Karma’s been on my mind a lot lately. Unlike the popular interpretation of the term karma, literal karma is not just bad stuff. Instead, it is a sort of life ledger sheet — sometimes you’re in the black and sometimes you’re in the red — depending on what you say, think, and do.
Everything’s recorded and everything counts. There’s no such thing as a free pass.
What goes around, comes around.
What got me thinking about all this is this experience of taking my mom in, after the whole thing she set up with my sibling fell to pieces.
I won’t say more about that, than that. I am actually thinking more about what’s up on my end — because this situation is obviously something I’ve called into my life (through actions, words, deeds) — in order to grow as a human being. Perhaps my sibling called this loss into his life to do the same.
One can hope, but I can’t know for sure. That’s his work, not mine.
The only thing I know for sure is that this stuff is my stuff, and I am responsible for handling it with grace and strength.
Unpacking Loss. Unpacking Sorrow.
Two weeks in.
We are sailing along, knee deep in mess and boxes, with packing tape sticking to our shoes. Mom’s been great — a real trouper — in the face of unpacking everything she just spent three months packing and shipping down here. So far, there’s no breakage and no loss — except all the loss that preceded her move to Arizona. My animals have moved in to comfort her, gathering in a tight bunch on her bed as she naps, exhausted from her trip through hell. The dog burrows under the covers and snuggles up to her, sighing with absolute delight at finding another sap to rub her belly.
We move furniture and open boxes. We weed and feed critters. We trade off cooking meals.
I go up to school to teach. My mother stays home with my pet people, giving them more attention than they have the right to expect.
I know she grieves while I am away. Her face changes as the days pass, sometimes it’s lighter, sometimes, darker. I know she’s swimming in a dark river now. However, I cannot traverse those currents. They’re hers to sort out and make sense of. As much as I would like to be able to comfort her, this is something she must work out, without me.
We’ve contacted Social Security and her annuity provider and set up a bank account.
The list of things we still need to do is a long one. The process is exhausting and often irritating. We waited for fifty-minutes yesterday on hold for Social Security. My phone had started to beep the death beep by the time their rep finally answered. Luckily, we were still able to get her squared away before the phone gave up the ghost.
Ghosts and Ruins.
“Your father told me he’d always loved me. At the end of his life, he told me that,” she says, wiping away tears.
“I know, Mom.” My parents remained strange friends — of sorts — until the end of my dad’s life.
She holds a carved geisha he brought home from Japan after World War II.
“Grandma didn’t want any of the stuff he brought home,” she says, turning it from side to side. She didn’t want the paintings done on silk in sumi ink. She didn’t want any of it.
We talk as we run across photos of my father I’ve framed — one in particular of him in his fifties — posing with my grandmother.
“I’ve never seen this one,” she says, marveling at his ridiculous perm and big mustache. Not the best look for him, but I love the photo because they both look happy.
Daddy is almost thin — not long after his first heart attack — wearing dark jeans and a turtleneck sweater. Grandma was still several years away from a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease that would ravage her brain and body. They’re standing in the backyard of the house on 125th in Seattle with the greenness of the lawn and tall evergreens as a backdrop.
He was younger than I am now, then; grandma was younger than my mom is now.
I open boxes I packed two months ago, and find a whole set of books by Leonard Shlain, Octavia Butler, and George Chesboro. I find Pooh Bear and a doll-sized chair, a carving of a horse, and one lithe deer.
I open boxes and my whole childhood spills out.
In the kitchen, I unpack boxes of spatulas and scrapers, mixing bowls and coffee mugs. There’s a huge set of black, octagonal dishes, bowls and cups, as well as a set of cornflower blue plates shaped like sea shells.
I told my mom to pack up anything that would make her feel at home. It is likely that even though she got rid of enormous amounts of stuff, she still has too much to shoehorn into my tiny house, but I am determined for her not to ‘get rid’ of anything else, just yet. It may need to live in the storage shed for a bit, but we will find a way to ferret away what she’s brought with her.
I think about this culling process my mom’s navigating and I wonder what it will be like for me in thirty years: a childless woman who is, as yet, unmarried. I realize that if I am surrounded by friends (and I am rich with astonishing, beautiful, kindhearted friends) I will be OK. I realize that I will likely cull and give away much of what I have by then, so I can travel lightly to the next world.
Life Is Beautiful: Don’t Waste It.
Our attachments make us human. As a Buddhist, being a humane human being, a soft, openhearted, humble human being, is crucial. Maybe what I am tasked with learning alongside my mother, is to walk softly on this earth. To enjoy what there is to enjoy and to suffer what there is to suffer (as Nichiren stated in his letter to his followers over 700 years ago). There is much we can squander in life — that we can fail to see until it is too late — in particular, the ephemeral nature of our connection to our parents and families. We often spend our time — these incandescent moments that we cannot ever hold onto — complaining or fighting or measuring out what we didn’t get. Instead, we should be measuring how grateful we are — to be alive, to have a roof over our heads, to have food in the cupboard.
Life is, in lots of ways, very simple. We’re given this specific allotment of days in which to express our creativity and joy and humanity. We will likely have sorrow and get pretty banged up along the way. We will also see butterflies and bats and the river Thames. We will read Shakespeare and comics and instruction manuals. We will listen to Elton John and Devo and Elvis Costello. We will learn to cook. We will fall in love. We will bury people we deeply love.
We can muck it all up or we can make the most of it.
It’s up to us.
© 2014 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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