On May 2nd, I logged onto my Facebook page and the first post I saw was by someone I know in Louisville, who was also a friend of my friend, Sug.   I didn’t understand it at first, “Godspeed to my friend, Sug…”.  As I read on, it was clear: Sug had just died.

The sensation was as if I had been punched in the stomach.  “How could this be?” I thought.  I had just received an email from her in January – she made no mention of an illness.  Could this have been an accident?

Quickly, I went to her page and sure enough, her step-son, Richard had posted that after only six weeks of knowing she was ill, she died at home of stomach cancer.  It was very quick – she only found out that the tumor was inoperable on April 23rd.

Images of her flooded my mind.  A beauty who once was first runner-up to Miss America, I met her years ago when I was a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue.  I remember receiving a call – would I come in to see the Regina Porter blouse line?  I would and did — and walked into the showroom soon after to be greeted by a beautiful woman who seemed genuinely happy to see me.  “Genuine” is the operative word in that sentence – as a buyer for a famous store, many that I met were trying hard to get me to buy their line – there was no room for graciousness or true generosity of spirit.  And yet – here they were.  I warmed to her instantly.  She was “Lee” then – she had given up her Southern name to blend into the hard-core life of the fashion world in New York City.

We “took” immediately.  I looked forward to going to the showroom because I knew I would be at home in her presence.  Soon, she invited me to join their weekly after-work yoga class in the showroom.  I liked all the women there, but Lee was something special.  We started a friendship outside of work.  Looking back on it now, it’s hard for me to imagine there was a time before when we were not friends – much like having children and not being able to remember what life was like before they were born – that’s how it was for us.

We shared everything – and soon, that was a life history together as well as stories from our past.

Lee was older than I and didn’t have children.  I was just recently married and having children was just about all I could think of.   We both got pregnant around the same time – we were so excited that we would both be going through this episode in our lives at the same time.  What previously lived as a budding friendship quickly turned into a bond so strong, you’d have thought we were sisters.

Lee lost her baby first – after only a few months.  In that time, I had come to find out that she had wanted children all along but, after years of trying, had finally given up.  This pregnancy had been what she thought would be her only shot at motherhood.  She was 38 and not too many women were having babies that late in life in those days.

I went through my entire pregnancy and, on my due date on May 20th in 1978, gave birth to a stillborn baby girl.  To say that it was a terrible time for me…  Well, it was a terrible time for me.  Lee came to see me in the hospital.  She was the only friend I allowed to come.   My husband, my mother and father — and Lee.

I became obsessed with trying to get pregnant again.  Lee seemed to have given up hope for another chance for herself, but she was in my corner from the start, comforting me every month when the evidence would show up, yet again — I was not pregnant.

Many months later that year, she asked me to lunch at the museum.  We loved spending time together away from the bustle of the garment district, where people thought nothing of coming to the table while we were eating to ask if I would come see their lines.  It was more fun to be somewhere elegant and pretty, far from the crowds.

Midway through lunch, Lee told me she was pregnant again.  As happy as I was for her, there was also a pang of such jealousy that I couldn’t believe myself!  She looked at me apprehensively – and I could see that she was worried about my reaction to her news.  In that moment, the jealousy was gone.  I reached across the table,  “It’s OK, Lee.  Yes, I wish I was pregnant, too.  I’m not.  I will be soon.  And today?  Today we celebrate YOU!”

Three months later, I was pregnant again.  Lee was far enough along that we both stopped worrying for her and now, we could be pregnant together!  What could be better?  Our children would grow up together, laugh and play together…  What dreams we had!

That Spring, the four of us, Lee and I, and her husband, Ronnie, and my husband, Fred, spent weekends on their boat, the “Sug-a-Lee” in City Island, a little area over the bridge in the Bronx that was like being in the Hamptons while in New York City.  I asked her about the name of the boat – “Oh, that’s the name I grew up with.”

Our bellies were bursting – Lee was so thin that she never gained much weight.  Me?  Say the word “pregnant” around me and I gain 20 pounds.  We were about the same size even though she was three months further along than I was.  Here we were, these two pregnant, happy women on the boat, laying around, sharing what we’d do together when our babies were born.

