I stayed up late into the night on Thanksgiving talking to my youngest daughter about my life, and in that magical and timeless window looking into her affectionate eyes, I realized that my 72 years have been filled with a wonderful array of opportunities, adventures, and discoveries. I felt so inspired by this awareness that by the time I staggered off to bed at 1am I wasn’t even sure I was tired enough for sleep. Yes, this has been – and is – a life of substance and love, one that often unfolded unconventionally, but a significant journey nevertheless.
I have spent too much time in my life bemoaning the loss of love from my mother, the absence of intimacy as I find myself incontrovertibly single, and the abandoning of a teaching career that seemed to mean the world to me … Writing my memoir entitled Bowing to Elephants for over two years forced me to focus, and sometimes wallow, on loss of a sense of self, loss of love, and endless yearning to find safety in the world. Writing a personal narrative is intense, and in order to make it the best of all possible books you must persevere like a dog with a bone, continually peeling away the layers of comfortable and familiar information until you arrive at the painful (and beautiful) heart of your story. Once I felt my memoir was ready for the outside world, I set about trying to find a publisher for it. Then came a test of my determination — could I continue to offer this quirky intimate story and face the endless rejections that came? The answer is yes, oddly enough. I seem to have put on a new hat now, that of spokesperson for a piece of work that I think is wonderful and will move people’s hearts.
The reason this book will move people’s hearts, I believe, is that it is a lot about finding love – for yourself and for others. It is about stepping back and seeing the breadth of a life: the travels around the world searching for beauty and truth, struggling to reconcile with the eccentric selfish soul of a mother, the adoration of a grandmother who had love coming from every pore, the courage to develop my heart and mind as a piano player, a student of literature, a writer, then becoming a mother at a very young age and feeling lost, losing deep love more than once… and finally it is about finding inside the love of humankind in the Buddhist teachings that would free me to touch kindness and know myself profoundly in any given moment.
I believe that the “substance” of a life springs from the numbers of mindful connections you make with your fellow beings. And my connections are many. There was a great French lady who taught me piano when I was 8, a friend who first looked me in the eyes at age 4 and has stayed in my life ever since, a woman who taught first grade to my daughter and showed me the brilliance and joy of being a teacher, a young Italian man who played his guitar for me when I was 14 and made me believe in love for the very first time, my grandmother whose gentle care kept me safe when my mother couldn’t handle the job, a Buddha-like teacher who showed me the joys of service, and all the people who have opened doors for me – to museums, restaurants, bookstores, and such. The cast of characters is vast, and from all of these encounters, I learned about myself. I learned I was smart, loved communicating and making things with my hands, adored eating and reading, and playing Bach on the piano, that I had a true and loyal heart, was a good hugger, and was always inspired by beauty. As I write this, I see a rainbow of colors spraying outward like fireworks, and then weaving back in with one another. These colors symbolize those I have been touched by and have touched. I smile and know that those stories I spun for my daughter the other night are inspiring, heartbreaking, and funny — they speak of a full, meaningful life. The meaning lives in the loving connections.
When I worked in hospice care as a volunteer, we often reflected on the rituals that would most help those who were dying. Letting go, life reviews and such… One question kept coming up for both those in the bed and ourselves: have I lived (loved) well? For, if you can look back and see your canvas colored by loving connections and kindness, you can then say, “I have lived well.”
Let this be so. For myself, and for all beings.