Recollections From a Daughter

For as far back as I can remember, my mom would tell me that she was given a life full of struggles because of a karmic debt that had been accumulated over many lifetimes. As a devout Buddhist, she believed in reincarnation. Her life, you see, was a temporary vessel for this particular soul to experience: a child sent away from her family to become a live-in nanny for a cruel aunt, a treacherous journey to a new land, an unfulfilling marriage, the birth of five children, a traumatic divorce, ongoing familial turmoil, a string of unworthy suitors, too many nights spent alone in a small ramshackle house, and an intensely stubborn personality to mask her vulnerability. 

She was already wrung dry by the time she became my mother yet Life somehow managed to find a way to squeeze a little more from her. "I must've done something really terrible in my past life," she used to say. The fact that she believed her fate was sealed would frustrate me to no end. Instead of fighting against what she was dealt, she surrendered to it and let it play out to the end. 

Her lackadaisical "it is what it is" approach to life–this sort of acceptance of things as they are–used to be a point of contention between us. I wanted her to fight for something different; I wanted her to try harder to turn the tide. She deserved more and I wanted to believe that we all had the power to change our destinies. But now I'm not so sure.

Upon reflection, I noticed a pattern in my own life: No matter what path I take–no matter how seemingly drastic one is from the other–I can't escape encountering the same questions over and over: What am I good at? What am I meant to create? How is it possible to feel content and discontent at the same time? How can I come to terms with my independent nature and my co-dependent one? Every time I fight for something different, I seem to return to the same point where I began. What is fate, if not the will that guides us on an overarching journey–one that opens us to new experiences and outlooks with which to examine our questions? I've come to believe that, while we may be able to change the path, we can't change the journey. Maybe we only think that we have free will...

At my mom's wake, one of her best friends approached me and told me that my mom had her palm read two years prior to her death. "The fortune teller told her that she would die at the age of 61," she told me, "She's been preparing for this since then." In an effort to renew her karma, whatever charity work she had done throughout her life was increased. She cared for the elderly and volunteered regularly at the local churches and temples. I remembered hearing from her more frequently. She even wanted to come visit me at the ranch for two weeks. Considering the strife and misunderstandings we went through whenever we saw each other, I wasn't sure I was ready for it at the time so I postponed it. I foolishly thought it was better to love each other from afar. I hadn't seen her for about three years.

On the day of my mom's cremation, the day of our final farewell, the Buddhist monk who was conducting the ceremony told us to pray with all our might to help her soul to leave this life. "Don't cry," he told us, "It will be hard for her to leave you if you cry. " With the resonating sounds of chanting monks, the rhythmic beat of the temple block, and the tinkling of chimes around me, I closed my eyes and envisioned my mom's spirit lifting away. She had endured all that Life had offered and resilient she was. I felt the pains and the joys of life rush through me and wept. A new journey was awaiting her. It was time to let her go and be hopeful. When the ceremony ended, I looked upward and waved goodbye. 

To this day, I don't know what the questions in my mother's life were or if they were ever answered, but I imagine her next life as one with a sense of fulfillment, lots of love and plenty of comfort.






Every Person's True Calling

At this point the realization suddenly flared within me like a sharp burst of flame: everyone has his “task,” but it is never a task he can choose for himself, can define and carry out however he wants. It was wrong to want new gods, it was utterly wrong to want to give the world anything! For awakened human beings, there was no obligation–none, none, none at all–except this: to search for yourself, become sure of yourself, feel your way forward along your own path, where it led. – This realization upset me deeply, and that was what I gained from the whole experience. I had often toyed with ideas and images of my future, dreaming up roles to play: as a writer, for example, or prophet, or painter, or whatever it was. All that meant nothing. I was not put on earth to write, or preach, or paint–and nor was anyone else. These things were only secondary. Every person’s true calling was to arrive at himself. He might end up a poet or a madman, a prophet or a criminal–that was of no concern of his; in the end it was meaningless. His concern was to find his own fate, not a random one, and to live it out, full and complete. Everything else was a half-measure, escapism, fleeing back into the ideal of the masses–conformity and fear of what was inside yourself. This new picture rose up before my eyes, terrifying and sacred, foreshadowed and suspected a hundred times, maybe even spoken out loud many times, and yet only now truly experienced. I was a roll of Nature’s dice, thrown into the unknown, maybe into a new world, maybe into the void, and my only purpose in life was to let this throw from the primal depths play out, feel its will inside me, and make that will entirely my own. Only that!
— from "Demian" by Hermann Hesse

Indices to the Idle Lonely

She had watched them in supermarkets and she knew the signs. At seven o’clock on a Saturday evening they would be standing in the checkout line reading the horoscope in Harper’s Bazaar and in their carts would be a single lamb chop and maybe two cans of cat food and the Sunday morning paper, the early edition with the comics wrapped outside. They would be very pretty some of the time, their skirts the right length and their sunglasses the right tint and maybe only a little vulnerable tightness around the mouth, but there they were, one lamb chop and some cat food and the morning paper. To avoid giving off the signs, Maria shopped always for a household, gallons of grapefruit juice, quarts of green chile salsa, dried lentils and alphabet noodles, rigatoni and canned yams, twenty-pound boxes of laundry detergent. She knew all the indices to the idle lonely, never bought a small tube of toothpaste, never dropped a magazine in her shopping cart. The house in Beverly Hills overflowed with sugar, corn-muffin mix, frozen roasts and Spanish onions. Maria ate cottage cheese.
— from "Play It As It Lays" by Joan Didion

On What Ruins a Person

‘You’ve told me you like music because it is outside of morality,’ he said. ‘Well and good. But now stop being a moralist yourself! You can’t keep comparing yourself to other people–if nature has made you a bat, you can’t decide you want to be an ostrich. You sometimes feel like you don’t belong, you blame yourself for following a different path than most other people. You have to unlearn that. Stare into the fire, look at the clouds, and when ideas or intuitions come to you and the voices in your soul start to speak, trust them and don’t worry about whether your teacher or your daddy or any other lord above likes what they have to say! That’s what ruins a person. That’s how you end up on the law-abiding sidewalk, just another fossil. My dear Sinclair, our god is called Abraxus, and he is God and Satan both, he contains the world of light and the world of darkness. Abraxus does not reject a single one of your thoughts and dreams. Never forget that. But he will leave you if you ever turn normal and irreproachable. Then he will leave you, and look for another pot to cook up his thoughts in.’
— from "Demian" by Hermann Hesse

On That Something Inside Us

‘My dear Sinclair,’ he said slowly, “I wasn’t trying to say anything disagreeable. And anyway–neither of us really knows the real reason why you’re drinking. Whatever it is inside you shaping your life knows already. It’s so good to know that there’s something inside us, and that it knows everything, wants everything, and does everything better than we do! – But forgive me, I have to go home now.’
— from "Demian" by Hermann Hesse