Last night I had the privilege to hear the husband and wife duo Shantala http://www.shantalamusic.com/ perform at Yoga Shala. They create an amazing kirtan. The room was filled -- so filled in fact that we had steam on the windows (an odd occurrence for Arizona!). We "Om'd" them in and then sang with them for ninety minutes. Benji, who performs backup vocals and percussion, opened with a dedication of the whole year's performances to his mother, who had died on Christmas day. "To say it is the hardest thing I have ever gone through is an understatement," the 50 year old man said. "Her spirit will be dancing with us tonight in her flannel shirt and Goodwill hat."
We laughed in that way of laughing that hides the sadness. I watched the man next to me brush his hand over his eyes. The woman on the folding chair in front of me kept her eyes closed while tears eeked out the edges. I wept openly, though silently. I imagined her spirit in a flannel shirt dancing with my father in a golf shirt while we all, those of us embodied now, re-remembered how fragile our flesh was. Benji talked of unlikely teachers. He talked of the battles his mother fought against the government for denying the increased cancer risks of people living under exposed power lines. He told of her coming to his concerts at 80 years old with her 40 (yes, 40) year old boyfriend, tapping her feet and dancing. The greatest way to honor her spirit, he said, was to use his gifts.
Then, they sang -- sita ram ram ram ram hanuman -- Benji and Heather; husband and wife; Shiva and Shakti.
Helen, one of my novel's protagonists, circled above them, called, apparently, at the news of the death of Benji's mother. "My mother died when I was eight," she whispered to me. "That's why I had to leave Georgia. That's why I couldn't take care of Claire. That's why I killed Ellie."
"You didn't kill Ellie," I whispered back. "You just didn't know how to take care of her."
"My mother lay in her bed dead for three days before my father came back home," she said. "I curled up with her." She took a swig of her whiskey. "I curled up with her." She took out her bridge and snarled at me, gums deep red. "Damn you."
I watched her, toothless, drunk and old, but still eight years old. I watched her watch Benji's mother hover over her son, fingers of light touching his skin. I watched her melt.
"Stop poking at me," she said.
I kept chanting, kept listening. I took off my fleece vest. I took off my socks and held my feet.
Sita ram ram ram ram hanuman
"There's no Ellie out there, dancing."
I shook my head. No Ellie. She'd been dead almost 40 years. Helen hadn't wanted her. My dad wasn't out there dancing either, though I could easily project that he was. He's been dead 20 years. Even ghosts move on.
It's a thread of mothers, I thought. Unbearable Compassion is a thread of mothers.
Benji's mother wasn't gone yet. She could still cover him in yellow light. Helen and I looked at each other in the dark studio. Benji was indeed a lucky man.