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.