Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Sacred Queen...

The phone rang this morning. Andrea picked it up. We were in that state halfway between sleep and activity where we were awake in bed but hadn't yet decided to keep our eyes open or move. It was my father. I heard his voice in Andrea's ear, telling her that my grandmother had died.

When a loved one dies, we would like to imagine that we are the kind of person who feels sadness in their passing. Our feelings of loss and compassion should exalt us, as we bid goodbye to the one who we will never see again in this life. So I felt a little bit ashamed and pathetic, because I didn't really feel anything. I'd been sitting with this for a few hours before it came to me why I didn't feel the loss. It's because this isn't the first time my grandmother has died. I have already mourned her many times. Oddly, this thought has allowed me to mourn her again.

The first time that I witnessed her death, I was quite young. The farm in Oklahoma was my refuge. A magical place with air conditioning, a hay barn, horses, a great apricot tree out in front of the house, and relatives who were unfailingly kind to me, which was a special treat because at home I had no nearby relatives who were not involved in my upbringing - I was surrounded by the enemy, the parents, who have the thankless job of teaching us to be restrained in our behavior, and who cannot afford to spoil us.

I witnessed my grandmother's death as a fait accompli one summer when we came out to visit. The happy and loving homemaker that I'd seen in my previous visit was gone. In her place was a stranger, clothed in the same body.

The grandmother I remembered died when she saw an article in the Tulsa Tribune, I think, about a new N-plant being built in Inola, about ten miles from her farm. She didn't know what that was, but the article killed her just the same. Her bardo, her transition, took place in the Tulsa library, where she learned what an N-plant was, and what its impact would be on her family.

And like every hero who realizes that her village is beset by a dragon, and who decides to be the one to stop it, the grandmother I knew disappeared, and a new grandmother, Grandmother Hero, was born in her place. A hero does what she does out of love. She realizes that where before, her way of loving her family was to care for them, now she has to turn away from them and face the enemy, the dragon, and vanquish it. And though she wants to go back to the old way of being, before the dragon came, and although she longs for the battle to be over, the dragon slain, she knows that she can never go back to who she was. To become a hero is to die, whether you get the dragon or the dragon gets you.

And so she raised an army, and she fought her dragon, with love and faith in her heart. She sat in hearings, made quilts to raise money, gave speeches, mortgaged her farm, printed a newsletter. And we, her bereaved relatives, helped this new woman who had been born from the ashes of our grandmother, and marveled at her power and her determination. And inside, I think, she grieved, because she knew that we had lost a loved one. And she felt all the things that she would have done, if she had not died and become a hero, as a debt weighing her heart.

I think she died again when she slew the dragon. Hers was the first legal battle against a nuclear power plant to succeed. But she spent everything she had, inside and out, to win the fight, and once it was over much of her army went back to their fields and forgot the battle had happened. Her husband, who had supported her without fail when she was fighting, died near the end of her battle. I don't know how she withstood the pain of it and kept going, but she did. She had defeated one dragon, but she knew that others were beset by dragons elsewhere, and so she took on their battles as well, and many times she won. The world is a very different place than it would have been if she hadn't died, that first time that I saw.

While she was fighting these new battles, she tried also to have a life, to make a living. She tried over and over again. It was a losing battle - her heart was in her battle, not in supporting herself. Her failure was very hard for her. For me, she died several more times after that first, most dramatic death. There were health problems, business failures. The death of her daughter, Mary. Of her four children, she had only two left when she died for the last time in this body, this morning.

But the one thing that she kept from the moment she became a hero was that. She remained a hero even in her nursing home. Calling, politicking. She was a champion for wind power in her last days. When I was still a kid, when she was fighting the fight against black fox, her symbol was the windmill, and her motto was to walk the soft path. She felt that nuclear power was a hard path, and renewable energy was a soft path. She came from a town whose newspaper was called the Progress, and she was never one to fight progress. But she wanted the progress to be on a path that was good for people, not one that would harm people.

Buddhists are taught that when we die, we take on an intermediate birth in a place called the bardo. The literal translation might be The Between - bar du means between in Tibetan. So if what we are taught is true, then my grandmother is now in The Between. And she faces a choice. They say that when we die, we have a terrible attachment to the things of our life. This attachment can cause us great harm. My grandmother was a hero. Her attachment will be to her battle. But in her life, she was a master of moving on, of not letting attachments stop her from doing what needed to be done.

So if you find the idea of The Between at all compelling, please send a message to my grandmother in your thoughts or in your prayers, or in your dreams. Tell her that her battle is done now. Thank her for what she did. Whether you approved of it or not, she did it out of love. And then imagine that beautiful angels stand before her, smiling on her with eyes of unimaginable love, singing songs for her of incomparable beauty. They bathe her in purest water, and clothe her body in a beautiful gown of pure white muslin. They throw flower petals at her feet, so many that they form a soft path for her, that the air around her is like a colorful snowstorm of flower petals. In the body of a child, she walks along the path, to whatever comes next for her, whatever her next battle is, full of joy, hope, love, and power. Whatever she was to you, rejoice that she was in your life, but bid her farewell, and let any hold you have on her in your heart go now.