One night, I got a call really late – so late, I was in bed already.  It was Lee.   In what I thought was an eerily calm voice, she told me that she had miscarried at home, suddenly and unexpectedly, and wanted me to know – and wanted me to come.

The next day, I visited her at their townhouse.  She sat in bed and told me the story.  She cried, I cried.  I felt my belly protruding into the space, like the elephant in the room that it was.  Still, I had lost a baby the year before and I knew what a ripping, emotional pain that was.  Lee was far enough along that the  baby’s kicking and the extra pillows were already real for her.

In a short time, she was back at work.  She told me that she was not thinking about getting pregnant again.

At the end of my 6th month, I found out my baby was in trouble.  I was RH negative and, while there shouldn’t have been a problem because I had the injections the year before to prevent the antibodies from forming from the first baby, my tests were coming back with a result that indicated that the baby was already affected.  I wound up having an intra-uterine transfusion, already a risky procedure – and, one month later, my baby was born.  He – Josh — had 7 exchange transfusions in the first few days to keep him alive and he remained in neo-natal intensive care for 8-1/2 weeks.

The day after Josh was born, Lee wanted to come see me.  I assured her that she didn’t have to – it had only been a few months since she’d lost hers.  I remembered how painful it had been for me the year before to even look at a baby, let alone walk past the nursery in a hospital to see rows of clear plastic cribs holding blue and pink swaddled newborns.   She insisted.  That afternoon, in she came – with tears rolling down her cheeks, bearing a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates for me.  She knew how much I loved chocolate.

I didn’t see much of her in the next few months.  I understood.  I had a different life now – one that included a baby and nursing and sleepless nights and trying to be “executive, wife, mother.”  Lee had reconciled herself to not having children – we didn’t talk about it again.

We were still good friends – we just saw each other less frequently.  It seems like a short time afterwards – but, it was four years – she called to tell me that she was leaving New York and didn’t know when she’d be back.  She seemed removed somehow, as if she was holding something back.  No, she said, her mother was having an operation and she was going to stay with her until she recovered.

A month later, I received a six page letter saying that she and her husband were divorcing, she was in Florida and raising the water level with her tears, and she didn’t know what would happen but she thought that she probably wasn’t coming back to New York.  She was going to go live in Kentucky when she could pull herself together enough to face people.  That turned out to be awhile.  She thanked me for being a good friend and being the one who was there for her when she lost the baby.  She would never forget that.  She signed it, “Take care of your fellows and much love to you, Lee”.

I cried for a week.

We visited her in Florida where she told me the whole story of the demise of her marriage.   Shortly afterwards, she did move to Kentucky and that’s where she stayed.  We kept in touch and I saw her when she came to New York to work for Karl Lagerfeld or one of the other fashion designers.    She was always a classy, beautiful lady, so the designers loved having her for market weeks to sell and show the clothes.  My own marriage was dissolving, so no trips to Kentucky for me.

She signed her letters “Lee” for a long time – and then she started to sign off as “Sug”.  On the phone once, I asked her about it.  “That’s what they call me here,” she said, “Call me whatever you want as long as you call me ‘friend’.”

After awhile, Lee fell in love again.  His name was Dan Schusterman.  She called me, all excited, to tell me she was getting married and would I come?  I would and did – but without Fred.  Marriage was over for me as it was beginning for her.

I flew to Kentucky and it was a whirlwind three-day wedding on the hottest weekend of the year.  Heat or no heat, no one ever looked more beautiful than Lee.. Uh, I mean “Sug”.  That went on all weekend.  No one in Louisville called her “Lee”.   Sug Schusterman was born.

She went on to become one of the most beloved people in all of Louisville.  She fell in love with the Louisville Deaf Oral School when she visited the school and was present when a child was able to hear for the first time.  In that moment, she became the school’s champion, raising millions of dollars on its behalf.

That’s when she became a mother.  Those children were her children.

I could go on about all the fabulous things she did for the people of Louisville and all the lives she touched.  She came alive there in a different way than the way she was in New York City.  I used to visit her and, for a time, there were still 2 and 3 hour phone calls between us.  Our lives were different and the times between phone calls and visits became longer and longer.

She sent me a card last Fall and the picture reminded me of one of the Christmases I spent with her in Louisville.  I emailed her to tell her that and how much I missed her.  She wrote back in January, “I remember that Christmas – it was fun times, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t know she was sick then.

That was the last time I heard from her.

I went to the funeral in Louisville three weeks ago.  The Sug they talked about was a Matriarch of Louisville – and someone I knew and loved, for sure.  The Lee I’m mourning is the one who taught me how to make pies in her townhouse kitchen in New York City, the one who cried in my arms in her bed that Spring day in 1979, the one who ignored her own pain and walked past that nursery full of newborn babies to visit me after losing her own, and the one who told me to buy my Burberry trench coat 2 sizes bigger than I needed so it would look slouchy and chic.  That is the size I am today so I guess I’ll have to get another one.

Then again, maybe I won’t.   There are some things that can never be replaced.

Good-bye, Sug.  I will love you forever…

Deliciously yours in the Grace and Beauty of it all,  Linda

The magnificent Sug Schusterman.

http://www.voice-tribune.com/news/celebrating-sug-schusterman/  This is an article written shortly after Sug’s death, celebrating her life.  This article is a beautiful tribute to the woman she blossomed into in Louisville. written by her friend and society page columnist, Carla Sue Broecker.

The title of this post is from James Taylor’s song, “Fire and Rain”:

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain   I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end    I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend    But I always thought that I’d see you again”

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

Advertisements

It’s Valentine’s Day!  And that makes it the three-year anniversary of this blog.  So, first, I want to say, I love YOU and thank you for coming and reading my “stuff” these last three years.  In that time, “Spiritual Chocolate” has had 11,498 visitors, as of just now!  You all are the best!

Last year I wrote that I was creating an amazing year of growth and productivity for myself.  And, yes, it happened – but, not in the way I thought it would.  In fact, it’s been a rough year – personally and professionally.  I crawled all the way out on the skinny branches where I could hear the crack, crack, cracking of the twigs as my life fell apart.

The skinny branches…  That’s where the fruit is, right?

So, yes, my ex-husband got married, creating a roller-coaster ride of emotions for me for the entire year – AND, my son came back to New York after three years of working for Target in Minneapolis.  It’s so yummy to have him home in NYC!

I had a falling away with some of the dearest people in my life…. AND, I reconnected with my old friend, Tommy, with whom I hadn’t been in contact for fifteen years – and now we are partners in an entertainment business, working on projects in film and television.  Mmmm, Mmmm, good!

For every ending, there’s been a beginning – for every sadness, a joy.   For every time I’ve been down on my knees in pain and sadness,  there’s been an even greater moment of excitement for something new.

Each sad event had me reaching out of my comfort zone and deep into my heart to find the strength, courage, and persistence to find another way.  That’s where the growth is.

Each glorious moment reminded me that when things seem to go away, leaving an empty space inside, God finds a way to fill us up once again.  That’s where the Love is.

I am grateful for everything that’s happened to me this year.  Without the sadness, I wouldn’t have learned.  Without the Joy, I wouldn’t have renewed my heart.  And, without all of you reading these posts and writing me emails – telling me about your heartbreaks, your brother who’s like my son, your child who’s like my father, I wouldn’t get it so profoundly that we are the same after all – we really are all One.

I am profoundly grateful to you.  Yes, YOU….  My funny Valentines….

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Deliciously yours in the Love it all is,  Linda

“My Funny Valentine, Sweet comic Valentine, You make me smile with my heart…   Your looks are laughable, unphotographable, yet you’re my favorite work of art…”     from “My Funny Valentine”  by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I received an extraordinary Christmas gift yesterday.  One I never thought I’d see in my lifetime – one I asked for when I was five years old.

First, let me tell you that there is a little 14 year-old ballerina staying with me for this Christmas season.  Her name is Juliet Doherty.  She’s staying here with her Mom because she plays the part of Clara in the Nutcracker segment of the Radio City Music Hall Spectacular with the Rockettes.

Juliet is an angel – a beautiful, yet sweet face; a charming, happy countenance – and her dancing…   Ah, her dancing….  She has the perfect ballerina’s body and she has an extension up the side of her head!  When she’s on stage, she lights up the 6000 seat theatre at the Music Hall!

