Thursday, October 9, 2014

We always have to think about others

I had one of those phone calls yesterday that everybody dreads and that have thankfully been rare in my life. My phone rang early morning -- odd for it to ring at all, but the caller ID showed my elderly cousin in Georgia, so I answered cheerfully. Then -- a different voice and I knew I wasn't going to like this call at all. This was my cousin's daughter, who I'd met once or twice, and there was only one reason she would be calling me.

Yep -- Sue had died on Monday. She was 92, so that's not a huge shock, really. Terri said all the things she'd probably been repeating for a day or so: they'd found cancer all over her body a couple of weeks ago, she went peacefully, she didn't linger long. All that. But the one thing I remember most from those words is something that exemplifies Sue. Remember, this is a highly Christian southern family with deep roots in the community. People down there want to pray for others. Sue told her family to tell people that if they wanted to pray for her, pray for her not to linger. She said she'd had a good life, she was ready to go, and that we always have to think about others. She never wanted to be a burden on her family in her old age and certainly wouldn't have wanted to burden them with the the emotional and financial effects of a lingering illness. She died as she lived.

She was a friend and contemporary of my mother's, although back then as teenagers they didn't know they were related. I sought her out at a local DAR meeting after I moved down there 4 years ago, because I knew from her name that we had to be related. She treated me like a long lost daughter, kept in touch with me, tried to draw me deeper into her life. I resisted much of that but certainly was happy to have lunch with her every few months, take her to the hairdresser a couple of times, and generally happy to have her in my life. She was a rare and beautiful human being and I'm glad I had this time with her. I made a point to call her and have lunch with her right before I left. I couldn't leave without telling her, or without seeing her. She left a couple of messages on my cell phone while I was in California with the phone off. I didn't hear them until I settled up here, but I never returned the calls. I should have, and wish I had.

What shocked me the most, I think, is the emotional reaction I had to the phone call. Tears started flowing before Terri even got all the first words out, and they flowed for the whole conversation. I couldn't even talk clearly for the sobs that wanted to erupt. After we hung up, I let them flow for a few moments -- unable to do anything else. Then, a deep breath, and I performed the mundane act of opening my genealogy database and entering the date of her death -- with a sigh and more tears.  Then -- still weepy, I went back to what I'd been doing when Terri called: playing a silly computer game.

I thought about that as I played and as tears flowed. Clearly, I was using the game as an escape, as I probably use it for many times every day when I spend mindless amounts of time with it. Also clear was that all those tears were for more than Sue. Far beyond the response I might have expected from the news. I'd have been sad, yes, but it seemed that some kind of dam broke, and all the emotions from who-knows-how-long burst through. I don't cry -- don't know the last time I cried -- so this was out of character. There have certainly been a lot of things in my life over a lot of years that haven't gone right, could have been 'stuffed' even while I thought I was observing and letting go like the good Buddhist I try be.

What was I escaping? I'm not really sure, but I know I've been doing it for a good while as I find all kinds of nonsense (TV, fiction, computer games) to occupy my mind and keep it from meditating, from looking inside and seeing truths. I guess something doesn't want to go there. I certainly didn't go there much yesterday, other than what I couldn't avoid. I spent the day escaping, numb. Today doesn't look much better. Maybe it'll be a good wake-up, a good stimulation to meditate more, once this numbness wears off. I can hope.


  1. A direct encounter with impermanence?

    I do check in on your blog, tho don't often comment. Glad to hear you made your move.


    1. Thanks, Jane. You may be right. Whatever it was has left my mind all upside down, but I think in the end this will be a good thing. In the past, such things tend to force the inward looks, and I expect it'll eventually be the same now.