When I woke, the next morning, I had my oatmeal in silence then took a walk with my coffee around the convent grounds. Just to see the sights. I wasn't far from home - just outside Baltimore and about an hour-and-a-half from our house. But there's something about being on a hilltop, in the woods, that makes you feel like you're a million miles from anywhere. I stumbled upon the Peace Garden.
Years ago, on another five-day silent retreat, I had a dream about a gate just like this one. In the dream, the gate sat in the water behind my childhood home. I woke up with peace I had not known before in my life (I was about 23.) Interestingly enough, I didn't think much about that dream when I was in this peace garden. I was too busy noticing the things that people had left behind.
I couldn't find a blank book, so I brought this journal -- half finished from 2006 -- with plenty of room for more. In it I read, "There are no more good days. We are down to good hours, and bad hours." And yet, I would not leave for five more years. And those would be the years that I got a lot closer to the grandkids - which I wouldn't trade for anything. I'd give all the hours I have left for them, if they needed them.
I sat on a rock in the peace garden, listening to birds singing into Spring, and watching the bamboo trees stretch in the breeze. As surely as I am sitting here, it changed my life. Suddenly, I saw everything. I was really there. And it was ok for me to just be there. That was the peace I found in the garden.
The noticing that started with the waterfall the day before seemed to be the first, and most important, thing. Thinking back, I am actually quite proud of the fact that I made that connection to my old life so quickly - and kick the stone down the stream. I am a ruminator, after all.
Starting with lunch. For the rest of the weekend, I let myself eat whatever I wanted. After six years of living with someone who commented on everything I put into my mouth, I wanted to just taste food. Even if it meant meat or cheese. I have been enjoying veganism, but sometimes (when it's a lot of work to cook/shop/make everything) I wind up starving myself or making unhealthy choices because there is "nothing" I can have. Which isn't all that different than what I was doing before veganism. There just isn't any meat in my bad choices. It's a way of "taking care of myself" by not taking care of myself.
And the interesting thing is, I still chose not to eat meat or cheese, the difference was I gave myself the option and felt free to decide.For lunch they had lovely roasted vegetable wrap sandwiches and homemade potato chips with garden salad. Loved it. The convent had a soda fountain and I indulged liberally in root beer.
And the homemade peach cobbler and thought of my dead father. (I once spent an entire afternoon peeling fresh peaches and making a peach cobbler and woke up to find my Dad had eaten the entire thing in the night. Now I understand it, but at 14? I was pretty peeved.) I bought myself a Milky Way from the vending machine and didn't allow myself to feel guilty. It was still a battle to give myself permission to enjoy the food. But I did it.
I sat and appreciated that someone had prepared such wonderful food for me and all I had to do was show up. I didn't even have to wash dishes or say thank you. I thought of a visit that my friend D. made to Montana at a time when I was really worn out and I sat there like a rag doll while she prepared food in my kitchen. The only difference was maybe she didn't know how worn out I was, and maybe she didn't really want to make the wraps that much. (Thanks, D. )
A moment then and now when you feel like a pebble balanced just on the very edge. You could be brushed off. You could fall off. You could remain there, in a state of tension possibly forever. You just won't know until you know. And, until then, there are good hours and bad hours spent just trying to maintain your balance.