I walk into the house. The air is cool and there is a strange smell. I can’t quite put my finger on it. My new brass statue of Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation, adorned with turquoise, coral and lapis, stands proudly on the granite counter, facing what my neighbor said was the epicenter of mold growth before he kindly took a roll of paper towels and a bottle of oil and wiped away the evidence of the slow death that had begun to overtake the house in my absence. Whatever havoc Shiva had come into my home to bestow upon it and rend it asunder, he most certainly did not waste any time getting started.
A hand-carved wooden Nepali elephant sits on the counter, elegantly covered in a thin later of grayish-green powder, and gazes at me as if to ask how could I have done this to her. She had just arrived from Nepal a few months earlier, after all, and had expected a better habitat.
Everywhere I look the artwork and furniture I have collected from around the world greets, hopeful that I have finally come home to save them from certain death. Unfortunately – or perhaps not – I not only anthropomorphize animals, I also experience things, especially those with faces, as living. I had brought art from around the world into my home with the promise of safety and security only to abandon it to an ever-growing sea of gray-greeen fuzz.
Statues of Ganesh, Krishna, and Hanuman, carved from rhododendron wood, all stand in silent approbation of Shiva’s devastation, while Shiva himself continues to dance with delight on the countertop beneath the backdrop of African and South Pacific art that covered the massive front wall of the living room, many pieces of which also now have the telltale gray-green cast across their surfaces.
Whoopee!! Look at what I have done! How great a god am I? I mean you have really got to hand it to me. I have outdone myself this time! I have reached into the very heart of your past, mounted upon your walls and laid out upon your tables, to remind you that it is all NOTHING!
Everyone in the room is waiting and watching to see what I will do.
How will you respond to this blatant attack upon the physicality of your life? Who of us will will you give up? Who of us will you save? How will you feel about beauty now that you know how easily it can be marred, broken, lost? Will you see the world differently when all this is over?
I still do not know the fate of the dozens of plants that I so carefully packed and drove myself to Florida from Vermont where I thought they would be able to festoon my new home. I may, in the end, have to kill living, breathing beings as well as symbolic, inanimate ones.
I am grateful that Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, who adorns my largest Tibetan tanka (a traditional painting on cloth), did not have to watch the destruction as it crawled across the room. Her eyes are still hidden under the the golden curtain, adorned with red ribbons, that falls across her face to protect her when she is not on display. I haven’t had the heart to lift her veil to gaze upon her countenance. I know that she too has been contaminated by spores but hope that they have not left a trail of gray fuzzy tears running down her face.
I remember: It is the Tibetan monks who painstakingly create beautiful mandalas out of colored sand only to let them blow away. Teachings about the impermanence are ubiquitous throughout Buddhism. It is our attachment to that which is impermanent which causes us to suffer.
This is what attachment feels like. Cloying threads tighten around my heart, their tiny fingers digging into the tissue, refusing to let go.
I know that the path to enlightenment, whether in Buddhism or Yoga, invariably involves leaving all worldly possessions behind. In this moment, I am aware of nothing but my humanity.
I am not ready to let go of everything. I would like to not care, I would like to not feel like I have somehow disappointed all the things surrounding me in this moment, but the fact is — this is how I feel. I have let everyone down except, perhaps, Shiva.
As I look around the room in the soft evening light, everything appears to be as I had left it… almost. It is only upon closer scrutiny that the ravages of the battle going on before my eyes becomes evident.
You can really see it in daylight, my kind and loyal neighbor, still standing at my side, softly utters. Because of him, I do not feel alone in my dismay. Because of him, I know that everything will eventually be alright.
Gary, and his wife, Sally, have accompanied me virtually through the entire process of discovery and assessment, meeting with the insurance adjusters, the mold testers, the mold remediation specialists, the AC repair people. Each time they have patiently stood at their sides in my home as they evaluated the situation. They have asked my questions for me, as well as their own, and reported the answers. They have encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed and now that our virtual relationship has ended, they have welcomed me into their home. Without them, I would truly be homeless.
The only way that I can understand all that my neighbors have done for me is to recognize that, had the shoe been on the other foot, I would have done the same for them. We are, and have been since we first met, connected to one another in a way that defies logic, given our very different pasts and current lives. Although I know that Gary would turn up his nose at the idea that he has ever had more than the one life he is living now, there is little doubt in my mind that we have met before, whether as people, or gods, or animals, I do not know. But we have been together before and it is my guess that Shiva was with us then as well.
I pause to notice the beauty that surrounds us: leaving aside the gray cast on certain things, the odd odor which even as we stand I can feel beginning to tweak an allergic response, the newest arrivals from Nepal look grand in their new environment. As always, I feel surrounded by artisans who created these beings with their hands, part of something bigger than my tiny life, part of a world where life is celebrated and revered through art. The new metal vases complement the granite countertops, the turquoise statue of Krishna looks happy playing his flute on the teak CD stand upon which my neighbor had placed him next to the TV. And, of course, Shiva looks gorgeous, as if he has finally found his rightful place in life overseeing my home — almighty and all powerful — as purveyor of transformation and change.
Perhaps it is not the things so much to which I cling, or the past moments of my life which they represent to me as clearly as if they were photographs, but the imagined faces of the people, many long gone from this planet and all but a few personally unknown to me, and the countries from whence they came, who created them. Perhaps they are not imaginary, perhaps I have known them too.
I try not to think about the cost of my attachment, the financial burden that the requisite mold remediation will incur.
Money, the quintessential example of that which is impermanent.