Tag Archives: death

Instead of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

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Me and Mehera atop Arc de Triomphe

PR3–427

In Lieu of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

Normally I am mildly traumatized
At parties I subtly panic
And yet things are moving right along
Like last night was Mardi Gras

Right?
And there was dancing and I watched the dancers
I wondered at the fact that they enjoyed that
But then they all could dance but I

Felt like the illiterate dunce
At the poetry contest but guess what?
Instead of despair over what I couldn’t do
I studied the dancers

With their hands outstretched hips snaking
I looked at their eyes
And I saw there how it’s done
(You dance with your eyes)

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Because I care about your happiness, I (from personal experience) write about and frankly push poetry production. And visual art. But if you are good at music or dance or even conversation is an art. So it expresses the heart, it’s therapy.

But I am dance challenged. When I was a Sufi (back in yore) I was a sufficient exhibitionist ham as to want to act in the annual Sufi play. But the Sufi Gods decreed that try for one you must try for all. Try for all three (singing, dancing and acting).

So I had too to audition to sing and then to dance.
Sigh.
No, my sigh is premature. Because first was the sing thing and that DID go okay because I chose the old spiritual Steal Away because at family Thanksgivings, etc. I used to sing the straight part of it–to be intermingled with the improvised harmonies of my musical genius older brother Jim (God rest him). The result was very nice. I am sure I must have talked about Jim. In some of the biographical blog posts. If not why not soon? He is very interesting. Yes and maybe a bit like the Chinese curse. (”May you live in interesting times!”)

Anyway to get the crabgrass out of my digress let’s get to my dancing audition.

I had the good fortune to have as my audition master my friend and fellow Sufi, Gail.

Kind Gail.

Patient Gail.

(Gail who could dance circles around a dervish)

Though it was a simple (I mean pathetically basic) choreographic instruction replete with several Sufis on either side none with any dance related troubles. All easily repeating it.

But I couldn’t repeat the basic steps. Oh, the humiliation.
The pressure.

And remember all this is with witnesses.

She had me go over the routine over and over, even after all the rest had left. Some kind of Sufi test I expect.

But I was ashamed. Especially when finally I had to throw in the towel.*

My point being I am scared of dancing. Except maybe in one sense because I am a clown exhbitionist (Boy did that piss off my first wife Judy! The dignified sedate quiet type, who was mortified to have God and everybody know she was married to dicho payaso.)

And that could cancel out the fear. I remember once when my old friend Ralph and I got roped into a party where there was dancing. I remember Ralph taking the safe route of sitting it out on the sidelines but watching me with arms flailing (well more exactly feet. I tended to imitate those clog dancers where all the action was below the hips.) but when I did it I remember I had friend Ralph almost on the floor from the belly laughs.

Or the time when my daughter Mehera graduated from medical school and I had to celebrate that so I invited her to a trip to Europe! See above–that’s us atop the Arc de Triomphe, over looking the also legendary Champs-Élysées (French for Elysian Fields—see Greek Mythology).

Not as expensive as it sounds because she had friends there (from having graduated from Cal Berkeley as a French Literature major, and for that having spent a year in France, largely with her host family, who came to declare Mehera was an honorary daughter for life.

Indeed as we left everyone there also declared me in the family and so whenever I am in France I have an invite to stay with them.

Of course they had a three foot in diameter cherry tree and we were there at prime ripe cherry time! I am a cook and got popular making cherry pie after cherry pie. They had a little handy apparatus that you punched by the palm of your hand forcing the pits in one direction and the cherry sans pit in the other. (Rhymes with cheery Sanskrit! Oops Pardon my “poetry!”)

But back to the dance theme. To prove her father was her puppet Mehera had me dance to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. (The Ode to Joy)

And Mehera too of course laughed her ass off. (Which made me dance funnier because I love Mehera’s laugh!)

And when in Paris we stayed with her old college roommate, Tina,** then a professor of French Literature in a Paris University. She had married a French photographer and they lived happily in an apartment on an island in the Seine not two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. Not as romantic a visit as it sounds though because it was under renovation at this time and so surrounded by scaffolding. I guess they had to tend to the row of gargoyles.

