Finding myself again

I cried in therapy today.  Only a little.  I didn’t think I could…  I have this fear that if I let the pain too close it will break through the dam and it will be a tsunami of destruction, that I will never be able to pull it back again.  But I let it out a little, portioned it, by teaspoons, and somehow I was able to pull it back again, even though a couple of times I felt it swelling up against the dam.

I talked about T.  Only a little.  I feel the same way, that if I let it loose it will consume me, I will drown in my grief, so I can’t let it out at all.  But I did…  just a little.  And I was comforted to know I could do that and then pull it back and I am still intact.

I talked about M.  Only a little.  That as well feels like a tidal wave of grief and heartache that if I let myself it will drown me.  But I won’t be allowed the escape of death, I will drown and drown forever.

Anyone who has ever drowned…  Perhaps you know that feeling I’m speaking of… the primal terror beyond the reach of logic or reason, the body’s rejection of reality, breathing in despite the mind’s desperate warnings, lungs filling with water, not air…

At least when you drown, it is brief, and then there is darkness and relief.

K came up this morning.  We did another ceremony, if you can call it that.  That word conjures, for me, images of finery and gold thread and bells and candles and formal words.  We don’t have any of those things.  This morning we went out to the dock.  Out where T and I used to dance to the radio while the other guys laughed and we tried not to knock each other into the water… sort of tried… sometimes tried… not always very hard.

Today, of course, it was only K and me and there wasn’t any music.  Just the water and the cicadas and the birds.

We went and sat on the pier, on the old planks that are starting to warp from years of moisture and sun.


He puts his hands down, palms to the wood.  I do too.  He murmurs with his voice that he so rarely uses… he is deaf and speaks with his hands.  He murmurs words I don’t understand, they are his native tongue that I don’t speak.  He rocks slightly to the rhythm of the murmuring prayer, his voice is low, soft, but it flows in lilting waves, crests and troughs of tone, of song.

I let my gaze soften, unfocus.  I sink into the sensations of my body, the warmth of the sun, the glitter of the water, the fuzzed wood, K’s voice…  I don’t know the words, we don’t share a faith, but neither of those things matter.  It is sacred.  And the energy of sacredness fills in the air around us.  I breathe it, let it strengthen my lungs, as if it lends supporting filaments to the ordinary air.

In a way, I pray with him.  Not in words, not even in thoughts, in something more primal than that.  I open to the sacred.  Breathe in and unlock my dark and wounded corners and cupboards.  Make myself a conduit, humble and open and unresisting.  I allow my body to be a resonator, I surrender to what is, surrender my seeking and feeling and wishing and wanting, surrender my skandhas, my duality…

I don’t know how long we pray, I don’t know when K stops speaking and simply sits, both of us holding a container, empty of self, filled with only what is.

Eventually we look at each other.

He says one word.  “Drala” a smile makes his eyes shine.

Skandhas are back, building up like lincoln logs, but my mind still retains a light touch on the sacred as I tilt my head, unsure I understood him.

He lifts a hand and spells it.  I did understand.  He said, “drala” but I’m not sure how he knows the word.

For a moment it doesn’t matter.  I sink a step back from my highest rooms of my mind and settle in the middle skandhas.  “Yes,” I say.  Because it is true.  Drala.


We walked back, unspeaking for several minutes until we passed the gate, as if it was a demarcation between the lake and the mundane world.  It isn’t, but we create such delineations, we of human minds.

“I read it,” he says, and I know he’s answering the unspoken question that rose when he first said the word.  “I read all the books.”

I actually lose the rhythm of my walk for a moment and he stops with me.  His expression looks both bemused and sad.  But all of us are sad all the time lately, it’s just that kind of time.

“What books?”  Though I can guess what he’s talking about it seems unlikely enough that my mind seeks another interpretation of his words.

“Yours.  The…” he falters on the spelling, “Ch..g…m…”  Then he signs an O and punctuates the air with a set of double dots.  Chögyam.  I smile at the beautiful simplicity of our ability to communicate.


He makes a sign that is half a shrug.  The sign means roughly, “ongoing” a flickering of his tongue adds more meaning, “for a long time.”  Reading is difficult for him since the brain injuries.  It is slow and he struggles often to understand phrases and words, even in straightforward stories.  To read the complex texts of Shambhala  teaching…  A sudden tightness seizes my gut and I feel my face crumbling towards tears.

“The other one, too,” he says, he isn’t discomfited by my reaction.  He knows me.  He understands.  “The woman… name…”  He gets her first name, the last he spells, “Ch…d…n” and makes the double dots twice.  It makes me smile even as tears leak from the corners of my eyes.  Chödrön.  “I like her, she’s easier to understand.  And…” he spells “Mipham” and gets all the letters.

A strange sense of surreality has found itself comfortable in the midst of this conversation.  I never knew he had read anything about Buddhism, never knew he had an interest, it was never a loss to me.  When I wanted to talk about some aspect of it as it related to my life, he always listened with the apt attention he always gave to any topic I was excited about.  But I never thought he pursued it on his own.

“Why?” I ask him.

He frowns slightly, then signs, “Why did you read Rabbit-Proof Fence?”  He signs it “rabbit fence” but I know what he means.  I start to open my mouth even though my answer will come from my hands, but he is still talking.  “Why did you read…” he makes a series of movements that aren’t even words in and of themselves, but still create a complex meaning that I understand, though to make it English flattens it into two dimensions…  most simply put why do you learn about aborigines?

He isn’t really asking.  He is answering my “why?”  I can see his gaze searching my face for the moment when I understand this, and the twitch of his eyebrow and corner of his mouth when he sees his meaning has landed.

He makes an expansive gesture vaguely in the direction of the lake, but taking in most of our surroundings.  “Drala” he uses his voice again.  Then he rests his palm on the center of my chest, “Drala,”  he moves his hand to his own heart, “Drala…”  His gaze shifts back towards the lake, the sadness that is always on all our faces in this time sharpens on his and suddenly his eyes gleam with a liquid sheen.  He turns his face away for a moment, but it has already been enough to prick the thin veneer over my own grief and sobs break open my chest.  It is so abrupt, the shifts from peace to sobbing grief and tears, and then back to a tenuous equilibrium.

He looks half back, and gropes for my hand without fully facing me.  I hold it tightly.  We will embrace, in a moment, when the comfort won’t break us both so far open we can’t come back from it.

My sobs quiet to heavy breaths, though the tears still flow.  I hear him sniff and with his free hand he wipes his face with the heel of his palm.

Eventually we can stand to hug and we do, holding on for a long time.

He comes back to the house with me.  With very little discussion we both seem to think the same thing.  He takes my smudge stick from the shelf inside my door.  I have already picked up the burning plate and the matches.

I smudge the house for cleansing the clinging and resistance and fear of pain.  I smudge for peace, for acceptance, for clarity, for kindness, for compassion, and understanding…  I stand for a long time in the center of each room, reciting the mantra of compassion.

K follows me from room to room, standing to one side.  Only once do I glance at him and realize his lips are moving silently, his eyes half closed, adding his own prayers to my own.

As I stand in the final room and finally lower my arm, watching the sworls of misty smoke marking the sage’s passage through the air, K steps up to my side and gently takes the bundle from my hand.  He steps to face me and raises the sage between us, the curls of smoke drifting down into my hair, tingling in my lungs as I breathe it.  “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ.”  For the third time this day I am stunned to silence, not even my thoughts stir for a moment.  He speaks the Tibetan words almost perfectly, with so little trace of his “deaf accent” that I feel a moment of surreal disorientation.

He lowers the sage and sets it in the burning dish.  I am still awestruck and only watch as he sets it on the side table.

He looks at me and I see the twitching smile on his lips.  “Who let the dogs out?” he says out loud and grins…  It was the first thing he wanted to learn to say when he started speech therapy.  He refused to cooperate with the exercises, the articulations, the isolation of sounds.  He sat down and said, “I want to sing this song,” apparently much to the confusion and distress of the therapist.  It was years ago.  I had no idea he was still going.  No idea that one of the projects he would choose for himself would be the words of one of my prayers.


He stayed until it was time for me to go to therapy.  I dropped him off at the mall, he had another ride home.  And I went to therapy.  And I cried.  Only a little, but enough.  I didn’t drown.

The waters are deep and dark and sometimes the waves come over my head and I believe I am drowning, and I thrash and scream and swallow water and for a while I lose my mind.  But I always come back to the surface.  Eventually, I always find my mind and stop thrashing and let the waves take me and realize, in my helplessness and my hopelessness against the massive power that is all that is… In my surrender… I always, eventually, stop drowning.

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