While I did finally learn how to navigate my wheelchair over the threshold into the bathroom, at night it’s felt like far too much effort to leave my bed even when the urge is strong. I’d have to struggle out from under the comforters, scooching down the bed (no weight on my right foot), lower myself onto the wheelchair, wheel through the narrow doorway between bedroom and living room, and then, making a tight turn to skirt the imperiled china cabinet, execute the perfect “lean-back” technique to scale that challenging sill into the bathroom—all for a simple pee. Far easier to keep a chamber pot on a bedside table and a towel spread out at the end of the bed. In the middle of the night, if my bladder calls for release, I can lean over, reach for the chamber pot and place it on the towel. Then kind of rowing myself to the bottom of the bed, I can press down my palms for leverage and using the strength of my arms hold myself up over the pot. I can re-arrange my legs and plotz myself down to make a donation. Patrick (o great gratitude) graciously carts away the pot and brings it back clean and available in case the need arises again. The whole process is humbling.
Father Sky Mother Earth by Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam
I have almost always accomplished this seamlessly. But one morning at 5 am when I sat on the pot, I wobbled. It tilted and spilled. Warm urine washed out over my thighs, my nightgown and the bed. Dammit! I peeled off the towel and threw it on the floor, then yanked off the bedspread and the comforter from under me (and over Patrick). Urine had soaked through almost to the mattress cover.
Patrick was snuggled down under the top sheet; he looked like he was wishing he was asleep. No way I could hop up and clean up the bed, and even if I could manage to gather the sopping bedclothes into a basket, I certainly couldn’t carry them down the steep backstairs to the laundry room.
I was undone. “Babe!” I called out, “It spilled….”
Sleepwalking, Patrick carted out the chamber pot, and fetched me a robe and us a throw blanket, and we bundled up together. Soon, he was snoring. Cuddled close to him—two spoons—I still couldn’t get back to sleep.
Barbara and Patrick dancing at 20th Wedding Anniversary
By 7:00 Patrick was really awake, and rushing to allay my upset before he had to take off for work, he hoisted the hefty pile of comforters and sheets, hauled them downstairs and put the first load in the washer.
It so happens that this particular week my dear friends from Jogjakarta, batik artists Nia and Ismoyo were staying with us.
Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam
They’d generously risen to the unexpected tasks of ferrying me to a doctor’s appointment and transporting me out of the house on exciting outdoor excursions. Thrilled to actually visit some of my favorite haunts, I wheeled (and they wheeled me) at Inspiration Point in the Berkeley Hills and Point Isabel by the Bay while Roxie galloped along, like old times. But today they too had to rush off to set up for a batik lecture and trunk show.
So I was left alone dealing with the unfinished mess of laundry and, what was really hard, thrashing around in an inside mess of self-disgust and shame. Something about the pee, that acrid smell, and the need for help, I had to come to grips with it. I wasn’t just injured. I was old.
During this whole series of adventures—despite my sixty-seven years, despite having taken a fall and being confined to a wheelchair, I had never, not for a minute, connected my fall or my inability to walk to old age. I barely thought of my vibrant 93-year-old mum as old.
My mother, Nancy Spriggs in her home in New York City
Now me? So soon. But here I was with a heap of spoiled bedclothes I couldn’t clean up. No way around it—the vibrant phase of my life was over; I was falling apart, on the way towards dead.
During the day, a few friends passed through, bringing soup, review books for Inquiring Mind and to give Roxie a walk. I disguised my upset enough to casually ask, “Would you mind transferring my comforters from the washer to the dryer?” or “Could you possibly take my laundry out of the dryer and bring it upstairs?”
At dinnertime, our family gathered. As Ismoyo cooked a chicken casserole, the kitchen filled with the sweet/ sour smells of lemon grass and chilies, cardamom, tamarind and turmeric, odors conducive to a fun dinner with people I love. I wished I could restore my balance and humor, but I was holding back my tears.
“What’s going on mom?” asked my 24 year old Caitlin, heading in from yoga with her mat and water bottle. Rosy cheeks.
My daughter Caitlin when we met up in Dharamshala last January
And I, “It’s been a bad day.” I talked about the spilled urine, the soiled comforters, the laundry I couldn’t clean up myself.
“That’s ridiculous, mom,” Caitlin challenged. I watched her wrap her long auburn hair into a coil on top of her head, lean her foot up on a chair, do a calf stretch. “Pee is just such a natural thing, Mom. You know that. It’s all good. Every child I nanny for wets their bed!”
“Oh God,” I cried, “I didn’t exactly wet my bed!”
“Well, then what’s the fuss about?” Tough love.
Then Nia joined in. “Yeah, pee is healthy. Ismoyo’s brother in Jogjakarta drinks his pee every day.”
Ismoyo, chopping carrots, corrected her. “Only the first pee.”
Suddenly we all started to laugh. A wave swelled through the whole group of us, and then another came, like a round. We couldn’t stop. Indeed, what was all the fuss about this marvelous health tonic? The miserable idea of “old” and “over” summersaulted right out of my mind.
Drinking urine. Of course. Ismoyo’s story tripped my memory. Back about six years, the Inquiring Mind staff had done an interview with the Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Amaro (http://www.inquiringmind.com/Articles/TheBottomLine.html) right here in our very living room when he described this very practice.
Ajahn Amaro (http://www.amaravati.org/home)
The whole morning came back to me: how we’d lined up cushions on the living room floor; vases of Peruvian Lilies from the backyard; candles. In filed the monks, bald, smiling, and seated themselves on our cushions in their saffron robes. Before the interview, we’d served them soup and rice in their begging bowls.
When we questioned him, Amaro, per usual, waxed eloquent. “These are the terms of our renunciation. Your only clothing—discarded cloth; your only food—what gets dropped into your bowl; your only shelter—at the root of a tree; and your only medicine—fermented urine.”
“You agree to drink urine?” my coeditor Wes [http://www.wesnisker.com/]
had asked aghast. “We thought you monastics were renouncing sense pleasure.”
Amaro laughed. “Sure, It’s actually a very good medicine for preventing colds. As soon as you get a sore throat you take it. In the trade, it’s called Vitamin P.”
Romo Kehilangan Betara Asih detail Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam