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
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
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
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
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
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
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
and wait for the sun to show.
Over the stars I would paint with a Van Gogh
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
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,