Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April musings

My life tumbles along toward a seventy-first birthday.
 I continue to work as a caregiver, having renewed my nurse's aide certification.  My three clients, new in January, have endeared themselves to me in countless ways, and I love making their lives easier.  I never know whether I will be grilling a sandwich, walking a dog, cleaning an oven, vacuuming, chauffeuring, giving a shower, rolling up a head of hair, helping sort tax documents, organizing a closet, smashing cardboard boxes for recycling, replacing a light bulb, walking a poodle (mix)...
For a few hours three or four days of the week I become part of others' worlds.  I meet their loved ones and listen to their stories and I study the coping mechanisms of senior men and women debilitated by disease, injury, and Alzheimer's.
When I am not working, I spend a good deal of time attending to my own mechanisms for coping with advancing age.  On Monday I meet personal trainer Jim for half an hour's strength training.  At least three times a week I walk two miles on the treadmill and ride two miles on the stationery bike.  My goal of adding a swim to this schedule fades with daily procrastination, mainly because I cannot swim straight enough to stay on one side of a shared pool lane.
Every day I guzzle at least six cups of water, one with lemon, and include plenty of protein, fresh green vegetables, two bananas, and a pint of blueberries in my diet.  I usually stay away from sweets and have no sugar cravings.
On most mornings I grab a cup of black coffee, turn on the "Happy Light" that sits atop the piano, and practice music for at least half an hour.  My counselor and I came up with this activity because reading music, drinking coffee and absorbing bright light simultaneously almost tangibly lighten my mood.
At night I go to bed before ten and make getting enough rest a top priority.  I have my shrink's blessing to take an extra pill if I don't fall asleep within two hours.
When I attend to my physical and mental health, I feel good enough to move from one enjoyable leisure activity to another: watching grandchildren's volleyball, baseball, and soccer games; keeping the almost-two-year-old, lunching with friends, attending support group meetings, participating in Associates of Mercy events at a Mercy convent.
This past weekend I accompanied my daughter and four of her children to Tims Ford Lake for a parish get-together.  Although the excursion lasted less than twenty-four hours, including four hours' driving from Nashville, the break from routine refreshed me like a vacation.  Thanks to the hospitality of Lisa's good friends, I got to take a boat ride, then spend the night in a beautiful lake house.  I don't remember the last time I slept with fresh air swirling over me all night long.
Most nights I find myself alone with cat Lucy after dinner, feeling almost guilty that I so enjoy the solitude.  The phone seldom rings, probably because I almost never phone anyone (preferring to text and email).  No visitors ring the doorbell.
Often I turn in shortly after eating my freshly prepared, full dinner.  I turn out the lights and pull up the covers and pet my cat Lucy for as long as she can stand it.  Then I turn out the lights and turn on the Kindle and read the latest novel by Alice Walker or a classic I don't remember reading (To Kill a Mockingbird) or a book recommended by a granddaughter (Frankenstein).
I remember, in the 1980's, lying in bed next to my husband and thinking how wonderful it was that he and our loved ones were alive: his parents and brothers and sisters, my parents and brother, and our four precious children.  The years since then have brought chaos, upheaval, and unconscionable loss.  Surely it is a miracle that a similar peace now fills my heart.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Solitary confinement

