It frightens me when Sophie tells me that she isn’t coming to my sister’s commemorative because she doesn’t believe in the afterlife. What if she’s right and I have been wrong all along? What if this anger that is lodged inside of me forming a cliff around my heart is anger at my own disillusions? Two flautist play Bach’s magnificent Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring while the names of the dead are projected on a large screen. I think about what Sophie said at the hospital as she watched Life fade from her mother’s body: “How am I going to tell Emme that there’s no more Nannie?”
No more. No more.
At the end of the commemorative ceremony my sister’s name is written on the sand of the beach and I think about Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand, how I played not just that song but all Neil Young’s songs over and over in the seventies. I wanted a boyfriend like Neil Young. I was in love with Neil Young. It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game.
My attention focuses inward where in the flesh of my memory I am seeing Neil Young on stage. Hello woman of my dreams. (Will I ever be someone’s woman of my dreams?) By the time it was out on the charts my sister had married. At her wedding I was her bridesmaid in a long pink A-line dress, my happiness stained with anger for her abandoning me to marry Richard. And now she is leaving me again. But this time it is for eternity. The song has nothing to do with my sister. If anything I am the cowgirl, the Brown Eyed Girl while she is the Save the Last Dance for Me and Ain’t no Sunshine when She’s Gone. Perhaps this is what the Buddhists mean when they talk about interconnectedness. Past, present, future merge into one. Events are not so random as they seem. Facts. Fiction. Imagination.Thought. The butterfly in Madagascar. Your ancestors. The child not yet born. Timelessness. This is not the way it seems.
I have experienced the power of religion to make one feel less lost. Less alone. Less angry. I am witness to the fact that the illusion of religion soothes. In my twenties I clung to the hopeful promises of religious beliefs. Knock, knock on various religious doors hoping to find a home for my vagabond soul. Catholicism. Reborn Christianity. Baptist (the gospel music drew me in), Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism. These days I rely on yoga as my religion. Yoga and nature. Albert Einstein once said that religion should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. When The Brazilian theologist, Leonardo Boff asked the Dalai Lama which was the best religion his answer was this: the best religion is the one that makes you a better person.
In holding a yoga pose I often think about gratitude. Gratitude for being alive. For my daughter. For enough money to buy food. For the people whose hands in some way touched the food on my table. For shelter. Friends. Health. Being positive. Love. And then I think. To whom am I addressing this gratitude? I have no answer. I lay in corpse pose and place one hand on my heart, another on my stomach and feel my breath. In and out. That’s the only thing I know for certain. I wear earrings made by a yoga teacher I once had at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts. The earrings came with this message: Sacred Om for unity with self, nature and others, and to celebrate the infinite. Jewelry for the soul.
I have a friend who tells me that religion does not talk about what happens before life but only after. It is the mystics and the gurus who talk of reincarnation. A few years back, in my continuous search for proof that life is as infinite as death, I became interested in Raja Yoga. Life, according to Raja Yoga, was karmic preparation for a better one the next time round. I stopped going to these ceremonies because it saddened me to think that my present life could not be good enough.
“There she is,” Debbie cries out and my attention is brought back to my sister’s name in the sand on the screen. Lined on a shelf in my sister’s bathroom in the lovely mountainous Eastern Township town of Bromont are bottles of sand collected from the different beaches she laid on throughout her travels on Earth. Seeing my sister’s name on the screen is accepting a bit more the reality of her death. One more mini-death in the long process of letting go. One of the principles of Indian spirituality is that when something in our life ends it helps our evolution and so that is why it is better to let go. Attachment causes suffering. Detachment