Finding the light at the end of our journey.
The first time I went to Uganda, where my community has supported women and orphans for 12 years, we arrived at our destination long after dark.
After 20 hours on a plane and eight hours on bad roads, we were pretty disoriented when our car was surrounded by singing and dancing children. We could hear women ululating their welcome off in the distance, and somebody was banging on a drum. The only light on this mad scene came from our weak, mud-covered headlights. We would be staying at the home of a priest, but first we had to get out of the car.
Suddenly our driver was at my door, pointing and saying, “Go toward the light.” That sounded familiar, and indeed, there was a very small light off in the distance. So I went—not noticing that everyone else in our little group had gone the other direction, in search of a bathroom.
I found myself in the church, where the Ladies Guild were dressed in traditional costumes to greet us. This involved bright purple grass skirts over their gomesi, and ceremonial sticks to bang on the ground as they danced.
Not knowing what else to do, I joined the dance, and that’s where I was when my traveling companions finally showed up, fresh and ready for the official welcome.
I remember this story because I’ve been thinking about death.
When Ma Jaya, my guru, died recently, I’m sure she knew exactly where to go and how to get there, but the rest of us need guidelines. When Ma Jaya worked with the dying, she told them, “Go toward the light! Just go toward the brightest light!”
She had gotten into debates with Buddhist scholars who wanted her to teach from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but Ma was working with street people, AIDS patients, and ordinary Floridians—people who, she said, could not be expected to follow all that.
Ma was with the dying every day when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, sometimes in person, sometimes over the phone, sometimes just in spirit. When she said she had guided thousands of people across, she wasn’t exaggerating.
We may worry that we won’t know where to go, or what to do when the time comes. But I think I have it now. Someone will remind me, “Go toward the brightest light,” like our driver in Uganda. When I go, I will follow the light. There will be someone to dance with and it will be OK.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard