Sunday, August 25, 2013

From Flesh to Spirit, Evil to Good: Journey with a Virgin’s Thighbone 6: Bone of my Bone, Flesh of My Flesh

From Flesh to Spirit, Evil to Good: Journey with a Virgin’s Thighbone 6: Bone of my Bone, Flesh of My Flesh
[I’m going to risk something different. I invite you to journey and discover with me as I explore the relation of flesh and spirit, evil and good in the process of writing an essay I’ve been thinking about for almost two decades. All I know is this: the essay involves reflecting on a Tibetan thighbone trumpet, flesh and spirit, good and evil. I’m just going to start writing it and see where it leads, what is uncovered. So I’ll post it in installments—kind of a serialized essay in the spirit of those 19th century writers who wrote installments of their novels for magazines, not knowing exactly what the characters would do next or what would happen. I’ll post the first installment this week and then one a week for the next five or six or however many weeks, and see where we end up. Maybe back where we started. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere I can’t imagine yet. Thanks for accompanying me. ]

I never blew the trumpet again. But before we parted, I heard it blown one more time.

After the morning I called the demons and they came to me, a mirror to my constricted heart, the virgin’s thighbone stayed safely in the Judaica cupboard among its ritual friends. I gave it no more thought. It had ceased to be a threat to me. With its help, I had found the demons and conquered them. I no longer had need of a trumpet to call them to me. And for its part, that smooth burnished bone no longer disturbed me as I passed by the glass-doored hall cupboard where it lived. The holes at the top of the joint, those darkened cavities that used to stare at me like twin eternal eyes—Warning me? Questioning me? Goading me? Judging me?—no longer followed me as I passed by, traveling endlessly from bedroom to kitchen, kitchen to bedroom.

In late March of 2008, my husband of 21 years left. By April of the next year we were divorced. In that vertiginous year in which I wrestled and sweated out the meaning of family and belonging, love and exile, ego and being, possessions and gifts, body and spirit, good and evil, one thing was clear to me immediately: I had to return the thighbone trumpet to its home. I didn’t fully understand why.

As part of the separation of property, I sifted through all the ritual objects we had used in our family Shabbats and holidays and simchas, portioning them out, these to me, those to him. I packed up all the ritual objects my husband had brought to our Jewish family, a Kiddush cup from his grandparents, his grandfather’s tallit, an ancient and very beautiful siddur, a lace head covering his grandmother had worn when lighting the Shabbat candles. I deeply loved these objects, had cared for them, and probably would care for them more tenderly than he would. Whenever I used one of those inherited objects to pray or bless, I felt the presence and the prayers of those who had used them so long ago, and I did not want to lose my relationship, which felt so personal, with them, those souls, those spirit-bodies who had come before me and laid their hands on these same objects I laid my hands on, our skins touching through time, in that eternal space of prayer and blessing, the love that knows no bounds, the peace that passes all understanding. But those ritual objects belonged to him and his family and they needed to return to their home, so I gave them back, though with an ache in my heart that lasts until this day. Where are they? Jumbled with bird books and college mementoes in a crate or a box in some stranger's basement on the mainland, my husband having moved to Hawai'i and left them behind? Molding in the tropical air? Are they lonely? Are they suffering from lack of use? I miss them.

In sorting through our ritual cupboard I came at last to the bone. The bone I had bought on our honeymoon trek. Was my sudden desire to return it to its home an act of cowardice or revenge? Did I want to destroy all reminders of our honeymoon, our marriage? Put that trumpet far away from me so I would not be reminded of the loss of my dream of a family every time I passed it? Adam’s words in the Garden of Eden, when he sees Chava for the first time, echoed in my head: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) We two, Man and Woman, once joined together, had now been rent asunder. My bones amputated from his. His flesh torn from mine. The wounds still raw. Anesthesia powerless again them. Was that why the young woman’s bone had to go?

No. The bone had never been part of “us”; it had always been for me and me alone. So why then did I want to send it away?

I realized I wasn’t sending it away; I was sending it home. That young woman’s bone had lived in exile all these years: first from its land, Tibet, when the Tibetan Buddhists fled their Chinese oppressors to live in exile in Nepal, India, and elsewhere; and then from its community, the refugee community in Nepal that I had bought it from. None of her people to know her, look on her with love and gratitude. None of her people to pick her up, caress her, speak to her in her mother tongue, use her for the purpose for which she had been born and made. She needed to be used for the purpose for which she had been called into being. Without that, she was not a reminder of death, but dead. When I realized that, I could hardly bear that she should live another day in exile.

I called the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, explained that I had a very old thighbone trumpet I wanted to give to the monastery. The man on the phone set up an appointment for me with the lama.
The following week I went to meet the lama. Yet another shock.

(to be continued next week)

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