Archived Stories
from the Road

 


 

Memorial Day, May 28, 2007
Marin County, California

This is a story about the Merry Month of May...

Earlier this month, I had a hankering to start writing again, and opened up the manuscript of GROWING UP SOUTHERN - Stories from the Attic of Childhood Memories, that I had started writing before Namgyal died. It was dated May 18, 2002 (my birthday), and contained the Prologue and beginnings of the first chapter of the book. I liked what I had written, but made a few changes, tweaking it to get my feet back in the water so to speak. From time to time, I'll be sending you completed chapters that will be posted on my website as "Stories from the Road."

The last day of book tour for LOVE & LOSS was Sunday, November 12 at East-West Bookstore in Mountain View. I had spent the night before at the luxury Seascape Resort, ten miles south of Santa Cruz, and slept in Sunday morning. I wanted to have a leisurely lunch and enjoy the incredible view of Monterey Bay before I headed north for the book event. A very nice young man named Miles, probably in his early twenties, delivered room service around noon. As he placed the order on the dining room table in my suite he said, "Are you doing something special today?" "Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Today is the last day of promoting my new book that was published this summer."

Miles asked what the book was about, and I showed him a copy. "It's the story of my relationship with my Tibetan daughter, and the consequences of her life and death on my life. She died at the age of twenty-two, just ten days before coming to the U.S. for the first time." He stopped what he was doing, and said, "I've had a lot of loss myself lately," and told me that his favorite uncle had died two months ago, then his dog died, and last week, his house burned to the ground and he lost everything, his bicycle, clothes, TV, etc.

Miles was on the brink of tears. I looked into his eyes, and there was so much sadness that I almost cried myself, but I had a powerful connection with him, and began to tell him a little about the things I had done to comfort myself when Namgyal died. How important it was that I allowed myself to grieve for the loss I was experiencing, and that small rituals like lighting a candle in honor of your loved ones, or taking a walk on the beach and holding that person (or animal) in your heart to acknowledge what they meant to you could help ease the pain he might be feeling. But most of all, in my heart I wished that his pain would lessen, and I wished him peace and happiness. It was practice I had read about in Sharon Salzberg's book, Faith. Miles put out his hand to shake mine, and simply said, “Thank you.” And he was gone. No more than five minutes had passed. Oh, I gave him a really big tip.


There were maybe eight to ten people at East-West Bookstore, and we sat in a circle in the reading room at the rear of the store that felt like a sanctuary. After my talk, everyone shared their stories of loss, and two hours later, I left to drive back to San Anselmo where Diki and her husband, Dr. Lobsang Rapgay, were waiting at my house to have dinner.

On the way home, I listened to a CD that Kim Engler, the producer of Deepak Chopra's Wellness Radio Program on the Stars Sirius Satellite Network, had sent of the program I was a guest on in October. During the program, Deepak played Beth Nielsen Chapman's song, Sand and Water that she had written about the loss of her husband who had died from cancer. I knew I had heard the song before. Beth was also a guest that day, and during one of the breaks, I asked if she was the woman who had been with Bonnie Raitt at Deepak's "Seduction of Spirit" retreat in Beaver Creek about ten years ago. She was, and Bonnie, who happened to have been in Nashville performing the night before, was asleep upstairs in Beth's house. SynchroDestiny as Deepak would say.

All during the drive, I replayed Sand and Water over and over, singing along on every verse. As I sang, I felt my heart crack open and I was flooded with an exhilarating experience of love. It was a gift from Namgyal, that she is alive in everything I do, and there was an awareness that I could love again, unconditionally, without fear of losing that love because it is never ending. Within two weeks, I met Mitch. On December 15, he and Kevin came to a Tibetan Fire Puja in the garden at my house in honor of Lama Tsongkhapa, and they stepped into my heart.

These are the words to Beth's beautiful song, Sand and Water.

All alone I didn't like the feeling
All alone I sat and cried
All alone I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt inside

All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water, and a million years gone by

I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come
Through the doors beyond the grave

All alone I heal this heart of sorrow
All alone I raise this child
Flesh and bone, he's just
Bursting towards tomorrow
And his laughter fills my world and wears your smile

All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water and a million years gone by


On Friday, May 18, Kristine Hanna and I went to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday at the Smuin Ballet as a way of honoring our dear friend, Michael Smuin who died suddenly of a massive heart attack on April 23 after teaching a dance class. He died doing what he loved most, surrounded by his beloved dancers. What a way to go...