I have always heard impressive things about the medieval concept of religion and it IS said everyone down to the peasants believed in imminent miracles and the constant presence of God.*** But to “adorn” a such impressive cathedral with rows of hideous-aspected gargoyles, doesn’t seem in that vein, which is indeed hard to think runs on to the heart. I think I read somewhere that the gargoyles were there to be shown who’s boss or some such.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Which reminds me. I have all ready to go a chapbook of poems dedicated to and loosely about my surprisingly spiritual cat, Dahlia. It’s titled “The Cat Who Threw in the Tao.”

So many projects

So little time

Sigh

** This friend of Mehera’s was named Tina Chen, and yes, of Chinese extraction. But she had been fighting bouts of cancer since she was seven years old. Alas, she died a few years after our visit. She came to California for her final treatment which was unsuccessful. Mehera flew north to be with her as she died. It’s a perennial matter for contemplation why the sweetest among us so often die young. A person (like me) who had independent and impressive proof of the existence of God, might wonder how that fits in. (If this statement makes you wonder see the “about” button above, where it is all explained.)  I suspect it has something to do with reincarnation.

***An instructive example of that in those times is found in the short booklet recounting the philosophy of Brother Lawrence (a simple monk in the sixteenth century or such). The title gives a hint: The Practice of the Presence of God, with Whom Brother Lawrence constantly talked, asking for help in what he was doing for the monastery etc. chatting merrily saying (to God) stuff like, “You see what happens when I do things unattended!”

Victoria, at the Other End of the Camera

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One of Victoria's Fotos

One of Victoria’s Fotos

PR-37

The Pull of Tides

I don’t know how that works
The push
The pull of tides

But yes it all comes back to water

A vast body of water which
Though salty too
Is too big a metaphor for tears

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
This is the second of a two part blog post, telling the story of my recent experience in Panajachel, Guatemala (where I live). The experience was one of belonging to a group of the friends of a dying lady, cierta Victoria. The group’s raison d’etre was a mission of succor. The story told of how I’d come to be in that group, and how in questions of dying, we confront real issues such as why are we here? What is the nature of truth?

As Cummings poet once said, “A lot of sweet bull like that.”

First I want to mention the photo above, taken by Victoria. Aside from her visual art, Victoria was an accomplished photographer. She had a show I went to, at the local art gallery here in Panajachel, denombre La Galeria.

I chose this photo because it made me think of Victoria at the other end of the camera. Because I think one of the best skills of a photographer is the ability to elicit a moment from the person being photographed. My best friend here (Here’s a plug for you, Dani!) is a painter, art restorer and photographer denombre Daniel Casimiro, currently employed in the Basilica of Esquipulas,* which famously houses the “Black Christ,” a sculpture hundreds of years old. Dani’s job there consists of the restoration of five hundred year old religious paintings, also housed in the Basilica. He can make a ripped canvas look new with the entire painting restored down to the original artist’s singular style.

I mention Dani because (as also, a photographer, who has exhibited in Spain) his charisma or whatever je ne sais quoi which a photographer has, puts his subjects at such ease, that it just radiated all over the place in his photos.

Just as Victoria’s photo (seen above) also does.

What trust and even amusement were in those little girl’s eyes. Victoria lives on in those eyes.

As I mentioned last week, I had gone on too long with my own responses to Victoria and with recounting the story of how I had bonded with her, and how that accounted for my joining this group to succor and support her while she was fading from this world.

And the last week’s upshot was that there wasn’t room in a single post, to also recount the to me inspiring story of her final passing (as related to the rest of the group, by Kelly, one of the group who was present):

Hello everyone,
I’m writing today with sadness in my heart. It was a great honor and in many ways a beautiful thing to have had the privilege of being there to see Victoria out of this world yesterday. Right until the end, I was blown away by her strength and her beautiful, sweet soul. I’m grateful for the way things all came into place at the end, to make it a peaceful, safe and loving space for Victoria to leave us. Thank God, the lovely and good Dr Cordon was available to come and showed up pronto. Victoria really liked him and it was a great comfort to have him with us. He was really sweet to her and calm and kind. Ling, lovingly sang Victoria out of this world to a mantra that Victoria had taught her. She was surrounded by people who loved her, Nicole was there, helping her go, holding her, soothing her. Medoh had been with her all morning, Elisabeth and I were there, Elisabeth held the phone to Victoria’s ear so that Sally and Toby could say good-bye. It looked to me like she visibly softened and let go after that. She started to look more peaceful and less scared. It was a good passing. With each mantra that Ling sang down upon her she let go a little more until with a tear, she softly left. I hope I am as lucky when my time comes. Thank you so much to Victoria’s family for all their kind, loving and generous support of their sister. You did everything a loving and responsible sibling could do and always with compassion and respect for Victoria. It was also really nice to get to meet you all. Robin tells me that she and Diana where doing energy work with Victoria as she was going and that they saw birds. At the moment at which she died the birds were singing up a storm and Victoria was surrounded by her own exquisite paintings of birds. I see her flying right now, free and happy. Thank you Robin and Diana for helping us on this journey. Everyone has been amazing. Elisabeth, right now still on the way with Victoria to the city, Robin is accompanying them. So much legal stuff to attend to, bureaucracy and crazy rules and crazy makers. The kind of thing that makes me run for cover. Thank God again for Elisabeth who is doing her best to deal with it all. And Loida who came running in after Victoria left us, with all her cultural know-how and wisdom, saving us all from Social, cultural blunders and taking over all that needed to be done with great initiative and love. Where would we have been without Loida. So, now I’m going to go to ground for a little while and let this all sink in. Love to all and many, many thanks,
Kelly

And here is what Ling sang to her (with which, remember, Victoria was already familiar, it being Victoria who had taught it to Ling):

GAYATRI MANTRA

Om bhur bhuvah svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasa dhimahi
Diyo yona prachodayat

May the Divine Light of the Supreme Being Illuminate our Intellect
To Lead Us Along a Path of Righteousness

I also want to include what two in the group had sent me, inspired by Victoria’s passing:

From Cynthia:

It was one of those intense dreams that can occur after one has woken up early in the morning and then gone back to sleep.

I was in a building that was very similar to Marianna’s Guest House in the City where we stayed with Victoria. I came up a short flight of stairs and had a jacket and tote bag in my hands. As I came to the second floor there was a desk with a nice middle-aged woman in a white dress sitting at it. I looked at the door of the room where I knew Victoria was and the door was open. The woman at the desk stood up and smiled at me. Gesturing with a wave of her hand, she said, “Go on in. She is waiting for you.”

I placed my jacket and tote down on the floor beside the door and walked into the room. It was sparse, but bright and there was a large bed with lots of pillows and a comforter on it. It looked so very comfortable and inviting. Victoria was sitting on the edge of the bed in a pretty blue dress with flowers printed on it, her hair combed. She looked so lovely and healthy. With amazing energy and a smile she got up right away and came over to me and gave me the most heartfelt hug and said, “I want to thank you so much.” I started to cry on her shoulder, but she broke away and doing a little twirl in her pretty dress exclaimed, “Look at me! I’ve put on some weight!” And, indeed, she had.

As I wiped away my tears, two women came out of an adjacent room, both also wearing white dresses. One was quite a bit older and the other a bit older than Victoria. They didn’t say anything, but I knew that they were Victoria’s mother and grandmother. They were calmly organizing her things and it looked like they were all getting ready to leave to go somewhere. Then Victoria turned to me and said, “I want you to meet my little ones.” I turned around to look expecting to see a couple of children, but for some reason I could not see them well because they were so very, very little. Then Victoria said to me, “I have to go now.”

And here’s a poem written by Elisabeth (Our fearless and peerless leader)

Jaguar Journey

Spontaneous Joy
I found in the dance of
the jaguar and me.

Spinning, twisting, jumping
deLight who is this being
swinging with me to the
rhythms of the Trio
on into the night?

Hours later- revealed
my partner Victoria/Victorious
Years later- revealed
my heart broken open
as she passed.
 

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*http://www.sacred-destinations.com/guatemala/esquipulas-basilica-of-black-christ

She Called Me an Angel

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Our Victoria

Our Victoria

PR3–441

It’s Not Mysterious, It’s Gratitude

Well you know
If I were to put it into words
I would explain it like this:

I am grateful
So grateful
Maybe if I say why you will know

It’s not mysterious
It’s gratitude for this:
It wasn’t enough for God

(Aka The Powers That Be)
To inspire some feel-good sacrifice
That I would miraculously find charming

But my God! the Holy Chap
Goes way beyond that:
Because I have to say today to God

(In a personal way):
Oh Sweet Principle of Existence
You sure are making these lessons interesting

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

There is the question of mortality. Is this the end?

