I lay down to rest last night and the word ‘forgiveness’ sprang up. I thought we were going to be talking about my relationship with dad. My lined yellow pad was close at hand. The next instant
I went off on multiple tangents. Let’s try this again.
Dad said ‘whatever happens in this family, stays in this family. You got that? Good’ When I first started writing about family matters, I’d get shivers and scary images rose out of the darkness. I persisted and some of my early works may be read on my website in the section titled
‘Kids and Grown Ups’.
Here I will talk about a forgiving experience I experienced, while with my father. He had several illnesses and was often bedridden. The young sister lived with him and administered his life-saving medications. They were still in the Lillian Wald housing projects, (930 East 4th Walk, apt 13E) on the Lower Eastside, where I lived from ages 5 to 17. At the time of this telling, many years later, I was on 24th street and 9th Avenue, in the Chelsea walkup, with my roommate, Faye.
I hadn’t spoken to dad for several years and had no intention of ever doing so.
First detour starts here.
Futaba Inoue & Jean-Pierre Rampal, playing Ave Maria, composed by Charles Gounod, is softly playing in the headphones. Now let’s get back on track.
Living with Faye was great. I had a bedroom. We shared the rest of the apartment. I took a photo of her in a mud mask. Still have it, the framed photo. My room faced north, across 24th street between 9th and 10th avenues.
As long as we walk the middle way, [Picture an oscillating wave. Now picture the center (at zero) line, straight as an arrow. The waves waver above and below the middle way. So what! Emotions are like that. Just hang on, rest in peace and follow your feet. That’s what I do. It works for me. Anyway, let’s get back to 24th street.
Strand Book store on Broadway is part of this story. I loved Strand. I sat on the floor reading for days and years. I saw lots of shoes and legs pass by, some stopping, some not. The scent of old paper and dusty floors added to the ambience. It was such a chill place to chill. There was a period I was into psychiatry and compared my mind with major symptoms of diagnosed madness. I had an illness in the book, until I discovered a better nuttiness to own. There was the Red versus White Russian Revolution period with Don Flows Home to the Sea, Mikhail Sholokhov, The Gulag Archipelago, A.S. and other Russian authors. Loved the Red versus White Russian era.
I also read and collected spiritually oriented books from Strand. Psalms and hymns, J. Goldsmith and K. Gibran, other writers and Followers expanded my library.
This is where I found Tongues of Fire (A Bible of sacred Scriptures of the Pagan World), compiled by Grace H. Turnbull, 1929. For years this book served as my personal bible. (Before AND after Vietnam, but not during the conflict). It has words of Plato, Seneca, Confucius, (my favorite) Buddha, and many other wise folk. Some of the words passed right through and had me scratching my head and wrinkling my brow.
Every source and depository is part of the picture, but not the whole picture. Words are vibrations. One word is a vibration. ‘A’ is a vibration. That vibration is not just a vocal cord apparatus sending a sound to a listening (Hearing is an entirely different topic.) device. In between the apparatuses is where we are in connection with all that is, was and will ever be.
In each moment to moment, how is that letter, word, sentence, thought vibrating
when it leaves your being? That is all I ask about that.
The fading $1.00 stamp inside the front cover is still visible. I haven’t looked in here for some years, until just now. The pages are cut uneven, brittle, browning and dissolving, and the binding is showing great wear. I keep it nearby, in two ziplock bags with desiccant.
‘Tongues of Fire’ adds its own vibration to this home , different from the feathers, statues, carvings, stones and other expressions of love in this place. Of course, Kaia’s love wins hands up AND down. I just think her name, and a candle, my heart, melts every time.
Kaia wasn’t in my life back in 1985 (I think it was). Hmmm . . . obviously the year isn’t that important. So I was living with Faye, and it was winter with snow on the ground. I was prompted to call dad, so I did. My sister picked up and we chatted a minute or two. She told me dad was at St. Vincents, the hospital on 12th Street and 7th Avenue. He was in there a lot from his various illnesses. I got a shoulder surgery there. It could have kept me out of Vietnam because it hadn’t fully healed. I wanted to go to Vietnam, come back with medals and ribbons and make him eat his gun. That wasn’t to be. I did come back, he threatened me and ran into their bedroom to get it. He slammed the door behind him. I waited. My stepmom came out and said one of us had to leave and it wouldn’t be her husband. I left.
