I took a picture of you laughing. It’s grainy because the light is low in the kitchen. You laugh at me often: when I squeak at unexpected occurrences, when I dance while I’m cooking, when I try to convince you to do what I want when it’s not what you want. Your laughter. It’s how I knew that you remembered me when I came back from six weeks in California. You chuckled and said, “She always tells me, ‘Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that, Lama!'” In your particular mix of Tibetan, French, and Old Age, it sounded like “Pomo, Lama no mangiez; no mangiez; no mangiez!” I laughed too, and I was glad that you remembered me.
There are a lot of things you don’t remember these days. Then again, maybe it is more precise to say you remember certain things, and only those things now. You remember practice. You remind me every hour, “Mahakala. Mahakala,” until five o’clock rolls around and it is, indeed, time for that ceremony. You remember that the rest of us would do well to practice also. You interrupted me in the middle of this paragraph, closing my computer, pointing toward the temple, and saying, “Go. Go.” I nodded acquiescence and snuck off to the office to keep writing.
You remember where the spelt flakes are in the cupboard, so that when you are hungry–which is all the time–you can find a snack. I know if you’ve been by because I’ll find a trail of errant flakes, sprinkled newly on the counter since the last time I wiped it clean. You remember that you are not allowed to eat sugar, but that you love it above all else. The first week we met, you tried to stick your fingers straight into my birthday cake and grab a mouthful before I whisked it to safety. We have these confrontations often and mostly I win, because I don’t want you to drop dead on my watch and also because I’m, um, a little vain of my baked goods. Don’t go putting holes in my cake, Lama.
Every now and then I sneak you a cookie. A small one. I’m not supposed to. None of us are, but you’ll find them on your own if we don’t give them to you, and fortunately your diabetes hasn’t come back, and the amount of joy these little treats bring…I guess it’s a question we each ask ourselves. How much longer might you live without a biscuit or a peach or a bite of cake? How much more joyful will life be for the time you have with a biscuit or a peach or a bite of cake?
This is a gift you give us, along with your laughter and your dedication to the path: the cognizance that life is fleeting. You live on the border now. I see it when I’m with you. You drift between languages, between times and countries. Some days in your mind it is years ago in Tibet. You talk to me about the masters that you know, the ceremonies held. I only catch a word or two, a name sometimes, but your devotion envelops me. Sometimes you forget that I am here, struck as you are by the color of the sky or the sound of a bird. When you catch me by your side, you say, “Pomo, look,” and point at the thing of beauty with awe.
You remind me that the world is awesome. That I am blessed to be in it. To be granted a life to devote to understanding. You remind me to use it well, for it will leave me–this birth, this body, this place and time and context. In all likelihood, you will leave me first.
I carry the knowledge heavy, but with gratitude. For that, I remember to laugh instead of despair when you open the pot of rice before it’s done cooking. For that, I stop whatever I’m doing to help you find your prayer beads when their location has slipped into the mists of your memory. For that, I make loaf after loaf of bread until I hit upon the one that’s good enough to make you happy as well as healthy. For the love of you, I do my best to make my own life count.