Wearing Her Clothes

May 12, 2010

From time to time I officiate weddings and memorial services.  For years I have been on a search for the perfect ceremonial attire.  Though I make very little money – often none at all – for conducting these services, I have been willing to spend whatever it might take to end up with the right thing.  But the right thing never seemed to present itself.

Until last weekend.  Now a luminous Punjabi suit from India hangs in my closet, draped with an embroidered stole I bought last year from the designer Zandi in hopes that the robe over which to wear it would eventually materialize.  The kurta blouse is a kind of silvery-bronze with a black flower motif embossed in the silken material.  The pants are fitted tight around the calves, creating an elegant geometry for the long, flowing top.  It is an exquisite garment, understated and unbelievably fine.  And it only cost $25.00.

Why so little?  Because it had been donated by an Indian devotee to the Haidakhandi Ashram in Crestone where Jeff and I were roaming during my spectacular birthday journey in Colorado last Sunday.  After singing to the Divine Mother – Jenny’s favorite deity – in their temple, we wandered down to the gift shop to poke around.  There we met the legendary founder, a delightful woman named Ramloti.  When I told her I was looking for a ceremonial outfit, she sized me up (extra small!), marched over to the rack, and produced this gorgeous Punjabi.  It fit me perfectly.  My agreeable husband (who had accidentally forgotten to get me a birthday present – oops!) bought it for me on the spot.  The whole thing took about three and a half minutes.

“The person who donated this suit is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” Ramloti told me.

“Oh good, I will be happy to wear the clothes of a beautiful woman.”

“I mean, both inside and out,” she said.  I felt the power of her words, as if the transmission of goodness and loveliness came through the fabric of my perfect new outfit.

After I changed back into my jeans, Ramloti said, “If you’ll come with me to the kitchen, I’d like to show you something.”

We followed her to the other side of the “earth-ship” building and she pointed to a picture of a gorgeous Indian teenager with a candle burning in front of it.  My heart collapsed like a flower in a storm.

“This is the daughter of the woman whose Punjabi you just bought.”

“She died.” I did not ask; I knew.

“Yes.  Eight months ago.  They have spent a lot of time here at the ashram over the years.”

“I lost my daughter, too!”  My heart unfolded again.  You’d think by my enthusiasm that I was commenting on the fact that we had both graduated from the same school or traveled to the same Caribbean island.  But the synchronicity of finding my ritual garb at last and discovering that not only did I share the same taste and the same size as the most beautiful woman in the world, but that we were also bonded by one of the most significant experiences two people can have, blasted me open and filled me with an inexplicable sense of homecoming.

Ramloti seemed to understand.  She handed me a piece of paper and encouraged me to write a note to the woman and her husband, and give them my contact information.  Knowing how important it was to me to connect with other members of the terrible new club I belonged to after Jenny died, I happily complied.  A few days later, I received a call from the girl’s father, who thanked me for reaching out and told me that his wife would be getting in touch when she returned from India later this month.  Ramloti had told him the story of our grace-filled connection, and he was as deeply moved as I was.

I am looking forward to the next ceremony I officiate.  It will be a June wedding, at the base of a ski area in the glorious Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  I will be blessing a pair of adorable young students of mine at the university, as they embark together on life’s great adventure.  I will carry the beauty and dignity of someone I have never met, but with whom I share a singular bond – a mother shattered by loss, in love with an inscrutable God – even as I wear her beautiful clothes.

Please note that I will be traveling from May 13 – June 1.  I am visiting my nephew in L.A. with my family, then off to New York to teach an evening workshop on the Sacred Feminine at the Open Center on May 21, followed by the Beautiful Wound retreat at Omega Institute May 23-28 (there’s still space, if you’d like to join us!).  I probably won’t post during my time away, but I will definitely be able to read your comments and respond, so please keep in touch.  And be well.  Love, Mirabai

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Hugo the Chihuahua

May 5, 2010

Hugo, my sister’s family dog, died this past Sunday, on my birthday.  In this post, I would like to honor Hugo and address the grief that comes with losing a beloved family pet.

The first thing I would like to say is that, while I am and always have been a passionate lover of animals, I am not equating the sorrow associated with the passing of a pet with the life-changing power of encountering the death of a human being.  I have been profoundly affected by both, and they are different experiences.

Yet love is love.  And when you love another being, something in you dies when they die.  The death of anyone you love is often the occasion for all the other losses you have ever experienced to rise to the surface of your heart and wash over you like a hot wave.  Suddenly you are immersed in grief and longing, in love and tenderness, in the bittersweet suchness of the human condition.  Everything is up, and you ride the tide of love until you can breathe again.

Hugo was not just any chihuahua.  He was an intense character.  He was hilarious, and seemed to be in complete control of his ability to crack us all up, to bring us unmitigated delight with his quirky personality and humungous heart.  He was mischevious and affectionate, smart and willful, and unconditionally loving.  He appeared at Amy’s doorstep in the wake of a difficult divorce, and he became a healing force for her two little boys as they learned to build a new life together as a family.

Last week I spent a day with my sister and mother shopping in Santa Fe for my upcoming trip to New York.  Hugo was with us.  They picked me up from the university, so I was in what I call my “teaching costume,” which in this case happened to include black pants and a black blazer.  The minute I climbed into the back seat, Hugo leapt into my arms and stayed there all day, nestled against my chest.  I was covered in white and gold dog hair.  When Amy apologized, I said, “It’s worth it to have this guy in my arms.”  And it was.

This past Sunday, after my ecstatic weekend in Crestone, back home on my own couch eating gourmet pizza with my beloved, the phone rang.  It was my mom, who intimately knows my intimacy with death, and so got right to the point.  “Mirabai, I don’t know how to tell you this except to just say it: Hugo was killed today.”

At first I was calm and philosophical.  I gathered information (he was attacked by a couple of large dogs in the neighborhood).  I inquired about Amy and Ian, her younger son, still living at home (devastated).  I set my intention to be of support to them in their loss.  And then I burst into tears.  I could not stop crying.

I wept for Hugo, imagining his terror in being ravaged by those ferocious beasts.  I wept for my sister and nephews, whose daily lives were interwoven with his.  I wept for the way I would miss that adorable creature every time I visited Amy’s and he was not there to dance in circles at my feet until I swept him up and cuddled him.  And I wept for the loss of every dog and cat I have ever loved, who came into my life and healed me of some brokenness, and then left this world.

People who mourn for the loss of a pet often feel disenfranchised, as if they have no right to be so sad when other people are grieving the deaths of their parents or children, their partners or siblings.  I admit that have found myself frustrated when well-meaning acquaintances claimed to know what I was going through after my daughter was killed in a car wreck, because their family hamster had died of old age when they were in sixth grade.  But even if the loss of an animal inhabits a different region of our heart than the loss of a human being, it still has the power to transform us with the utter mystery and holiness of love.

Rest in peace, sweet Hugo.  You made our lives more beautiful.  We will miss you.

Gathering the Stories

May 3, 2010

I have begun getting up an extra hour early and writing with the sunrise.  It’s time to shape THIS BEAUTIFUL WOUND work into a book.  Part of me hesitates to share this, because right now it’s still in the gooey undefined stage of a caterpillar melting into something unrecognizable inside its cocoon.  Yet by letting you know what I am up to, I am psychically accountable to you.  I get up, make coffee, light a candle and offer the light, and get to work, because I said I would.  I ignore my email, last night’s dishes, philosophy papers to grade.  There is only this: articulating the power of grief and loss to make butterflies of us all.

If it wasn’t for my friend Andrew Harvey, I might never have begun.  He extracted a promise from me on the phone last week, after inquiring about how my work was going and then really listening for the true answer.  The thing is, there is never a convenient time to climb Mount Sinai.  So you strap on your sandals, leave a pot of soup on the stove for your family, and start walking.

A few days ago my friend JB, who knows me more deeply than maybe anyone on the planet, gently challenged me:  Are you sure you want to make grief the focus of your life?  She was responding to the way I still come undone in the face of heartbreak: my own, yours.

I had just told her about going to see what was supposed to be a funny movie the night before with my husband seated on one side of me and a good friend on the other.  There was a car crash scene – buckling metal and shattering glass – and while the whole audience, including my companions, was laughing uproariously I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out.  How many times have I imagined Jenny’s accident, the sounds and movements of the scene of her dying?  The contrast of what for me is a trauma set in the context of a comedy fried my circuits, and I left the theater in tatters.  Every week people call and I sit with them inside their burning.  It is only by entering into the heart of the pain with them that any kind of alchemy unfolds.  I love this service, but I do not want it to define who I am.

GD & I went to Crestone this weekend to celebrate my birthday with our dear friends, Tessa and Father Dave, the Carmelite monks.  Tessa and I have collaborated on various Teresa of Avila projects and have become intimate soul sisters.  Fr. Dave is an exquisite poet with profound interfaith sensibilities, and we share the same birthday.  They are my informal spiritual directors, and so, over champagne and miso soup, I asked for their guidance.  Tessa did not hesitate to let me know that this book is exactly what I need to be writing, that I am gathering up my legacy teachings and offering them so that I can release them.

And so I write, and let go.

This book will include examples of people I have sat with in the fire of grief and loss who are transforming, and those who fear they never will, and those who already have.  If you have any stories to share with me, I would like to hear them.  You can email me through my website, or share them on this blog.  Thank you!