Of course we can go to a notion of reincarnation.

Or we can say hey this is all we’ve got, and yet it’s possible to make it count.

Does the artist mourn when his painting is finished?

Or does he exult that it has something of eternity in it?

What brings me to this? A friend (denombre Victoria) has died. She was not for me a close friend. Really a friend for just one night, fourish years earlier. But as in this second sense (or some call it second sight) perhaps all is a microcosm and if one can see truth in one evening then one can extrapolate truth to every where.

And of course the whole thing is fraught with the issue of I myself may die. Indeed, my daughter in California on hearing of my recent health problems now wants me to hie my way to California where her trusted MD friend (and mine) can put my health under the microscope.

I mention this mainly to emphasize that I have reasons besides Victoria’s recent fate, to consider mortality.

And a wise person will then segue to what is this life all about anyway?

I can certainly say that the whole experience with Victoria has brought to mind these issues.

 

Victoria recently died of Pancreatic cancer in Panajachel Guatemala where I live. (As I have often mentioned to Gentle Readers).

And in the course of her dying many of her friends banded together in a sort of fellowship of support.

Most were her close friends.

I was not. In fact to tell the truth I had reason to believe that Victoria did not like me. That she judged me harshly.

But I am a Sufi, (in my fashion) and my dharma is important to me. But it is a dharma of the will of the heart, not of mere duty.

And for me the whole business with joining the group on Victoria’s behalf was healing. I believe too it was healing to Victoria to see a man she didn’t much like come out of the woodwork when she needed it, to cheerfully and carefully try to help.

MY task was to help keep her fed. (Having been a life-long practitioner of culinary arts) Especially with homemade yogurt, wheat-free cookies and cornbread made in a special way; she had so many dietary restrictions, and so little appetite. Also, having been a carpenter, I was handy with a bit of that, when it was needed.

~.~.~

The night I bonded with Victoria happened a couple of years earlier.

We were acquaintances, not really friends, though I had wanted to be that. And even once she’d stayed overnight in my casita above Lake Atitlan, when she’d wanted to see a movie in my collection, (I think it was Antonia’s Line, the academy award winning “feminist fairytale” movie from Holland.) and it was too late to go home as travel there was in boats and the last lanchas had passed, it being nightfall.

But the night I mentioned when I bonded with Victoria was a couple of years later when I was in Antigua (a three hour drive from Panajachel), hanging with a girlfriend who lived there, a Peruvian artist of the first rank (painter, sculptress, and poet).

And when I met Victoria in the street, we were close enough friends to decide to have lunch together. It was a difficult conversation; when I am feeling judged, I can be difficult. But we both seemingly peered over the precipice and decided to make peace. And sometimes, after that, one does find a deeper friendship.

I told her about Claudia, my painter girlfriend. I told her how we were breaking up; it was Claudia’s decision. But it was amicable and indeed I was staying at her house in Antigua, with plans to move back to my casita on Atitlan in a few days. And I raved to Victoria about Claudia’s paintings and sculptures.

Victoria, you must know was an artist and photographer herself, and expressed such interest, that I invited her to Claudia’s to meet her and to see her art, which Victoria then adored. And we all hit it off, and decided to have dinner out together that night. And while Victoria was in the bathroom, Claudia told me her opinion that Victoria was perfect for me.

But Claudia got jealous when at dinner, Victoria and I sang to each other most of the songs from the musical My Fair Lady. You see, I was a poor child and my family had only a few vinyl records for music, one being the soundtrack for My Fair Lady, and so I’d listened to it so much, the songs were all memorized. I have no idea how Victoria had come by such knowledge herself. But I have since heard from people in the group to help her while she was dying, that she loved to sing. And so we spent much of the evening in duets from the musical.

Now Claudia knew English, though not nearly as well as I knew Spanish. But even so, she felt left out as we sang together with such obvious gusto. And she waxed powerful jealous. And when we got home she changed her mind about breaking up, thinking I was soon to be hanging with Victoria when we both imminently returned to Panajachel.

Which was an intense relief to me, as Claudia was quite the catch. Out of my league really, but because of Victoria I had three more months of Claudia memories.

