Christmas. She has been taking her meals in bed or in her chair, rarely leaving her room. When I visited on Friday, she seemed only an echo of herself -- barely acknowledging me, not responding to any of the usual songs or conversation that would ordinarily engage her. She was weak and disoriented, so much so that I went downstairs to tell Nick that I was concerned about her.

So I wasn't surprised to find out today that she had been taken to the hospital last night. Samy and I visited Walpan for Easter, and after spending time with Peggy and Julia, I went to Mountainside Hospital. Nikki's son Frankie was there. It was nice to put a face to the person I had heard so many stories about. And Nikki was much better. She had become dehydrated and the i.v. fluids were really helping. Still, she was so small and seemingly lost in her bed, which was vibrating to keep her from getting bed sores.

I wondered what Frankie made of me, this crazy woman who has become so attached to his mother -- a stranger she found wandering on Bloomfield Avenue. To me, meeting Nikki has been a great gift and a blessing. Having met her at the twilight of her life, when Alzheimer's has already mastered her mind, I have never had any expectations of her. For her son, watching his mother's memory slip away has been heartbreaking. The loss of recognition is tragic and and understandably devastating. It seems so unfair that when I look at Nikki, I see only what she has given me. But her son, who is so devoted to her, sees an unbearably cruel loss.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Holy Beings All Around Us

In Mexico, there were men who cleaned the seaweed from the beach each morning. Beginning at dawn, they would sweep the beach, making clumps of seaweed, and then load the seaweed into wheelbarrows and walk the wheelbarrows down the beach, dump the seaweed, and come back for another load. All morning, they wheeled their wheelbarrows back and forth along the hot beach until the seaweed was cleared away. One of these men was a particularly striking looking gentleman, with a leathery tan, wizened eyes, and silver rimmed front teeth. He reminded me of Jack Palanz, in City Slickers – a tough guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. But when our eyes met, and I thanked him for his hard work, he gave me a dazzling smile, and then went quietly about his tasks.

I saw him every morning, and was struck by the patient poetry of how he carried out his task of making the beach beautiful for me and the other visitors. I began to see him as a holy being, a saint, attending to his job with diligence and dedication, and felt great gratitude to him for contributing to the beauty of Maya Tulum.

Once I realized this, I noticed other holy beings going about their tasks that looked small on the surface, but made such a difference in the quality of life at our resort: there was the smiling woman who came in after each yoga class to sweep the studio, align the blankets and blocks, and tidy up the mats; the men who were constantly raking and smoothing the sand along the paths; the woman who each day, cleaned my palapa and folded my towels into whimsical swans and birds; a smiling waiter named Rafael, who gave me a grand “Buenos Dias Senorita” every morning.

It is easy to make these observations on vacation; particularly on a spiritual retreat where we are focusing on the divinity of every human being. But what about at home? How would our world change if we viewed the sanitation workers who pick up our trash as buddhas, or the crossing guards who keep our children safe on the way to school? Or the metro-card sellers in the NY subways; or the person who bags the groceries? Just imagine what kind of changes would be put into place if we viewed the people we barely notice in our day as holy beings. Try it.

Happiness and Suffering

If the cause of seeing suffering in my world is karmic seeds ripening;
And the compassionate actions I take to alleviate that suffering are the cause of karmic seeds to see happiness;
Then the result of my right actions will be to see happiness in my world, and the end of all suffering.

Then that must mean that:

• Those I see suffering may not, from their own side, be suffering; but I see them suffering because I have the seeds to see that suffering and thus suffer.
• Those I see suffering might, from their own side, be pretending to suffer to give me an opportunity to practice compassion and thus plant seeds to not see them suffer.
• When I see happiness in my life, it must be the result of karmic seeds planted from compassionate actions I have taken to help others.

How can I be happy if I constantly hold in my heart the suffering in the world?

Is it by remembering that the suffering is my own projection because of seeds I once planted?

If I understand that the suffering I see necessarily comes from me, and thus may or may not actually be suffering from the side of those I see suffering (because they are either holy beings pretending to suffer to help me with my karma, or because the “reality” of their suffering is my projection), is my path then to practice the 6 perfections as though everyone in my world is a realized being?