Installment 2

On August 1, 2009

Installment 2

Lunch at Carol’s is always wonderful; she’s a magnet. Dagmo-la Sakya, a Tibetan princess, is in town to give her Green Tara teachings and initiations. The first Tibetan family to settle in the U.S. after the Chinese invasion, she and her husband, H.H. Dagchen Rimpoche, founded a monastery in Seattle. I met them both when I was writing The Book of Tibetan Elders; since then she’s written her own book, Princess in the Land of Snows.

At lunch, Damog-la tells a story about how when she first came to the U.S. she remarked to a woman she’d just met how beautifully old she looked. The poor woman was shocked. “I really don’t understand Western society’s fear of age,” Damog-la says. “In Tibetan society, when you meet somebody for the first time, you ask their name then you ask their age.” An L.A. Times journalist sitting next to her laughs and suggests she might not want to try that in Los Angeles. Another journalist, a TV anchor from Slovenia, says that ageism has taken hold in her country too. “Everybody wants to live a long life, but yet they don’t want to grow old,” she says.
We all smile in recognition of this truth.I am so involved in conversation that I almost forget to take the antibiotic.

The next morning, Tuesday, I wake at five and discover more blood. Lots of it. My doctor’s back. Not satisfied with the diagnosis I was given at the Urgent Care Clinic, he sends me to an urologist. After a series of tests–including one given under anesthesia while a miniscule camera at the end of a long snakelike tube is inserted through the urethra into the bladder (a cystoscopy)–a new diagnosis comes back: I do not have a urinary tract infection. What I do have is a rare, fast-growing, high grade, highly aggressive cancer.

This is the way it all changes: not with a bang, not with a whimper. It changes with a phone call from a very nice man, a doctor, who uses his first name and says he is very sorry. I stand at the window gazing out over the hills. The world has gone black and white, a film noir. The morning moon has dropped behind the Griffith Observatory and the day is beginning. Sounds from the street – cars and buses and horns – are fuzzy, distorted, like a defective sound track. I notice with little more than passing interest that there are no tears.

I try to take stock. Divorced, my children married with children of their own, I have a wide circle of friends and a handful of close friends. And my work. My work that makes living alone okay, necessary even. Writing is a fine torment, an exquisite mad passion, and the only thing I know that is never a waste of time. Even when I’m writing badly. Especially when I’m writing badly. Because then I have to learn my craft all over again.

I have a routine: mornings I write. I am working on a novel, Day of Yemanja, set in Brazil against the backdrop of the esoteric religions and the magic and mysticism of that country. It is Rio’s famous New Year’s Eve night celebration held on the Copacabana beach. Peter, my protagonist, an American artist on holiday with his wife Sara, had gotten separated from her, let himself get swallowed up in the throng of revelers. He couldn’t bear to tell her the news he’d gotten earlier when he called his representative from the airport as they landed. His work, the paintings he had slaved over for months, was not selected for the most important exhibit of his career. Hard enough for him to bear, no reason to ruin her holiday too. But then, suddenly, at this midnight hour in this strange country he needed her. When finally he finds her she’s in the arms of another man, a handsome Brazilian, dancing close, sexy close. Peter watches a moment then, crushed, he wanders off down to the water’s edge and stands staring at the moonlight on the sea, imagining himself walking out along that path of moonlight to wherever it leads. Behind him, a strange midnight ceremony is taking place.

As they danced, the Brazilian sang the words soft against Sara’s cheek. “…Braseel, Braseel…. We danced beneath an amber moon…” As he pressed against her Sara felt the charm that hung from his neck and caught a glimpse of a black and silver fist and curious, held it between her fingers.
“…one day soon..” he whispered, “…return I weell…to Braseel…”
She didn’t know what made her look up at that moment, but there was Peter turning and disappearing into the crowd. She started after him.

“Wait,” the Brazilian said. He took the charm from around his neck and slipped it over her head.

I can hear the drumbeats as I write; I know that moonlight path; I can smell the sea. For I too was drawn to the magic when I was in Brazil, especially the shamanistic rituals. If only I could will myself there now, before the doctors and the hospitals. Before I have to walk the path that leads to the land of the ill.

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