So, join me in my gratitude to Victoria, who that night saved my romantic ass. Which was at that time very important to me. I have since however been grateful for the transitory nature of that relation, as in looking back, I see how damaging it would have been to my poetry “career” had it been a permanent thing. Largely since Claudia took up so much space in my life, it was always me in service to her and her art. I even (with my knowledge of carpentry) was pivotal in how to make her life-size papier mache sculpture of a woman be able to free-stand without falling over. The secret to that was to embed short iron bars in the lower legs, giving them such weight, they hugged the floor. Kind of like a bottom-weighted helium-filled life-size doll. But I digress from my main point which is to explain my gratitude to Victoria. And even my gratitude for gratitude itself.

Gratitude.

An important thing in Sufism.

Just as an example, when things go sour or I am disappointed or gloomy, it cheers me right up to think of the intense good fortune I have to have been a witness to this wonderful drama we call life. An interactive witness. They talk about three dimensional chess, but this life is three dimensional art.

It’s hard to feel gloomy when you are so full of thanks.

And gratitude goes so much further than just what you must feel to avoid the stigma of ingratitude.

No.

Gratitude is a life jacket or in my case a hook I can fasten to my belt which has a winch at the other end, which pulls me out of a quicksand John Bunyan famously called the slough of despond.*

And even in the teeth (yes, seemingly teeth were involved) of Victoria’s later judgment of me, I held to that gratitude like an ancient mariner does his astrolabe. And it was actually an enjoyable challenge to shower Victoria with my love and concern as she was dying. I hope seeing the sincerity of that also touched Victoria’s heart, at the end. I think so, and there was a proof of it in a note she sent me three days before she died, in which she called me an angel.

I think that’s the true grail: the support of holy ground underfoot, the happiness to be found from impersonating an angel.

I will always remember Victoria for that.

This post is long in the tooth wordcount-wise. (Also, I hope, long in the truth)  The next post will include contributions from other members of Victoria’s support group.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell
P. S. Are you hip to synchronicity?** It’s a Karl Jung concept. (He was a famous apostate acolyte of Freud) I confess to being too much a dilettante to really know much about him, though I have many reasons to respect him as a first rate metaphysician. Anyway, he has a concept known as synchronicity. A manifestation of this is when you are thinking or in this case writing about something and suddenly it’s in your face. Like if you are thinking of the old (or youthful when he died) pharaoh, King Tut, and suddenly there is on PBS a special about the King Tut collection of artifacts in some famous New York museum. And suddenly there is a Saturday Night Live reprise of Steve Martin’s classic song and dance thing about King Tut. Or if you are thinking of an old photo of the mystic Meher Baba when he visited Hollywood and the photo you’ve seen of him with Mary Pickford on a movie lot in Hollywood, circa 1933. And suddenly on the classic movie channel is a Mary Pickford retrospective. You get my drift. I’ve always been fascinated by this and have seen it in action countless times. I’ve never understood whether it was that my mind, once having thought of a thing, has suddenly rearranged the universe to bring forth a relevant reference from out of the blue. Or if it was that I was clairvoyant and saw it coming. The latter makes me seem less powerful and so is probably more likely. But in either case or in any case, it’s a fascinating concept.

But what does this have to do with Victoria? Well, tonight, just a day after having written about the above incident of me and Victoria singing to each other songs from a musical, I am watching Charley Rose interview Steve Martin (who it turns out is also a master banjo player) and his new musical sidekick Edie Brickell, and they are talking about how their Bluegrassish collaboration has resulted in their imminent Broadway musical, Bright Star, no doubt a reference to this famous John Keats poem:

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art”

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

And here is a musical example, featured at the end of the interview:

And of course this song is fascinating, due to it’s love theme. Have you noticed? Love has a universal charm. Always has and always will. And this of course cannot be explained by science, or evolution, except as a proof of the existence of God, the Personification of love.

Post script de Nuevo:
Okay, I just finished this, and would have posted it, but my internet is suddenly out. And so I decided to watch television. (It’s 10:38 here in Panajchel).

So I am channel browsing, and there on Jimmy Fallon, is Steve Martin with banjo in tow, and Edie Brickell too, and their band behind.

Incroyable. (As they don’t say here–it’s more of a French thing)

 

*For a reference check:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slough_of_Despond

**For a quick primer on the concept, I refer you to wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity