November 9, 2020

The Last Ride: a Maitri Story.

We blearily get into the Voyager, betraying the Grateful Dead stickers on the bumper, and she turns on the minivan tank preparing for the drive toward routine, the usual. The opposite of a Dead Show.

Shotgun, I ride and she, Captain, always. I never knew which decision she would make on these days, between the half-mile from home to school. But, I always rode with anticipation because maybe, just maybe, today. She backs out of the driveway, turns on the radio, CD already inserted, she skips to number four, dials to volume 6.

Harmonica cuts through the dullness of this early Friday morning.

“The screen door slams

Mary’s dress waves

Like a vision, she dances across the porch

As the radio played…”

We ride on, no words but Bruce’s. I stare straight ahead, making friends with sleepiness, possibly mistaken for seriousness. I am careful not to insult her with my presumptions while trying to convince myself that I’d be okay with whichever decision she made, today. The line of cars herds down our town’s main street, in procession. We pass the student back parking lot, sprinkled with latecomers and smokers, and where we usually makeshift parked under a grand ol’ uprooted oak tree. Not today? Maybe. She rounds the corner, and slowly approaches the front of the school, risky, as we’ve already missed the first bell.

“…Show a little faith there’s magic in the night

You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright

Oh and that’s alright with me…”

She comes to a complete stop, engine still on, directly adjacent the attendance office, with doors wide open on this warm, late fall, southern California day. She’s playing with my presumptions and laughing. My sister was the only senior who could find a sense of humor before 8 a.m. on a weekday. I continue to stare straight ahead to preserve whatever good attendance remained of my three years at my alma mater.

…With a chance to make it good somehow

Hey, what else can we do now…

So what’s it gonna be? I turn and ask her. She takes her hand from the wheel, turns up the volume beyond 6, to the deciding moment forever captured in this song’s enticing stanza, and with her other hand, in synchronicity with mine, we:

“Except roll down the window

And let the wind blow back your hair?

Well the night’s busting open

These two lanes will take us anywhere…”

We were gone. The second bell ringing in the rearview mirror. Two trapped teenagers feeling the warm wind of freedom on our tan faces. The routine, the usual day now filled with detours and pockets and moments of wondrous uncertainty.

And then, she was gone.

Found again, nearly 12 years later, after sobriety and kids and a beyond-unstable marriage.

It was our last week spent together before she was forever gone.

Something was off that week, but I couldn’t name it. I felt it, an unsettling deep in me, that wouldn’t let me forget. Maybe it was the concerning stories she had shared, or her impatience with bath time and restlessness with moments waiting, in-between the next mothering. Maybe it was on that day when we were walking my dogs on a gravel trail. She was upset with me because of being unprepared; today, it was children with Lake Washington dripping from their t-shirt and shorts and long hair.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to ease the heaviness of that moment, and that week, with my apologies and diversions. But, she refused to turn and look back at me. She kept walking with a sense of uncharacteristic certainty because she always turned back. And, this time, I stopped following.

Repair with my sister was like the rising sun, warm and reliable, a sense of a new beginning. No matter how spiteful or vicious we were to one another, our unconditional love and understanding melted the hard edges of angry words. Our repair in all its imperfect, humorous, remorseful, half-assed, and resolute forms was our glue, a reunion of our shared compassion.

“…From your front porch to my front seat

The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free

And I know you’re lonely

For words that I ain’t spoken

Tonight we’ll be free

All the promise’ll be broken…”

Maitri is the practice of unconditional friendship with oneself. How do I make friends with a traitor who let her sister walk away? Rest assured, I know well the necessary empathy bestowed upon family and friends of loved ones murdered by domestic violence and I know we are not to blame. We never imagined this would (actually) happen. But there are times when that’s just not good enough for me. How many times has my own fear distorted my vision or my shame kept me separate, backed into a corner, frozen.

Maitri may take different forms throughout our lives, depending upon the roads we travel. Currently, my maitri is practicing radical compassion and radical acceptance (Tara Brach) as guides to move me beyond the sticky shame that disconnects me from my loved ones. My maitri is working on the repair, the reunion of shared compassion that was lost that day when we let her walk away.

“…So Mary climb in

It’s a town full of losers

I’m pulling out of here to win.”

~ Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road



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