Let’s skip forward after 15+ years of no contact.
So we hung up and I followed my feet to visit dad at St. Vincents. I took Tongues of Fire with me. There were no ziplocks back then and I forgot how I protected it. It wasn’t that far a walk. On 7th Avenue, just before the hospital, was a Korean grocery. The Korean markets had the freshest and most beautifully arranged fruits, vegetables and flower bouquets. I purchased a freesia bouquet. The buds were opening and the scent was softly fragrant. Dad was on the third floor. I stood in the doorway of his room. There were two beds. One was made. He was asleep in the other. A nurse took the flowers and went to get a vase. I stood there at the foot of the bed, looking at him. The nurse returned, placed the flowers on his rolling tray, and left.
Dad opened his eyes, looked at me and wheezed, ‘What are you doing here?’
I retorted, ‘You should be happy I’m here. No one else has come to see you’.
An uncomfortable still surrounded us. He closed his eyes.
I sat in the chair at the head of the bed, facing what he saw.
On the wall was a colorful abstract painting of a seaport.
I placed my hand on his. He open his eyes.
I asked, ‘What do you see in that painting’?
He looked at it for a long while and said, ‘A prison’.
Then as now, I silently cried. I had heard him say, ‘My life has been a prison’.
We stayed like that awhile, my hand on his.
I have to stop here. Too many tears clouding my vision.
I opened Tongues of Fire. I always read from the first page I opened to
and where my eyes landed. I did that then, and begun to read.
The Book of Buddha, XVI, Patisena
To pervade the world with kindliness, pity, sympathy,–that is the way to union with Brahma, Buddha in Tevijja, Sutta.
Then came the story that opened my heart to my father. I will simplify it as best I can.
There was an old fellow named Patisena, He was cross and dull and even after reciting psalms for years, could not remember even one. All the towns people laughed at his ignorance. Buddha took pity on Patisena and called on him to visit.
Buddha quietly repeated to him: ‘He who guardeth his mouth, who restraineth his thoughts, who offendeth not with his body, shall obtain deliverance’. Patisena, moved by the Buddha’s kindness and goodness, repeated the verse immediately, over and over. Buddha then explained what the verse meant, in detail.
During that time there were 500 nuns living in a convent. They requested a priest to come and instruct them in the law. They were informed that Patisena would be that priest. The nuns schemed to recite the one verse Patisena knew, backwards, to mess with his mind.
He showed up, was greeted, fed, sat and said, ‘Sisters, my talent is small, my learning very little.
I know only one verse, but I will repeat that and explain its meaning.’ The nuns winked and smiled at each other. He started to speak. The nuns tried to open their mouths in jest, but could not.
After Patisena had repeated the verse, he began to explain it, as Buddha had instructed him. The nuns were astonished, rejoiced, and with one heart received the instruction, and advanced
on the path to Buddhahood.
I read this to dad twice, closed the book, was guided to place my hand on his and these words left my mouth, ‘Dad, I forgive you for what I think you did to me and I forgive myself for hating you all these years’. A weight of lifetimes lifted off my shoulders. I instantly felt lighter. His eyes were closed and I don’t know if he accompanied me in the transformation, nor will I ever know.
Before leaving the room, as if being guided, I again placed my hand on his, bent closer and said, ‘I love you’.
At the time I was in rehearsals for a cabaret performance, at the New School for Social Research. Deborah, my housemate lover (another performer) and I were exhausted from the rehearsals and put off seeing my father, until the next day.
Dad died that night.
It’s 2:32 am and I am tired from moving soil and tree limbs through the day, in the pouring rain. Got my daily walk with Kaia in starting at 3:15 pm. That was relaxing for us both. My vet (animal doctor) says Kaia has to keep moving, and that keeps me moving, so it’s all good.