…klahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!
Well, since 2005 was a year of turning my life upside down at a moment’s notice, why should ’06 be any different? “Help” read the subject line of Ani Samten’s email and I braced myself. The body of the message was basically, “Guess where we’re sending you?” Oooh, where? Back to Mongolia? Bhutan? Oahu? “Um, no. Tulsa.” Tulsa Oklahoma Tulsa? “Yeah. That Tulsa.” Ah. That’s in Oklahoma, right? Where they just elected that nutball Tom Coburn to the Senate? How they cotton to smartmouth Buddhist monks? And whuffo anyway? (nod to Pogo)
Turns out, of course, there’s a very good and serious reason for sending me to Tulsa. Our eldest monk, Yeshe Nyonpa, is receiving urgent care at the Cancer Treatment Center there. Yeshe is our gentle eccentric, delightful, funny, and deeply devoted. He also has the distinction of being with Jetsunma the longest of any of us, all the way back to her brief involvement with the Black Mountain Group in North Carolina, nigh on 25 years. He’s been a faithful monk for 17 years. If you saw the “Buddha Rising” story in December’s National Geographic, he’s the older monk in that group photo where they’re blessing an auto garage!
Many years ago, Yeshe was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Naturally, we all helped him deal with this, but it also led to coping with some morbid Buddhist humor – for the spiritual side of his healing process, should he accumulate prostations? Yeshe soon became frustrated with conventional methods of treatment, the side effects seeming worse than the disease, and took his healing into his own hands. He employed a mind-boggling array of alternative treatments that kept the cancer at bay for quite some time. But then it metastasized into his bone, and it’s been more of a struggle since.
Recently, Gyatrul Rinpoche paid our Sedona sangha an extended visit. He was also displaying health challenges, and Ani Nydia, who’s an RN, spent a lot of time with him. Rinpoche hadn’t seen Yeshe on that visit, or even in years. But one day he turned to Nydia and said, “Your monk Yeshe has a tumor on his neck. If he doesn’t get it cut out, it’s going to kill him.” This was relayed to Yeshe who took it in, but didn’t act very quickly. Soon after, he experienced partial loss of movement in his right arm, and finally at one practice he couldn’t pick up a glass of water. Jetsunma had us arrange to send him to the Tulsa facility, feeling that it was, in her words, “Yeshe’s St. Jude’s,” referring to the excellent care Asia Claus is receiving in Memphis.
In fact, Yeshe has tumors on his neck and is in a very serious situation. Right now, one of our nuns is helping him, but it’s pretty inappropriate and awkward, given that Yeshe’s moved to an outpatient guest suite where they share the same space, and he needs help with some rather intimate daily needs. So the monks are taking over. I’m in Vermont now, will return to KPC on January 3rd, and turn right around to fly out to Tulsa on the 4th. I’ll probably be there at least ten days and will try to get back to regular DODR dispatches.
If you’re already offering prayers for Asia, please fold Yeshe in.
So. I’m now in Vermont at my mother’s house (OK, condo – Vermont ain’t what it used to be), having spent Christmas at my sister Laura’s in New Hampshire. All seemed just sugar-plummy on Christmas morning. Santa had come, and my nephew Paul contained himself enough to let us sleep in a little bit, having attended the midnight service at Laura’s church. We were just settling in, thinking about digging into our stockings when *blink* the power went out. Ordinarily, no biggie. Except we had Just. Started. Brewing. Coffee. It’s a tragic tableau to see four adults weeping in the kitchen on Christmas morning, I can tell you. Laura and I zoomed out to see if, in fact, the Muslim guy had opened the 7-Eleven; we would have flipped on a siren and put a cop light on the roof a la Starsky and Hutch if we could. Just as we burst wild-eyed into the store, the cell phone rang. Power on. Christmas saved. Nonetheless, here I am, before my first sip, filled with some Christmas spirit or other:
Turned out lovely, in fact. And we had a fascinating dinner later with a guest named Jo. At first, I had her pegged as the classic, plain older New England Methodist church lady. How many times will my conceptual mind fail me before I give it up altogether? Don’t know how the subject came up, but she mentioned that as a teenager in the early 60’s she had traveled from her native Oregon to register voters in the deep South, scary Bubba cops, jail and all. Well, I just turned dinner into an extended interview after that, prying out details about how she had internalized the teachings of Christ to work on remedies for racial injustice, including having a summer-long organizing role in the March on Washington. She’s the only person I ever met who participated in that historic event and heard Dr. King’s speech in person. It inspired in her a lifelong career working for social justice. Hearing her story was my real gift that day.
Since the 27th I’ve been in Brattleboro, VT, one of my favorite American towns. I’m posting from the ultra-funky Twilight Tea Lounge, which offers a wifi hotspot with its yummy pots of tea and ambrosial chocolate chip cookies.
One aspect of visiting Ma always involves catching up on pop culture, since she has cable and I don’t even have a TV. And catching up on pop culture means, mostly, watching reruns of the many manifestations of Law and Order. So one episode involves an action movie star who’s somehow wired into the Mob. They want to question him some more, but he’s skipped town. His agent tells the cops – hold onto your hats – that’s he’s gone to Mongolia to make a movie about Tibetan Buddhism! Huh…wha…what!? Eventually the actor re-appears and says nah, he wasn’t on a movie set. He was just in a monastery meditating! Unbelievable.
A highlight of this visit was meeting with my mother’s Buddhist study group. Way back when I mentioned this. They’ve been meeting most Tuesday nights for seven or eight years. For several months, they’ve been digesting Tulku Thondup’s Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth, an excellent book. So we spent a happy couple of hours talking about Buddha Amitabha and his pure land, the death process, karma, etc. Here they are. Standing in the background are Pat and Joan. In the foreground are Anna (a wonderfully talented potter), Donnalee hugging Joan’s guide dog Tamari, and my sainted muddah:
Today is the 31st and we’re waiting for my sister and her two kids to show up. They’re coming to join us in a grand celebration. New Year’s? Pshaw! It is, in fact, your humble author’s 40th birthday, a day he shares with his lovely niece Mary, who turns Sweet Sixteen today. According to Mongolian culture, a person does not come into their full maturity until age 40. Since “maturity” is not a characteristic that’s ordinarily ascribed to me, we can only hope, but I wouldn’t bet the kids’ college fund on it.
My mother had one of those desk calendars with a saying a day from the Dalai Lama. We call it the Daily Lama. Anyway, this was today’s quote:
“For me, it is nothing. New millennium or new century or new year. For me it is another day. Another day and night. The sun, the moon, the stars remain the same.”
I’m witcha, Your Holiness. But I still might have seconds of birthday cake.
May your 2006 be filled with joy, prosperity, compassion and wisdom. Let’s be kind to one another without partiality and, recognizing the pervasiveness of impermanence, tend as much as we can to the purifying of our inner lives.
Thank you for sharing the bulk of 2005 with me. Now excuse me while I go put on a funny hat and choose a noisemaker.