Painting by my 93 year old mother, Nancy Spriggs [http://nancyspriggs.com],
hung over my and Patrick's bed
Exhausted by intense wheelchair exertions, I found myself one morning particularly drained. Without much hope, but also without rancor, I decided to take on the transition into the bathroom. Why not? A few times, I had been able, for no reason I could figure out, to surmount the barrier. So, slowly, I approached, and with a deliberate firmness, worked the wheels; I leaned back in the chair, and, o miracle, the chair slid over the sill.
Later that morning, I tried it again. I’d replicate that last success. Again, I took slow care in working the wheels. I leaned forward and used my full strength. But the chair smacked up against the threshold; no matter how studied and forceful my effort, it failed.
Not to be totally daunted, that afternoon, I took it on again. By then I had few expectations. Why not give it a whirl? Resting back in the chair, I approached, and, with ease, slipped elegantly over the sill.
It came to me: If I rested back instead of thrusting forward, the wheelchair would amazingly slide over the barriers. I love the metaphoric resonance.
O my God. So simple. Yet my route to discover it had been so circuitous and fraught. that evening, as thought on it, I started contemplating again the way I had driven the wheelchair from the start, bashing into everything in my way.
It was then that I remembered a small nun who had arrested my attention this past January on our family pilgrimage to Bodhgaya.
Bodhgaya Peace Prayer Festival 2013
Our family arrived in Bodhgaya the day the annual Nyingma Prayer ceremony opened at the Mahabodhi Temple. 8,000 monks and nuns filled the streets, a throbbing river of maroon, mustard, ochre and crimson. So many people, it was hard not to trample and be trampled.
With raw hearts, we joined the monks and nuns circumambulating this temple housing the Bodhi tree, where 2,500 years ago young Siddhartha sat down and committed himself to meditate until he awakened to the truth.
Our family circled the upper terraces of the temple grounds, looking down over vast mandalas of red and yellow marigolds, punctuated with vases of white and pink gladiolas. Amidst the flowers, devotees rhythmically did prostrations, monks and nuns surged in great spinning wheels of color, a whirling Busby Berkeley spectacular.
Descending barefoot to the lowest path, we joined a few other lay people sitting quietly on a bench witnessing the ceremonial procession around the inner temple. Monks, nuns, and lay people ambled by, arms akimbo, heads bobbing, jostling against each other, tripping over each others’ feet. Right in the midst of that haphazard procession, there she was. That one small nun stunned me each time she circled past. Her posture was erect, her steps even, she slipped through the surging chaos. Body and mind clearly aligned, this nun radiated presence. Each time she rounded the bend and reappeared to pass the tree, I felt the power. She stepped out in solitude, yet connected with all of us. Small and yet immeasurably tall, the top of her bald head pressed up towards the sky, the soles of her bare feet truly contacting the ground. Attuned to her own inner beat, she was also attuned to that of her fellow walkers. Her orbit of the sacred tree moved through the chaotic throng, in balance, allowing space. Each attentive step allowed for the maelstrom, giving her fellow pilgrims comfortable passage and through that lent order, equilibrium—a stillness in the turning worlds.
If I could only learn to move through and around my home—through the tough detours and restrictions in my current life—with a modicum of that nun’s care and fluidity.
Just remembering her, something opened in my chest. I was taken with sadness, a vast aquifer of liquid heartache. At how I had reacted to the alarm and gotten myself into this fix, at how I banged into everything in the wheelchair. Mostly at my burst of anger and rudeness on the phone with the doctor’s office. Yes, a few minutes later, I had called to say how sorry I was, this followed by emailed apologies and finally a handwritten card. But those were just a few maneuvers on the surface.
I have much more fundamental work to do to recover a more harmonious way that I recognized in the small nun and that I have, on and off, over these many years, accessed in myself.
Block print by our dear family friend Joanna Despres