“Why cross the boundary when there is no village? It’s like living without a name, like words without love.” ~ Annamayya, “God on the Hill,” Temple Poems from Tirupti
He said his name was Frank; we met as he stood smiling on a busy street corner.
I would be scolded again, told I’m foolish and not really helping Frank because he’ll waste twenty bucks on booze or smokes or some unhealthy whatnot.
Reminded, too, I lack the kind of personal bankroll which would comfortably permit my tossing cash out any window. I have arrived at the age where I should be stashing some aside for the purchase of future replacement parts when the original equipment may very well go bust.
“What you look for is the god in you. What you see is the god out there. God is what you have in your mind”. ~ Annamayya
Reaching out of my car window with a $20 spot, I asked Frank if he had eaten. “Nope, not today,” so I held the bag of bagels out the window while instructing him to help himself to yogurt from the bag on the back seat, perched on top of my sadly orphaned yoga mats due to recent injuries.
I couldn’t help but think, “Honestly Frank, you remind me of myself: far from home.” But my smile is a fake. I am stuck in a personal trifecta of pain.
Yet in the few moments we spoke, I was struck by the clarity and warmth in your eyes. I waited to hear you recite a well-deserved litany of difficulties—you know, the stuff of memorable songs, but you never uttered one word of discontent.
“Shade is nothing without the burning sun. What is patience without the fury of passion? Why make anything-love or poetry-if two can’t be one? ~ Annamayya
Later I thought of Frank in the scorching sun. He looks slightly like Willy Nelson with his bandana and weathered, lived-in complexion of an ancient farm hand. A lot of folks will drive by not seeing him, consumed by the busyness of their noonday agenda. Many more will see him and choose to deflect their eyes, for to them, he obviously lacks gumption, or Midwesternly speaking “what it takes.”
Opening the closet for a paper bag to pack more provisions to take to Frank, I sighed when noticing the new Tilley hat and angler’s vest purchased for my life-long dream trip: learning the art of fly-fishing (how Zen!) in Montana. Bursting with the excitement of a teen preparing for her first formal dance, I had picked-out my new fishing gear and spent months making the trip arrangements.
It didn’t happen.
“What are these graces, these pearls, raining down her cheeks? Can’t you imagine, friends? What could they be but beads of sweat left on her gentle face by the god on the hill when he pressed hard, frantic in love? What are they but letters of love?” ~ Annamayya
I held her as her journey ended, arranged a “proper” funeral as she would have wanted, wrote and delivered a magnificent eulogy, the last in a recent unexpected trilogy. At her graveside, I recited from my heart a few lines from the Metta Sutta, joyfully proclaimed “Emaho, precious Mama!” while placing a garland of white carnations next to the traditional casket spray.
Most folks had no idea what I was saying or doing. Some made their disapproval apparent: I sure wasn’t very Lutheran-like. “Ruth and Joe’s youngest has gone over the edge,” I read in their faces. “What was that stuff? Some Eastern influenced beat-poet ideology left over from the 60’s? Hear she’s vegan too—worse than Unitarian for God’s sake!” Had they seen my tattoo, it would have sealed it: middle-aged mayhem. But I knew my mother would have loved it (perhaps not the tattoo) and that’s all that really matters.
“I could read every book, but if there’s greed in my mind, will I ever come into my own? If I scrub my body with my ego in place, I’m left wearing the guise. I seek refuge.” ~ Annamayya
I returned to find Frank sitting under a tree alongside several empty cups of yogurt as he gazed intently into a worn-out book. I quickly surveyed the novel in his hands and determined it to be some piece of trash fiction.
So not to startle him, I softly called out, “Hey Frank, it’s me again,what are you reading?”
“Just some trash fiction”, he replied.
The Tilley hat fit perfectly. He appreciated the sunscreen, eagerly drank a cold protein shake as we talked, and with great animation told me of his love of books, rattling off an impressive list of authors in one very long breath.
A good spiritual road warrior always has at least a dozen books stacked upon the front passenger seat.
Returning to my car I closed my eyes and, deciding to let nature choose, found in my hand “Nothing but Blue Skies” by Thomas McGuane.
I obviously need to do that more often.
Thinking to myself, “Honestly Frank, happiness or joy simply vanished. Pema Chodron writes, ‘Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state.’ She says, with encouragement, it is a time to pull back on the throttle, stop striving, stay put and gently cultivate gumption, compassion and matri. When I saw you, Frank, I recognized that is what I have been missing; this is exactly where I should be in this journey. Being of Midwest decent, gumption and stubbornness are inherent, but recognizing subtlety is an acquired skill.”
“The god on the hill held her in his arms. She’s sleeping, a half-opened flower.” ~ Annamayya
Frank loved the book, assured me that as soon as he gets a phone, he’s certain he’ll find a job. Echoing his affirmations, I offered a quick hug. We thanked each other several times, and as I walked away he asked, “Hey, what’s your name?”
Inhaling deeply, I replied.
Smiling honestly, I realized I am not really off course, cushion or yoga mat.
Any breath taken with loving gratitude is an ujjayi breath.
“The god on the hill is on the hill. And where am I? Look, we made love. Miracles do happen. Distant rivers reach the sea.” ~ Annamayya
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Asst Ed: Dana Pauzauskie/Ed: Sara Crolick
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