Before the performance, we stopped at the W Hotel, without a reservation, on Third Street across from Yerba Buena Center to get a bite to eat. The hostess couldn't have been more welcoming, and I liked the look of the place which was quite minimalist, but with an art deco ambience. Our server, Michael, was a delight and made every effort to get us in and out in time for the curtain. He directed us to various dishes on the menu that could be dispatched with alacrity. Kristine had a marvelous baked Chicken breast that was juicy and tender on a bed of artichoke hearts, little new potatoes and green beans. I had the Buccatini pasta with marinara. I don't like al dente pasta and asked that it be cooked soft, which ruffled no feathers, and was prepared to perfection. And, excellent Caesar Salad.

Kristine wanted a glass of wine, and asked Michael for a recommendation. He said the chef had just poured a tasting in the kitchen of a new Emiritus Pino Noir that he would be happy to have her try. Kristine said, "Well how much is it?" "Oh, it's a seventy dollar bottle of wine, but you can have it at our house price per glass ($9)." It tasted like a seventy dollar bottle of wine should taste. It was all around a wonderful experience, and we're already planning another excuse to go into the city just so we can eat at the W Hotel again.

We had front row center seats at the Ballet. We selected a performance that was on my birthday, but we were delighted to learn that it contained one of our favorite pieces. Kristine and I had gone to the Smuin Ballet for the world premiere of Michael's Carmina Burana years ago. It was an eerie feeling to read Michael's notes in this evenings program, "I've wanted to choreograph Carmina since the first time I heard it: the compelling rhythms are irresistible. Orff gives a choreographer such rich variety of music to interpret: noble, vicious, romantic, bitter, joyous, sinister-every song has its own personality. Carmina Burana is a true ensemble piece for the company, one that highlights every dancer's special gifts and gives each of them a chance to shine."

There was a short film tribute to Michael before the program began with his (posthumous) world premiere of Schubert Scherzo, followed by his Romeo and Juliet (Balcony Pas de Deux). It was almost too much to bear, and the tears began to flow. The next piece was the world premiere of Amy Seiwert's ballet Falling Up with music by Johannes Brahms. Amy has been a dancer with Smuin Ballet for eight years, and Falling Up was the first piece she had choreographed for the company. It was stunning. As I watched, I felt, "This is a dance about the balance of the masculine and feminine. The attraction/aversion, the push and pull, the frustration/anger, the give and take, and the understanding and acceptance culminating in love... the ebb and flow of life, love and relationships."

Carmina Burana was the crowning glory to what I saw as the central theme of the program. The sacred union of masculine and feminine.


My birthday celebration actually began the week before on Friday, May 11 with a Long Life Tibetan Fire Puja at the house. Having recently taken my ninth teaching with the Dalai Lama since 1991 when I first began to study Tibetan Buddhism, what I wanted for my birthday was to have a Long Life Puja for His Holiness in gratitude for the opportunity to receive his wisdom and compassion, and for my own long life as well. The day before the puja, I received word that the lump in my left breast that showed up on a recent mammogram was a benign cyst, not malignant. I had much to be grateful for on my birthday.

Seventeen dear friends came over, including my sister, Kitty, and my Tibetan daughter, Diki. We had a Southern dinner of fried chicken, my caesar salad, fresh sliced fruits with honey yogurt dip, vegetable crudite with cilantro aioli, a splendid cheese platter, and assorted Tea Sandwiches made with deviled ham, egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, and chopped black olives and walnuts. Red Robin catered, and also brought their famous Pandora, a round loaf of Rye bread, hollowed out and refilled with triangle sandwiches made of ham and cheese.

There was an array of mini fruit tarts, petit fours, and, my favorite, Just Desserts Chocolate Birthday Cake with Hagen Daas Vanilla Ice Cream, and Veuve Clicquot Champagne to celebrate the occasion.

Sandra and Phil made the puja fire in the Smith & Hawkin copper fire pit on the brick patio outside the kitchen. Sandra, Diki and Marianne arranged 108 votive candles on a metal tray that was placed on a tea cart. Everyone took turns lighting the candles as we sang Om Mani Padme Hum to begin the puja. We took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and recited a verse from Shantideva's "Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life" before we began the recitation of the Long Life Prayer for His Holiness.

For the Benefit of all Sentient Beings
Prayer for the Long Life of Tenzin Gyatso,
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Oh, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Gurus,
Oh, Tara, mother of us all,
Please listen to what I now say
From the marrow of my bones.

Watch over Tenzin Gyatso,
Protector of the Land of Snows,
He who is of one taste
With Avalokiteshvara.

Guide Him and protect Him
That He may live long
to bring liberation to his people
and the Dharma to all sentient beings.

Color pictures of White Tara, the Divine Mother, were distributed to everyone present before we recited the White Tara Mantra for my long life. White Tara is the goddess of compassion and her mantra is often chanted with a particular person in mind. Her love heals at the source of disease, bringing health, strength, longevity and beauty. She is pictured as being endowed with seven eyes (the two on her face, in the palms of her hands, on the soles of her feet, and her forehead), to symbolize the watchfulness of the compassionate mind.

Mother's Day was on Sunday, May 13. Wanting to acknowledge Mother's Day as well, I read an excerpt from LOVE & LOSS, the chapter entitled "Mother's Day" about my participation in Diki's wedding in 2004. I read the part about Shantideva's discourse on the concept of "recognition of all sentient beings as one's mother," concluding that everyone we meet has been our mother in one incarnation or another, and we would honor her for having given us this precious life. We'd never do anything to harm her and would wish only to repay her kindness, thus establishing the interconnectedness of all beings. The chapter ends with "So the moral of this story is that every day is Mother's Day in Buddhaville."

Sandra also read an excerpt from LOVE & LOSS, Veronica A. Shoffstall's poem After A While, and Diki sang a song in Tibetan about the Great Mother that was her birthday gift to me. Tears of joy spilled from our eyes.

We did a Dedication of Merit at the conclusion of the puja. Then I shared the story about my recent health scare and read a poem that was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he retired from public life due to the deterioration of his health from lymphatic cancer. It was written as a farewell letter to his friends that had been translated from the Spanish and posted on the Internet. I had read this poem at my sixtieth birthday party in 2001, and I wanted to reread it on my 2007 birthday to reaffirm my vow to live life as Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes it in his poem.

If for an instant God were to forget that I am a rag doll
and gifted me with a piece of life,
possibly I wouldn't say all that I think,
but rather I would think of all that I say.

I would value things, not for their worth
but for what they mean.

I would sleep little, dream more,
understanding that for each minute we close our eyes
we lose sixty seconds of light.
I would walk when others hold back,
I would wake when others sleep,
I would listen when others talk,
and how I would enjoy a good chocolate ice cream!

If God were to give me a piece of life,
I would dress simply,
throw myself face first into the sun,
baring not only my body but also my soul.

My God, if I had a heart, I would write my hate on ice,
and wait for the sun to show.

Over the stars I would paint with a Van Gogh dream
a Benedetti poem, and a Serrat song.
I would be the serenade I'd offer to the moon.

With my tears I would water roses,
to feel the pain of their thorns,
and the red kiss of their petals.

My God, if I had a piece of life...
I wouldn't let a single day pass
without telling the people I love
that I love them.

I would convince each woman and man
that they are my favorites, and
I would live in love with love.

I would show men how very wrong they are
to think that they cease to be in love when they grow old,
not knowing that they grow old
when they cease to be in love!

To a child I shall give wings,
but I shall let him learn to fly
on his own.

I would teach the old that death does not come with old age,
but with forgetting.

So much have I learned from you, oh men (and women)...
I have learned that everyone wants to live
on the peak of the mountain,
without knowing that real happiness
is in how it is climbed.

I have learned that when a newborn child
squeezes for the first time with his tiny fist
his father's finger,
he has him trapped forever.

I have learned that a man has the right
to look down on another only
when he has to help the other get to his feet.

From you I have learned so many things,
but in truth they won't be of much use,
for when I keep them within this suitcase,
unhappily shall I be dying.

And now we have come to Memorial Day - Monday, May 28, 2007. This weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the release of STAR WARS. David Riordan and I stood in line for an hour and forty-five minutes at the Coronet Theatre in San Francisco to see the movie on the second day. Little did I know that a few months later, I would begin the journey that has brought me here today. What a piece of life it has been!!!!!

With love & gratitude,

Jane Bay

 
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