Our sun is moving northward, quick passage, blinkings of the eye. For almost three months now I have sat here looking at the mountains, unobstructed views since our Palo Verde came down in the fierce wind last fall not long after Sofia died. I used to live outside in the courtyard, but when Boo came home from the hospital, I moved inside, set the two of us up together on the couch bed, me with my down blankets and two small soft beds for him beside me warmed with heating pads. After he died I just stayed put, ensconced in my perch, and I’ve watched the sun inching north. So, because Boo died, I established myself here in this cozy spot. Because we lost our tree, I have these mountains for companions. Silver linings, here, gifts hidden inside grief. I don’t know how many times I’ve cried in this room since I ended up without my little family and have not yet been able to bring myself back into our shared courtyard without them. But I know at times those tears have come because I feel so grateful for this solace. I can’t imagine any better place for me or more exquisite comfort than this room with the mountains before me, pink clouds near dusk, the winter sun’s clean slanting, healing light, the finches noisy and happy just outside the window. So, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you thank you.
I wake up today to sunlight on the red tulips beside my bed. “Good morning,” I say to them. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Then I sing happy Valentine’s Day to myself to the tune of the happy birthday song. I like this silly start to the day, lie grinning in the sunny room, the mountains spread before me. I began buying flowers for myself when Sable died. I needed that life here in the room with me. But these are the first tulips I’ve had since his black furry form left this world. Did you know cut tulips keep growing in the vase? I think they may be the only ones who do. I like that about them. And I love how sturdy they are, how upright. I love watching them open and close in the course of a day. Right after Sable died, I wanted a reading, found Rhonda at the crystal store. She told me there was nothing I could have done, eased a weight inside me. “Do you have a plan?” she asked me. A plan? I babbled something I can’t remember now, about how I might try to take care of myself without him here. Maybe about how I wanted to honor the death of both my furred ones by remaining pet free for this next stretch of my life, knowing as I do how it may bring things best served by this. She didn’t even blink, just listened. But then she said something that made me realize she didn’t ask me if I had a plan. She asked me if I had a plant. Ha! It made me laugh. I was touched, too, by her kindness in not correcting me. And I do have a plant, it turns out. I have a small cactus Mami gave me a year ago last Christmas. Right after Boo died, I found tiny red buds all over it. It felt like a message, like a gift. Now it’s in bloom, big deep pink blossoms like exotic birds, my Christmas cactus valentine. I heard the mockingbirds last Wednesday for the first time and wondered if they might be practicing their love songs for the big day. One is singing now as I write, his clear liquid notes drifting through the kitchen window, valentine serenade. May we all be touched by sweetness, today and always.
This morning the yoga class before our meditation runs a little long. I sit on the bench outside the door and pay attention to how annoyed it makes me. I wanted time to find my spot, get settled. I’d rushed the whole way, walking fast in the hot morning. I was sweating. It was the principle of the thing. The whole time part of me is incredulous. Was I really going to get all bent out because I had to wait a few minutes? The principle of the thing? Really?
A woman walks out of the studio smiling. My answering smile feels stiff on my face. A man comes out and sits beside me on the bench. He’s all blissed out from a good class, his movements slow and deliberate, taking it all in. I soften, feel the dumb irritation slide away.
My neighbor from Canada, one of our snowbirds though she hates that designation, keeps asking me if I’ve been away. “Are you okay?” she said one evening when I passed her sitting on the porch after picking up my mail.
“Yeah,” I said. But I bristled inside. Why would I not be okay? Today she asks me again if I’ve been gone. I’ve already explained why she might wonder. I haven’t been sitting in the courtyard. I no longer talk to my cats. I am a quieter neighbor these days. My work is quiet, too. “I haven’t been outside much,” I say again.
“Oh, well,” she says. “You need to get out. Get some fresh air.” I laugh and tell her how much it bugs me when she says things like that. I hate being told what to do. But the laugh is genuine, and I let it go. Later, I see two white-crowned sparrows sitting on the wall across the road. I talk to them through the open window for a moment before they fly away. I want them to winter here now every year, our true snowbirds. Maybe when they come back I’ll be sitting in the courtyard again.
In the late dusk the moon is a sickle in the southern sky. I realize I’m too tired. Everything chafes.
Saturday morning it comes to me that all unknowing I have begun an endeavor that involves a considerable amount of intellectual or conceptual effort. What the Buddha laid out all those centuries ago is intricate and many layered. And I have not committed myself to studying it. In fact, I think part of me resists it. This morning I have a bad moment. What if I keep going and find myself caught up in a structure that constricts me? I flash on being stuck inside the Buddha’s system, unable to free myself from the sticky strands of that web. What if I am unable to have a thought without naming it, categorizing it? Ah, this self-conscious feeling, this is clinging in the category of self. Or, oh, the sun has gone behind the mountain, and I am cold. Is that aversion in the category of sensual pleasures? Sunday night there is socializing after the meditation and teaching. I nibble on the millet raisin cookies I made and try to talk to people. I am awkward and not very present. I am so uncomfortable, I leave early without saying goodbye to anyone. My mind races as I walk home in the rain. I am judging myself, my discomfort, my rambling speech. I realize this is the biggest learning curve I have been in since I began to teach for the first time. But I have forgotten to be kind to myself. Notice, yes. Pay attention. But gently. Lovingly. I remind myself of that surprising bit of rainbow I woke up to, curled on my side, the bands of color tucked into the curve of the mountain before me. And the next morning before dawn, the waning moon and Mars in the clerestory window when I roll over in bed. Gifts from the universe, reassurance. And the small quiet gang of wintering white-crowned sparrows that gather in the courtyard just before dark, tiny beloved aliens who call in a language I don’t know. Something eases within me. Yes. And again, yes. I choose this.