Winter had been mild until last week.  Just when I thought I would make it through the winter season without a cold, a few weeks ago I came down with bronchitis.  I persuaded a nurse practitioner at a walk-in clinic to prescribe a Z-pack, which controlled my symptoms well enough for me to continue part-time work.  When the pills ran out, however, I was left with an ominous feeling in my chest that promised to get worse if not treated with sustained rest.
A week ago Sunday, as if prescribed just for me, a snow- and ice storm hit Nashville that kept me inside my house for an entire week.  My clients canceled my caregiving due to road conditions and my driveway froze into a thick, stubborn sheet of ice.
On Monday I consulted my BFF by phone about a sewing project that I expected to be working on for weeks.  For an hour Deanne and I discussed how I should proceed.  Working at an enjoyable, leisurely pace, I finished a set of curtains by Wednesday night.
My sister-in-law had invited me to her condo in Water Color, FL, for Friday through Monday, the days I do not work.  I figured this trip would only hasten my respiratory healing.  On Thursday morning I printed a Southwest boarding pass, started packing a suitcase, and arranged for Yellow Cab to pick me up street side at six the next morning, since my driveway remained frozen over.
Around two o'clock I lay down on my bed to read.  When I emerged from thebedroom an hour later, I saw water dripping on the hardwood floor from six different places in my dinette ceiling.  Later I would learn this phenomenon—called “ice damming”—occurs when snow melting close to the roof propels the surge of water up under the shingles.  At the time I assumed I had a multitude of standard roof leaks.
I knew I had to cancel my trip.  I spread towels around the hardware floor and called my sister-in-law.I faced two more days of solitude, with lots of rest and reading, as I dealt with contractors and insurance adjustors by phone.  Purely by luck, I still had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for myself and food and treats for Lucy the cat.
On Sunday I eased my SUV across a still icy driveway to the clear street and drove to late morning Mass, then to Kroger to stock up on food and gas.
Although I face months of repairs, some of which insurance doesn’t cover, I feel grateful for the respite that not only restored my health but also reminded me how much I enjoy my long-neglected hobby of sewing. 

Monday, January 12, 2015


Recovered from the stress I heaped upon myself over the holidays...I welcome the new year of 2015.
My son's son, 8, meets with me each Friday.  Taking advantage of his desire to learn to use the sewing machine--which desire might fade quickly--I am helping him make a blanket.  Last Friday he selected remnants from my collection that he will cut into twenty-five squares for the quilted side, and he chose a plush cheetah print for the plain side.  He made his pattern, which promises to yield an awesome result.  His sister and I completed a blanket in 2014, using this method.
In my role as grandmother, I like to pepper my calendar with grandchildren's activities, which now include basketball games--a sport I like and can follow.  Last Saturday I watched JD's morning game and Hannah's two games that lasted into the afternoon.  Then I attended Mass Saturday night with my daughter's family because Hannah was singing in the youth choir for that liturgy.
At work, January brings me a new schedule, with the cessation of service to my original Monday-Wednesday-Friday client.  Now I work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving Monday and Friday free.  I have mornings open Tuesday, so I can still keep my youngest grandchild George, who will be two years old in June.  Knowing how quickly babies turn into teenagers, I take advantage of every opportunity to feed him and play with him...the order in which he chooses to do things when he comes to my house.
Other activities that keep me busy include attending Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance as well as Nicotine Anonymous group meetings and meeting friends for lunch occasionally.  Eating a healthy diet and drinking eight glasses of water a day keep me going to Kroger frequently for fresh fruits and 32-packs of purified bottled water that disappears quickly.  I try to work out at the Y three days a week, not counting 30 minutes of strength training I signed up for on Mondays.  I see my counselor for an hour every other week and my doctor every six weeks.
At least once a month I meet with the Associates of Mercy at the Mercy convent.  And I facilitate our "Renew" scripture-sharing small group six times a year.  In November we met at my house and I had no idea I would never see one member--Barbara--again.  She suffered a stroke and died in December, to our surprise and dismay.  What a stalwart, honest Catholic mentor she was!  At my age (70) I find I lose friends too often.
For years I have wanted to get my house "in dying order."  On Christmas day I began re-organizing it and have made a formidable dent in this project.  I keep my place neat at all times and get repaired whatever needs fixing--always something.  Last week, when I was at work, a car veered off the street into and  through my shrubbery, across the driveway, and into my neighbor's yard.  I came home to find broken branches, chrome, glass, and rubber blocking the entrance to my garage.  The police left a copy of the order for an accident report in my mailbox.  Getting reimbursed for the clean-up and replacement of greenery will test my skills in assertiveness and I'll likely fail to get paid back.  Enough that I can afford this fix; I don't feel compelled to hand off the expense to someone else.
My son, the Buddhist monk, has been assigned to his monastery's outpost that is even more remote than the monastery itself, which is set on the mountainside of Redwood Valley, California.  Now Khantiko (his new name) resides somewhere near the Washington/Oregon state line.  Until April, I must rely on snail mail to contact him rather than the usual twice-weekly emails.  Once a week I write news of his family and myself which follows the course of and often duplicates the journal I keep for my counselor.
While I feel grateful for my health, home, and family, I retain the tendency to host a low mood, especially on dreary cold days.  Recently my daughter texted me that she thought I seemed a little down.  She offered for Hannah, 10, to spend the night.  I was thrilled to have her and even more thrilled when Abigail, 12, came as well.  By the next day all my negative thoughts had fled and I felt no longer the victim of the "Noonday Demon" (depression).
As I continue to ease into the new year, when it seems time stretches out ahead of me in doable chunks...today I may spend most of the day reading, until my piano lesson this afternoon and a meeting of DBSA tonight.  Getting reacquainted with this blog after months of neglect and writing about my normal life...represent a kind of beginning for me.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A new leaf

            At a recent appointment with my counselor Brian, I told him I was thinking of closing out my blog.  When we looked at it together, we saw that I have been writing it for over five years.  The initial purpose, in my mind, was to expose the ramifications of my mental illness in the hope that bringing light to these might somehow lessen or modify them.  Instead, I believe acute examination has confirmed what I already knew and believed about bipolar disorder: for me, at least, it’s a lifelong condition that requires most of my energy if I am to remain stable.
            I certainly see the validity of hope for those recently diagnosed, that they may do better than I have with the disorder.  The presence of many more effective drugs these days, the increased knowledge in psychiatry, the efficacy of cognitive therapy…all promise that people diagnosed early may check the progression of the illness before significant damage is done.
            My youngest son recently emailed me from his Buddhist monastery and said, “I think your friends would be surprised at how much you struggle with your disorder.”  In a way, this made me feel proud—that perhaps I don’t show as much weakness as I feel—but in another way, it made me think it’s time to stop complaining about BP.  I have documented my struggles a hundred different ways, interpreted the symptoms from many different perspectives.  I might just as well shoulder (what I perceive as) my cross and accept its burden as the burden I am by now most equipped to deal with, thanks to a monumental amount of help and support since my first breakdown at age 25.
            This fall I enjoyed a wonderful week-long vacation with my daughter’s family that helped me recognize my own positive prognosis.  Surrounded by seven people expert in giving and receiving love, I found I could put aside the residual fear of relapse that has hampered my appreciation of life.  While remaining careful to continue the healthful habits that nurture my mental stability, I achieved a new confidence in my emerging, sane self.
            This awareness was further enhanced when I kept my son’s two children for a long weekend.
            My counselor had assured me the vacation would be great, and he was not surprised.  I shared with my psychiatrist that I now see myself differently.  When the occasional self-deprecating messages start to play in my brain, I remind myself: “No, that is no longer true!  I am better than that—a proved fact!—and I don’t have to put myself down any longer.”
            Dr. M. said, “From now on, we’re giving you a new script.”  And he didn’t mean a new drug.  He meant that, continuing on the same three meds that have served me well for the last three and a half years, I am living a “new” story, one based on health rather than disease.  Best of all, he implied that the BP can be considered manageable!
            And so I have decided to continue the blog.  But it will be more about celebrating my life and less about bemoaning my ancient diagnosis of bipolar one. 
            The blog that I began with such enthusiasm these many years ago has run its course.  I have had it printed for my counselor, myself, and my children, should they ever want to read it.  At this time I wish to embrace wellness and continue to share whatever insights I discover on living productively with a serious mental illness. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interview with a person with bp

My friend Dee’s daughter has been hospitalized recently with bipolar disorder I. My friend interviews me by phone and asks questions that remind me what it is like to experience one extreme of that condition.

Dee: The doctor at the hospital refused to accept her as an outpatient because she was too angry and uncooperative.

This doctor seems irresponsible, dismissing her without setting up aftercare. Anger and denial come with the disease and, as a psychiatrist, he should be willing to address these. I remember that in 2007, after I had taken an overdose of pills, I was convinced my current counselor would refuse to keep me as a client. He said he knew counselors who refused to work with anyone who attempted suicide, but he would question why they were even in their chosen profession.

Dee: My daughter said the hospitalization was the worst experience of her life; she talked of an attendant watching her in a way that made her feel like a victim in a Nazi concentration camp…how can a hospital treat people so badly? I shouldn’t think ill treatment would be beneficial.

Absolutely, hospitalization for bipolar mania can be a nightmare. I am taken out of society and placed in a controlled environment without any of the “stuff” that makes life pleasant. If I act out--even by just talking fast and loudly--I may be locked in the “quiet room” with only a bare mattress for company and without even a commode. This leaves me without dignity and brings out a self of such horror that I spend a lifetime remembering, regretting, and fearing a recurrence. For example, spending four days in seclusion during my last hospitalization had me convinced I would die in flames; my sick mind told me the hospital had caught fire and no one was coming to get me out.

Dee: How long does the manic phase last? Someone said it can be weeks, months, even years.

For me, it usually lasts a couple of months. My insurance always dictated my leaving the hospital well before my judgment and stability were intact. Fortunately, my psychiatrist kept me on Haldol and saw me twice a week until my disease became more manageable. My counselor saw me just as often. Also, my family was attentive, which allowed me to resume my normal activities gradually as I was able.

Dee: As much as I want her mania to end, I don’t want her to crash into depression.

It’s the psychiatrist’s job to ensure that the return to sanity doesn’t morph into clinical depression. As I came slowly out of mania, many of my negative thoughts were the self-persecuting memories of manic behavior. “How could I do that?” “How could I be like that?” My psychiatrist restores an “upper” medication—in my case, Vyvanse and a small dose of Lexapro—that I take along with an anti-psychotic, Zyprexa. He addresses both aspects of my illness, which is crucial to keep me from going off either deep end. I have more frequent sessions with my counselor when I get out of the hospital, and these are also vital to the recovery of my self-esteem.

Dee: When you were manic, did you realize that you were manic?

[This I had to think about before answering honestly.] Despite all the experience that should give me that insight, I have to say NO. When I was manic, I existed with a mindset that only other manic depressives can comprehend. I believed I was the most intelligent and creative person in the universe. For that reason, the hospital attendants struck me as unimaginative and stupid. They imposed limits on my behavior because they were jealous of my talents and gifts.
Only as I came down from mania did I realize these were sensible, caring, “normal” people. Of course there exist the inevitable few whose attitudes reflect the real stigma of mental illness in our society, but probably most people who choose that line of work have compassion.

We close our phone conversation with my friend far from comforted, I know. Her daughter continues to act out after release from the hospital and remains in denial of her condition. Until she resumes treatment, she might be considered a “loose cannon.” Bipolar disorder I, no easy diagnosis, requires constant self-monitoring and strict life habits to manage. If my friend’s daughter decides to accept and deal with her illness, I will be happy to share my experience with her in another interview.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The bee in my bonnet...

With summer came the familiar desire to cut my medication. I take five milligrams of Olanzapine at bedtime. I imagined that this anti-psychotic might be causing my voracious appetite (it probably is) and my difficulty rising each morning (it probably is not).
At my regular appointment with my psychiatrist, I asked permission to cut the med in half. He agreed I could try, first by alternating a full dose with a half-dose and seeing how it went. My counselor Brian urged me to pay attention to how this affected my sleep.
The trial period started. After a couple of weeks I had charted lost sleep on a couple of the nights I took the half-dose. I decided to adopt the half-dose anyway, since I felt less 'affected' taking less Olanzapine.
When I attended a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance meeting, several other members of the group made me re-think this intention. One woman said, "You say that you are terrified of becoming manic again...so why would you take the risk?" Two others said much the same thing.
I decided to take their advice. I went home and replaced all the half-tablets in my pill case with whole ones. For years I have stayed stable on this medication, and I am fortunate to require no greater dose than five milligrams. Perhaps the desire to take less of it is just a subtle form of denial...if I take less, I can feel as if I have a lesser case of bipolar disorder, or that some of the condition has gone away.
A review of my BP history reminds me of the seriousness of my case. In the past insomnia has led inevitably to euphoric or dysphoric mania. Olanzapine helps me sleep. I was on a lesser dose when I had my last episode, and I 'broke through' my medication at that time, i.e., relapsed in spite of it.
The next time I get a bee in my bonnet about cutting meds, perhaps I will recognize a temptation I need to resist.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pilgrimage 2

A week ago Friday, I leave my house at 6:45 a.m., to begin the journey to Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery where my youngest child, son Anthony, will be ordained as a novice, after serving for a year as an anagarika. Next year’s ordination will make him a ‘full’ monk.
I fly Southwest to Los Angeles, change planes, and continue to San Francisco. There I rent a car and drive through the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and north toward Ukiah, where I plan to stay three nights.
For hours I follow GPS instructions before I realize I made a crucial mistake in its setting: I opted to ‘avoid freeways.’ Soon I am driving 2-lane country curved roads past wineries, ranches and camps. A lengthy trek on Petrified Forest Road convinces me I am sufficiently lost. Fortunately I see a Texaco station where I learn I am still an hour from my destination and I will approach it from the north, having passed Ukiah while driving in half-circles.
I arrive at the Fairfield Inn at 11:00 p.m., which feels like Nashville time of 1 a.m. I set my phone alarm for 5 a.m., allowing myself an hour to get to Redwood Valley--twice the time it takes someone who has even a minuscule sense of direction. Then I actually sleep fairly well. For no known reason, the motel has upgraded me to a suite, which luxury I sincerely appreciated at that late hour.
Next morning I grab a cup of coffee in the lobby, choose 'quickest route' on the GPS, and arrive at Abhayagiri ten minutes before breakfast. Walking up the driveway from the parking lot, I am again awestruck by the beauty of this remote site against the side of a mountain.
Anthony appears, somewhat thinner than I found him last year. He is wearing the white robe he will trade in tonight for the orange-y gold-colored monk’s robe that he has sewn and dyed himself in preparation.
We serve ourselves breakfast, which we eat in the meeting room, where ten monks and two anagarikas including Anthony sit on the front half of the floor and Buddhist visitors sit in audience to them. As a mature (read old) parent, I sit on a bench in the back. We eat in reverent but comfortable silence. The peace of the environment transforms me, as all my anxieties melt into their essential nothingness.
After breakfast my son and I find a quiet place to talk in the tiny library off the kitchen. Anthony looks at the pictures on my cell phone and wants to hear about his nieces, nephews, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins. He is anticipating a July visit from cousin Melanie and her husband Sean, who plan to take a day of a planned trip to S.F. to visit him at the monastery.
I want to know all about Anthony's life and what his advancement to novice means. Besides new robes, he gets a new name but we won't know the moniker until the ceremony tonight. I learn that he will no longer have kitchen duty (a good thing) or be able to hug his mother on monastery grounds (a bad thing). Nor will he drive anymore, on monastic excursions. He will be driven from now on, keeping his license for ID purposes only. Nor will he be allowed to handle money. His health insurance will be paid for by his community. On infrequent visits to Nashville, he will need his plane ticket acquired for and sent to him.
We talk until almost time for the Meal (there is no dinner), which turns out to be a fantastic spread of vegetarian casseroles, hardy and healthy soups, fruit and veggie smoothies, and a wide assortment of desserts. All food comes from donations and volunteer visitors' cooking.
After the monks enter the kitchen in a solemn line and fill their bowls, they proceed into the meeting room. Debbie, one of two laywoman residents who keep the whole place running well, calls to me to come inside to hear the pre-meal chanting. I find my place on the bench. After this form of not-exactly-prayer, the rest of us leave the monks in their eating, fill our own bowls, and congregate at little tables outside on this lovely spring day which is in turn cloudy, sunny, breezy, still, warm and cool. Buddhist practitioners, many of whom visit this monastery regularly, greet me with warmth and joy as Anthony’s mother.
After lunch Anthony's friend Meryl arrives from Berkeley. Also Buddhist, she completed the same chaplaincy program he did several years ago, and she has been his mentor ever since.
A second laywoman resident named Beth presents me with a partially filled photo album that shows my son in countless activities during his year and a half at Abhayagiri. This thoughtful gift will be kept on my coffee table in Nashville where all my grandchildren can gain a better knowledge of their missing uncle! She promises to send more photos in the future.
After greeting Meryl, I accept the offer of Delores. a visitor, to show me the guest house where I might choose to stay on future visits. We walk up a steep mountain road--a workout that makes me think I should have been using the incline feature on the treadmill at the Y. Delores, my age, works and lives in New Orleans and also runs a Buddhist retreat center in Mississippi which she invites me to visit.
The guest house, Casa Serena, offers accommodations far more comfortable and private than I expected, but the climb required might deter me from choosing to stay there. I walk back down to my car and return to the motel to rest and refresh before the 7:30 p.m. ceremony. The morning re-encounter with this remarkable environment has dissolved any feeble, lingering doubts regarding Anthony's chosen destiny.
At 5:00 p.m. my son's friends Meryl and Diana come to my hotel room, to ride back to the monastery. We arrive there two hours before the meditation to be followed by the ordination ceremony. We make ourselves cups of tea. Two more of my son's friends arrive--Dawn and Jeanne. Sweet-faced Jeanne reminds me of my dear cousin Sandy. Anthony later says he too sees the resemblance.
Shortly after 7:00 we take our places in the meeting room, where up to 100 men, women, and children have spread mats on the colorful oriental rugs that line the seating area for this special occasion. Flower arrangements by a lovely Thai woman visitor surround the sturdy super-lifesize bronze-colored statue of Buddha behind where the Abbott is seated. Debbie has set up a chair for me, complete with small blanket and back pillow. I am grateful for not having to kneel or sit.
The ensuing ceremony begins with a lengthy meditation period and lasts for over two hours. First two men are ordained anagarikas, as Anthony was last year. Then my son officially attains the status of novice. Anthony chants in Pali for long periods multiple times. I know he has some anxiety that he will forget his lines because he told me. But apparently his recitations are correct and there are no pauses. There is more chanting back and forth between him and the Abbot, Ajahn Passano.
My son presents his new robes to the Abbott, who presents them back to him. Anthony then takes them into an adjoining room, where another monk assists him in changing from the white garb he has worn for a year. He reenters the congregation bearing a gift of flowers and candles for the Abbott. There follows an affirmation of dependence, as the Abbott accepts and my son acknowledges the Abbott's responsibility for his welfare.
The Abbott’s final announcement: that Anthony will be known henceforth as Khantiko, pronounced KAHN’-TEE-KO, which means patience, forbearance, and forgiveness, traits the Abbott recognizes in my son.
Afterward we gather outside in the chill evening air, congratulating my son and practicing pronouncing his new name. Diana presents a Pali dictionary to Khantiko. I give him my card of congratulations, with a $100 Visa card in it. This turns out to be appropriate, because he no longer handles money. It’s considered a gift card that can be used by the community.
With Meryl and Diana as passengers, I drive back to the hotel for a short night's sleep.
My cell phone alarm fails me, but I wake up at 6:10 and decide to try to make breakfast at Abhayagiri at 7:00. I get there around 7:10. After breakfast and work assignments Khantiko and I walk up the mountain to Casa Serena, then follow a trail through the forest that approaches the main building from the opposite side. I am careful not to address him as Anthony. Someone pointed out to me that he will eventually have been Khantiko longer than he was Anthony. The strength of his commitment and his general good health convince me this is true.
We arrive back at the kitchen for the Meal, which consists this day of Italian food ordered with a monetary donation. Debbie gives me a lovely gold and tan scarf made in Thailand, which I immediately drape around my neck. I will wear it often back in Nashville and recall this surrounding of peace with each wearing.
I drive back to the hotel for a couple of hours before returning to the lovely home of my friend Sondra, who hosted me during my last year's visit. She brews loose tea, which she serves with dark chocolate in her clutter-free home. I am impressed anew by the streamlined look of her (minimal) stuff, made up of the highest quality everything (such as kitchen appliances and utensils, each of which resides in the most logical and convenient location as determined by its owner with unerring accuracy). I compliment her housekeeping and the efficiency she models.
We walk down her back yard to the thin stream of the Russian River that runs beside her property. She tells me details of the water rationing currently in place due to extreme drought, and she predicts that the river will soon dry up completely until the next big rain. She is allotted 50 gallons of water per day and has to pay a fee for any overage. She says she was surprised how little water that is, compared to what she was using. And she describes how she conserves the water we normally use so carelessly—as when running water until it gets hot—and uses it selectively on her flowers and plants.
She tells me about the popularity of growing marijuana, how much water these plants demand, and how they emanate a stench that is skunk-like. Because we are the same age, we share with each other how quickly we tire these days and how cautious about falling we have become, for fear of broken bones and decreased mobility. I quietly resolve to keep in touch with this incredible distant friend with whom I have much in common, both of us aging widows trying to follow the teachings of Buddha and Christ.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m. I arrive again at the monastery. Khantiko is in a lengthy business meeting with the other community members, so I await his return, preparing myself another cup of tea and sitting on the kitchen’s porch beside two young Buddhists--a beautiful girl, Ash, from India, and a twenty-something American boy traveling across the U.S. and visiting one Buddhist monastery after another.
He tells how he quit his yuppie job and how he has not regretted his decision. I want to ask if he thinks he has a vocation like my son's, but I decide such a question would be too personal. The two young people compare Buddhist retreats in which each has participated. The boy, Scott, asks me what I do and I explain that I am here to see my son get ordained, that I am a Catholic. I tell them that they are fortunate in discovering Buddhism in their youth and having a lifetime to practice it's precepts. I am realizing that this religion attracts me more than my own chosen Catholicism, and I feel more comfortable and truly myself in this worshipful center that my youngest son has found. While I have no intention of converting at my age, it is only by giving my own theology a Buddhist slant that I can continue with it, which perhaps puts me out of the mainstream but which thankfully makes me feel secure as an Associate of Mercy.
Sunday evening I join the monks and their Buddhist followers for a lengthy period of silent meditation along with group chanting in Pali and English. I decide it will take me much more practice and perhaps even study to get down the Pali pronunciations. I say goodnight to Khantiko and walk down the driveway in the dark to drive my rented Nissan through lonely Tomki and West Roads to an almost deserted freeway back to Ukiah.
My last morning the cell phone alarm fails me again. I realize that for two mornings in a row its vibration has propelled the phone to the floor, where the impact cuts off the alarm before I hear it. The good result is that each day I get 45 more minutes of needed sleep. It's 6:00 a.m. when I wake up and I must bathe, dress, pack everything, and check out. I hustle and leave the hotel shortly after 6:30, arriving at Abhayagiri before 7.
I sit and enjoy my bowl of oatmeal at the bench in back of the meeting room, while the monks eat from their sturdy silver bowls in their assigned spaces, seated on the floor. I note that Khantiko now has a 'real' bowl unlike the light tin ones used by the anagarikas. His assigned seat is beside Anagarika J.R., who will be ordained a novice in July.
After the morning meeting, I say goodbye to my son without hugs or kisses. I think that I have neglected to ask him about the abandonment of human touch and how that affects him...the man who from childhood was the most sensual of my children, touching and feeling everything. But there's no use in asking him that now. And, besides, he can still touch and explore things. I tell him I love him and he thanks me for coming. I realize I am reluctant to leave but I do so without tears because part of what this visit has given me is lasting--an enhanced understanding of how to live well.
I have told Khantiko something that perhaps (since he does not have bipolar disorder) he cannot understand: his introducing me to Buddhism and sharing Abhayagiri with me have given me a ‘safety net’...a sense of security sought but not so palpably found in my own Catholic faith.