I didn’t plan it. It just turned out this way, a surprising convergence of energies as if in preparation for my Vipassana retreat. I leave tomorrow, seven days in the high desert, silence, insight dialog, lots of sitting practice. I finished the semester’s grading late last night. On Monday I met my vow this year to get my home together inside and out before the heat of summer when (I finally understand) you have to just hunker down, get through the brutal heat, expect yourself to do only what is required. I wiped down books and boxed them, stacked things in the bathroom in the in between time. It was a lot like moving only not being forced into the work of it. And for nine days now I’ve been only eating watermelon and salads of cucumber, radish and tomatoes. (I’d been eating badly and too much. I needed this, my own odd twist of a fruit and vegetable fast.) But I didn’t plan to do it as preparation for my retreat. Like I didn’t plan to become newly freed from the awful weight of my messy, filthy trailer just before I left, or to be able to wrap up my semester, say goodbye to my students, post the final grades. But here I am, poised to go on my first retreat longer than one day. And thanks to the kindness of the universe, my house is in order, both literally and figuratively. I feel freed up, ready, eager, a little afraid. And oh so grateful I am arriving clean. Here’s to what’s to come.
I ride my bike along the creek path, sitting tall in the seat. I lean to the left, stretching my right side. I’ve just come from yoga, and I can feel the tight muscle in my back. It’s loosened but begging to become longer. It’s the one that makes me injure my hip when it’s too tight. I suspect it has shortened over the decades since I fell in the Russian River and landed hard, a rock beneath my right sitz bone. But I have faith my yoga will grow the muscle again, let it lengthen and become supple. I’ve been easing back into yoga this month. I could feel the difference when I began going twice a week. I decided to spend part of my tax return to try out the “unlimited” yoga for June, July and August. I want to go four times a week, am trying it this week for the first time. Already I’m aware of my body more often. I straighten my spine again as I pedal my bike. I lean to the right, then to the left. There is more room inside me. I’m riding along in that lovely rush of air, looking at the mountains, feeling the sun on my arms. That little kid pleasure rushes in. I am riding my bike on a summer day. A voice comes, too. “Maybe doing yoga is enough right now,” it says. I’ve been a bit rudderless, eating too much, not taking good care of myself. I hear this voice, and I touch that vulnerable me, sense the rightness in this. Maybe I can just do yoga and let the healing come, let the stronger me emerge when she is ready. Even as I write this, other voices whisper. “What about all the prep you need to do for the fall semester?” And, “What about your novel?” But I nudge them away, trust instead that sweeter voice. The work and the writing will be there, too, but doing yoga will live at the heart of things for now. Maybe doing yoga is enough right now. Maybe yoga’s all I need to do to be okay.
My dog Sanji died 31 years ago today. She was born in 1976, part Great Dane and part German Shepherd, the runt of eleven. A woman I worked with then at the secret shopper spy job told me sanji means female bear in Tibetan. I don’t know if that’s true, but I liked the sound of it. I used to say she was part deer and part fish. She had a tender spirit, and she loved any kind of water, would leap with pure dog joy into the swimming pool. She loved going to the beach in Alameda when we lived in Oakland. After she died I wished I’d taken her there more often. She chased the seagulls along the wide sandbar, ears laid back in the wind, big grin on her beautiful face. It seems impossible she’s been dead so long. I can’t believe I’ve been dogless for three decades now. If a psychic had predicted this, that 27-year-old me wouldn’t have believed another word she said, convinced she was a fraud. And to think I’ve spent such a big chunk of my life without a dog seems unbelievably sad. But life unfolds as it will, and this was all about the timing.
Sanji and my cat Trair and I made this little family. When Sanji died Trair and I were left alone together. I knew she didn’t want another dog. When Trair died 12 years later, my landlord wouldn’t let me get a dog, so I got Sofia instead. Doglessness continued from there until now when both Sofia and Sable have so newly left me catless, too. I still cry now and then when I think of Sanji, but after all this time they are grateful tears more than anything, the memories dreamy and good. I remember our back-house cottage in Highland Park where she died of cancer and how she and Trair and I used to hang out together in our little backyard there. I would sit between the bougainvillea and the lemon tree on the small patch of grass I cut on rare occasions with an old rusty hand mower. Trair would land in my lap as soon as I settled in the chair, my joint resting unlit with a box of wooden matches in the clean blue enamel ashtray, my Marlboro Lights and my ice cold Corona beside them. When Sanji got tired of fetching, or more often when I got tired of throwing the slimy green tennis ball, she’d sprawl beside us on the grass. I marveled over our sweet little family of three. If you paid attention, you could hear traffic a block away on the old highway 11. But in our tiny yard tucked away from the world the three of us would rest together in a different kind of quiet, bask together in a deep and lucky peace.
I was thinking yesterday about Cinco de Mayo and how our country managed to use this relatively unimportant date in Mexican history to celebrate Mexican culture instead of choosing to honor a date that holds deeper meaning in Mexico, like el 16 de septiembre. It makes me sad, and it makes me embarrassed to be an estadounidense (someone from the United States). I have long been embarrassed by our reputation traveling abroad, for being demanding, arrogant, condescending, for expecting all our whims to be met and met instantly, for believing people in other countries should put aside their local traditions and customs in order to cater to and accommodate us. I was mortified when we elected Bush—twice!—and appalled when he refused to even pause when millions of people all over the world took to the streets to protest attacking Iraq. There may not be an adjective for what I feel now knowing Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate for president. When this started we were all so sure he’d be disregarded, dismissed. How could anyone take him seriously?
Now I am baffled and angry to see so many people voting for him. How can people ignore the malice and racism he’s so steeped in? I’m hideously ashamed of our country in the eyes the world, our dark, decaying underbelly exposed, maggots everywhere. I cling to one comfort that has come to me in recent times. I may be ashamed to be an estadounidense, but I am glad to be a Californian. I’m proud of the way our state has separated itself from the anti-immigrant stance. I’m not saying we don’t have more work to do, but at least we’re moving in the right direction, granting driver’s licenses, minimizing police cooperation with federal deportation officials, changing Medi-Cal laws to provide healthcare for the children of undocumented immigrants, raising the minimum wage. So, today I reach for solace in this gift, that I belong to a state who is trying to change things for the better. And I pray Trump will be defeated by an overwhelming and embarrassing margin. I pray come election day we’ll see evidence the true majority of people in this country understand what he espouses is wrong-hearted and vindictive, that at the end of this messy, ugly, humiliating spectacle the people of this country will do the right thing.
[Editor’s note: I don’t mean to imply here the United States doesn’t have much more egregious sins than these when it comes to our participation in the world or at home. This known catalog is endless and disturbing to say the least.]