She’s here with her mother, Krista.   I’ve watched her over these last few months, stretching, standing in her toe shoes that her mom just stitched the ribbons onto, working two to five shows a day – with her always smiling face and her always charming manner.

One night, I was watching her Mom work on the new pointe shoes she got for the show – a little brighter pink than what she had been wearing for practice.  All of a sudden, a story from my childhood rose up within me like tears.   I told them:

I took ballet when I was very little.  I loved it.  I must have been  good at it because I remember the teacher telling my mother that I should go on to pointe classes.  I would need toe shoes, of course, instead of the ballet flats with the elastic across the front that I had been wearing.  I wanted pointe shoes badly, but my mother said that we probably couldn’t afford them so not to get my hopes up.

My grandmother came over a few nights later and I started dancing for her in my pink leotard and my ballet flats.  I didn’t say anything about what the teacher said, so I don’t know how my grandmother knew.  Perhaps she didn’t — perhaps it was just a coincidence.  She said, “Oh, Linda, that is so beautiful!  You should have real ballerina shoes.  I’m going to get you some toe shoes!  Pretty pink ballerina toe shoes, just for you!”

I was so excited, I could barely contain myself.  I didn’t ask when, but if she said so, then she would, right?   She would get them, I was sure of it.

The next time she came to visit, I looked at both of her hands for a bag or a box.  Nothing.  She didn’t say anything either.   I was not a bold child – I would never have said, “Grandma, where are the pointe shoes you promised me?”

Every time my Grandmother came – for a long time – I looked to see if she was carrying a bag or a box that might have my pointe shoes.  No.  Not ever.  There never were any pointe shoes.

I finally gave up looking.  I finally gave up ballet.

I’d almost forgotten this story if it wasn’t for watching Krista stitch the bright pink ribbon onto the bright pink pointe shoes that would grace the stage at Radio City Music Hall.  It made me remember that I gave up on a dream a long time ago.

How easily dreams are crushed when we are small!

Yesterday, Krista and Juliet came home from seeing the rest of their family — all in town for Christmas.  Juliet gave me a  Christmas bag with bright red paper peeking out the top.  “Merry Christmas!” she said.

I looked inside and saw a pair of bright pink toe shoes, autographed by Juliet.  It says, “Linda, a pair of pretty pink pointe shoes just for you.”  I couldn’t believe it!  I finally got my toe shoes!

It’s almost 60 years later and still I feel the excitement of having my own pair of pointe shoes!  I can’t wear them, of course.  They’re Juliet’s size 4 – and I’m not a size 4 anything anymore.

I have them on a shelf by my computer.  As I looked at them today, I made a pact with myself that I would never give up on a dream again.  I still have many dreams and sometimes I tell myself that perhaps it is too late.

No, it’s never too late.  If I can finally get my pointe shoes, I can write a book, I can have my Tuscan farmhouse, I can have the love of my dreams.  I’m not giving up.

Juliet gave me the greatest of gifts – the gift of a dream come true…

Deliciously yours in the Hopes and Dreams of it All, Linda

Here is Juliet Doherty, en pointe.  She is even more beautiful in person than she is here.  Thank you, Juliet, for a very special gift!

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

“The new, hot color is orange!” my son announced at lunch one day two weeks ago.  He then gave examples of how a touch of orange – as a wool cap, perhaps, or a puffy vest, could be the perfect accessory to an otherwise understated,  but elegant, “bella figura.”

I wanted to howl  with laughter!  As someone who spent many years in the fashion business and bored my buyers to tears with my latest proclamation on the “new, hot color”, I remember when my own conversation was all about orange and what that would mean to the fashion business (without which color, of course, the next season would be a disaster!).

There have been many years between these two conversations.  Josh was barely out of swaddling clothes when I made my mad and crazy platform for orange as THE color that everyone had to have.

It was in Paris in, I want to say, 1982.  After having spent a week in Florence in a hotel room on the floor in a virtual sea of rolled-up yarn swatches from which I was trying to create the following Fall’s color pallet —  even to crawling around and looking under the bed for just the right swatches of color that I was certain I had seen somewhere, but currently were hidden from view.  “I have it!” I cry, gleefully holding aloft a  little ball of orange yarn and proclaiming it the bread and wine of the following season.   Sing Hallelujah, my children!

It didn’t stop there.  We arrived in Paris and hopped in a cab to go to dinner.  I started  again on how orange had to be just so — not too red, not too yellow, but just as right as Goldilocks’ porridge.  I remember holding my hands in front of me, palms up, fingers curled as if I were Uma Thurman receiving the Hattori Hanzo sword in “Kill Bill 1”, grasping and receiving at the same time – “Can you see it?  Can you see this perfect orange in sweaters, in jackets, in handbags, as a belt wrapped around a gray cashmere dress?”

I stopped for a moment and looked up from  my hands.  My two buyers, Meryl and Joe, were looking at me in either rapt attention or appalled concern for my well-being.  Either way, in that moment, I burst out laughing.  “Hey, Guys!  It’s just a color!  What AM I going on about?  This is not the solution for world peace!”   They looked at me, stunned, and then they, too, burst into laughter at my intensity about of all things –  orange!

We had a great dinner – that’s hard not to do in Paris – and came back to the Meurice Hotel.  We came to my room to call New York about a problem that needed resolving, knowing that it was 6 hours earlier in New York and we would be able to find one of the assistants, Paul, still at work.

As we opened the door to my room, we were struck by drapes in orange, a bedspread in orange and bolster pillows in orange.  Everywhere we looked, we saw orange!

It was playtime:  Meryl ran to the drapes and pulled one around herself, Grecian style — while Joe pulled the cover off the bed and wrapped it around himself so that he looked  like an orange Lawrence of Arabia.  We laughed ‘til our sides hurt, even as we made the call to New York and got Paul on the phone.  The poor  kid! – a hard-working assistant buyer, trying hard to please as his Vice President and two of his buyers were howling with laughter and parading around the room making speeches about orange!

Now I sit here at lunch listening to my darling son tell me that I have to understand how important orange is.  As the memory of Meryl and Joe decked out in my orange room décor runs through my mind, I try to listen seriously and intently to his important pronouncement –  without chuckling.   It is hard.

I’ve just returned from Christmas shopping for Josh – and while I cannot say here what one of his presents is because I don’t want to give it away – I have just scoured the city for the perfect gift with just the exact amount of orange in it to satisfy my Ralph Lauren-loving, sartorially resplendent son.  I was even able to have it wrapped with orange ribbon!

I shake my head at my silliness…

Still, there is something about this that moves my heart – that he is so his own person – and so his mother’s son…

Deliciously yours in the Oneness of it All, Linda

NOTE:  The dress in the thumbnail above is Bottega Veneta, 2010.  Divine!

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I don’t buy dresses that zip up the back anymore.  I haven’t for a long time — exactly how long?  I do know that — 17 years, 6 months, 26 days.  It’s been that long since my then-husband moved out of the apartment we shared together and into his own place.

I was too wrapped up in a relationship with a man who was so unsuited to me that I often wonder if his sole purpose was to distract me from my crumbling marriage to a man I still loved so that, when my husband left, I  wouldn’t notice.  It worked for a while.

Fred, my former husband, was the steady hand holding my arm as I walked the tightrope of my life, the vigilant guide that turned down the heat on the pot-boiling-over that was my mind, the brave hero  there to rescue this damsel in distress, whether it was my upset over being a catholic mother trying to train her Jewish son for his Bar Mitzvah, or the quiet reassurance on those days that being in the fashion business was not the glamorous career everyone thought it would be.

We had husband and wife moments like everyone else  — and, none more annoying — and touching — as his checking on me as I would spend forever getting ready to go out.

“How much longer will you be?” he said, standing in the doorway of my bathroom as I applied my mascara, my head up close to the mirror, lips parted in concentration, right arm out to the side as I carefully colored one lash at a time.  “Not too long,” I said between lashes, “Five more minutes.”  I didn’t have my dress on yet, my shoes were strewn about the floor, my hair still had a couple of rollers on the top.  “Just five more minutes, Fred!”  He shook his head and walked away.

This would have happened once or twice or even three times more before I was ready to don my dress and shoes and we could walk out the door to our event.

Ah, my dress.  I’d step into it and slither it up over my hips.   I’d reach my hands behind me and start the zipper up as far as I could with my own hands.  Then…

“Fred!” It was a call out.  “Fred?”  It was a question.  He’d come into the room and I could always tell he liked what I had on – his fretful face would transform to a look of wide-eyed appreciation.  I’d turn so my back was to him, sweep my hair to the side.   “Honey, would you zip me up?”  I could feel him come up behind me, almost too close to do the task at hand.  He put his hands on the back of my dress, sliding down to find the zipper tab and slowly pull it up to the top.  I’d always turn around and reward him with a kiss, “Thanks, Honey!”

After he moved out – I guess it was some months later – I was getting ready to go to a party.  I put on my make-up with no sweet spectator at the door, no one to hurry me along, no one to shake his head in exasperation.  I thought I would like having this time to myself.  Instead, there was a twinge of lonliness – an anticipation of someone who loved me, albeit impatiently, nudging me on.  I looked towards the door – there was no one there.

I slipped on my dress, a sexy, red beaded short dress with a zipper up the back.  I reached behind and zipped up the dress as far as I could on my own – and then I turned in dismay – how was I going to get this dress zipped up by myself?

I tried wild contortions and yoga poses, but nothing worked –  I never could get my hands to meet behind me.

I gave up and sat down on my bed.  While it had already been weeks since he left,  that was the moment I realized he was gone for good.  I put my face in my hands and cried until my make-up was ruined and I was so late for my party that it would have been embarrassing to show up at all.

I slipped out of my dress and hung it on the hanger from which it had come, the curve of the top still sitting in the hook on my closet  door.  It was the last time I would ever  wear  that dress, a dress I had worn for Fred on several occasions, a dress that he had zipped up for me each time.

I washed my mascara-streaked face and didn’t call my friends to say I was not coming.  It didn’t escape me that no one called to see where I was.  Fred was the only one who ever waited on my presence – vigilantly, annoyingly, impatiently, lovingly.

I miss that about him.

17 years, 6 months, and 26 days later and I still miss that about him.

Yes, it’s the big, angry outbursts that signify a marriage  has ended, but it the missing of those endearing and intimate ordinary moments between a man and a woman in which you know that something amazing is gone for good.

Deliciously yours in the Memory of it All, Linda

“The way you wear your hat;
The way you sip your tea;
The memory of all that.
No, no, they can’t take that away from me.

The way your smile just beams;
The way you sing off key;
The way you haunt my dreams.
No, no, they can’t take that away from me.

We may never, never meet again
On on the bumpy road to love.
Still I’ll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife;
The way we danced ’til three;
The way you’ve changed my life.
No, no, they can’t take that away from me”  by  Ira Gershwin

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I was excited to read Dayna Macy’s new book, “Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom”,  because it is a memoir and not a “diet book.”   After reading a few self-help books on weight loss, like Marianne Williamson’s, “A Course in Weight Loss” and Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food, and God,” (both of which I loved!),  it intrigued me that someone would write a personal story of what she eats and why and what she did about it.

Dayna Macy titled her three sections with compelling names:  Part 1 is “Seduction”, in which she writes about the foods that arouse her desires: “Sausage,” “Cheese,” “Chocolate,” “Olives,” and “Squash.”  Squash?  Yes, squash – this chapter seems to be more about the pleasure of food than the food itself.  Or, perhaps, more about the man who is cooking the food than the food itself – charged with longing and eroticism, this chapter makes it is easy to see why we women confuse food with intimacy.  Hunger is often not distinguished for us in terms of what we are hungry for.  And so, we eat when we can’t or don’t love.

Part II is titled, “Communion,” with chapters called, “Farm,” “Forage,” “Feast,” “Patience,” “Slaughter,” and “Home” – the connections with food that create the insatiable – or almost insatiable — bond with those foods we love.   The hardest chapter for me to read in this section (in fact, in the entire book) was the one on meat, entitled  “Slaughter.”  While I am not a vegetarian and I don’t have any desire to be one, Dayna’s telling of her visit to a humane “abattoir” – a slaughterhouse – took me up close and personal to what it is behind the scenes of being a meat-eater: an animal has to die for me to have my steak and eat it, too.

Indeed, this chapter is about the humane slaughter of cows, which, we all know (or, should know by now) is not the way most of the cattle that supplies our meat are killed.  Although she does not take us on a visit to the farms that do not practice the humane slaughter of cattle, the background conversation is that method as a contrast to this visit to the more humane facility.  She describes the process in detail:  calves one at a time, hidden from the view of the animals behind it, stunned to brain-deadness and then killed.  Behind her visceral description is what she doesn’t discuss — the even more disturbing vision of cows crowded together in a killing chute, fear racing through their bodies as they see the animal in front of them die.  She doesn’t describe that directly, but the way she describes this killing is as a contrast to that killing.  While the unspoken contrast is not on the page, it is left in your mind.

After that chapter, I had to take a break.  Her descriptions are so detailed, I had to put the book down for awhile.  It was time to think about my responsibility in how I choose my food.  Can I live with even the humane description?  I don’t know.

Part III is called, “Transformation.”  The chapter titles are, “No Food,” “The Yoga of Food,” “The Practice of Food,” “The Offering of Food,” – all very spiritual chapters in the sense that eating and food require being honest with oneself and present to the actual act of eating —  and the last chapter of the book is on “Oranges.”  This is my favorite chapter, partly because of her luscious descriptions: “Oranges are among my favorite fruits.  I love how the juice squirts out when you bite into a section and how they can be both sweet and sour and taste like the sun,” and partly because it is clear, in the end, that she has no answers for herself or for me – or for anyone, in fact.

There are no answers.

This is a book about the courage to be honest about one’s appetites – all of them – and the way we use those appetites to protect ourselves, to hide our pain – mostly from ourselves – and, finally, to find a way to use the very wounds that we seek to hide to take us on a journey that will lead to loving ourselves.

Deliciously yours in the Sweetness of it All,  Linda

“Weight can be gained or lost.  Our judgments about our bodies are much harder to lose.  I see that my body is strong.  It lets me do things both beautiful and practical.  I am grateful to have found a practice that is helping me find balance and lose weight.  But the scale is a witness to my journey, not the measure of my worth.  It is with gratitude and humility that I am learning to take care of my body, because it is the embodiment of my spirit and the vehicle with which I make my way through this complicated, magnificent world.”         Dayna Macy, “Ravenous: a food lover’s journey from obsession to freedom.”

Here is the link to Hay House Book Club Radio, a discussion of “Ravenous” which will air this Friday, August 19th:

http://www.hayhouseradio.com/show_details.php?show_id=235&episode_type=0

Here is the link to “Ravenous” at Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ravenous-dayna-macy/1100319096?ean=9781401926915&itm=1&usri=ravenous%2bby%2bdayna%2bmacy

And, the link to Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Ravenous-Lovers-Journey-Obsession-Freedom/dp/1401926916/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297878475&sr=1-1

Disclosure:  I received Dayna Macy’s book, “Ravenous:  a food lover’s journey from obsession to freedom”  for free from Hay House Publishing.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I look into his eyes.  Rather, I dive into his eyes – deep, dark pools, out of proportion to his head, really – totally open and staring at me, looking at me as if I am the only person in the universe.  It’s as if he has never really seen me before, has never seen who I really am.

I have spent hours – days, even – staring at him as he lay on his side sleeping — and surely he has looked at me before.  Looking is different than seeing.

I know that I love him, that I will always love him.   More…  I know that I can never not love him.

I want to give myself to him – I never give that a second thought.

I have told myself, for months now, that I want this.  But, before this moment, I had no idea – really – what that meant.  Other people have told me about this kind of love, but I’ve never felt it before.  I’ve always been wary of love, scared to give my love without any conditions.

He’s changed that.

Now, there is certainty.  I thought there would be a moment when I would get to decide: “Ok, I’ll take the risk”.   It wasn’t like that at all.   One minute, it wasn’t there and the next minute, it was all there.   I couldn’t have stopped it if I wanted to.

I am laughing – what a silly conversation with myself – not wanting to love him like this?  Not even an option.  And, in that “no option,” there is freedom.

I touch his skin.  He doesn’t flinch or blink or acknowledge it in any way. He keeps looking at me, and I lean over and kiss his forehead, his cheek, his ear.   I am full of him.

I whisper, “I love you”.

He’s looking at me.  I know he loves me.  I have no doubts.

Again I whisper, “I love you.  I love you more than anything in the world.”   There, I say it.  I declare it – for him, for all the world –  and for me.  The commitment I’ve always wanted to make is right there for me to step into.  I have no choice.  I don’t want a choice.  If there is one, the choice is between loving him and loving him.  There is nothing else.

I drop my gaze for a moment as I let it travel over his body – his perfect body, with his perfect hands and his perfect fingers.  He touches my finger as I reach for his hand.  That is enough for him.  He holds on firmly – not so tight that it is desperate, but not lightly either.  A touch that says, “You and I are together”.

I look up again into his eyes to find them still looking at me.  I melt into him even more, if that is even possible. How could it be possible to love him even more than I loved him just a few seconds before?  As I dive deeper into my love, each moment brings some new layer, some new richness and, with it, even more freedom.

I could stay this way forever.

“Mrs. Feuer?”

I look up.  The nurse stands there, not wanting to interrupt.

It is time.  I know it and she knows I know it.  I don’t want this to end.

“Mrs. Feuer, he has to go back into his incubator.”

I look back down at him.  I don’t want to give him up, but I also know that she’s helped me steal a few moments.   The neo-natal intensive care unit doesn’t allow you to hold them until they are 4 pounds.  I don’t want her to get in trouble.

One more look, one more hug, one more declaration: “I am your Mommy. I love you.  I will never leave you, ever.  I’m right here.”

He’s still looking at me.  Even as I lift him and lay him in her arms, he tracks my face.   She turns and puts him back into his incubator.  I don’t move.  I feel like my heart has just been ripped out of my body.  Is this what it is to be a mother?

I watch as she takes the blanket off his skinny little body and lays him inside his warm, see-through egg-like compartment.  She hooks his tubes back up to their machines.   When she is finished, she closes the incubator and walks away.  The tears are rolling down her cheeks.  She doesn’t want me to see, but I do.

I get up from the stool and walk over and look down at him.  He is still looking at me, but with the glass between us, it seems less intimate.  It wasn’t so long ago that we were one body.  Now,  I am here and he is in there.  We are only inches apart.  Still…

I put my hand in through the hole in the side of the incubator and touch his hand.  Again, he grabs on.  I bring my head near to the hole and I whisper through the opening:

“I love you, Joshua.”

He just looks at me.

Deliciously, deliciously yours,  Linda

This is my son, Josh Feuer, with me on Mother’s Day this past May.  He’s 31, healthy, brilliant, wonderful — and I’m still loving him more and more each day!

He was born an RH baby at 32 weeks and spent the first 8-1/2 weeks of his life in neonatal intensive care, after 6 exchange transfusions to save his life.

This photo was taken at the Cervantes statue near NYU in lower Manhattan.

Since posting my review on Linda Leaming’s book, “Married to Bhutan”, both Linda and I were on Hay House Book Club Radio together, talking about the story themes and what there was to take-away from reading this wonderful memoir about loving life in Bhutan and Linda’s life of love in Bhutan with her amazing husband, Namgay.  If you read the book, you’ll see that, truly, he sounds like a paragon of patience and an altogether wonder of a man!

Afterwards, Linda and I communicated via Facebook and Twitter, and then, finally, email.  I found out she was coming to New York City for an event, and I thought perhaps we could meet for coffee?  We could.

It seemed that we met as two strangers with a common ground – her book, which she wrote and I loved.  I was soon to learn that it was no accident that Linda and I met each other.

Our afternoon conversation did what many conversations between women do – it drifted into talk of relationships and love.

I wanted to know more about her romance with her husband.  I was intrigued by their relationship – Western drama meets Buddhist acceptance and allowing – it seemed at once exciting and implausible.  What did he make of her worry and frenzy?  What did she make of his silence and peace?

Her stories in person were as ripe with promise and love as they were in the book.  As in the book, she was forthcoming and authentic over coffee about how they had to take time to get used to each other and it wasn’t always easy, but very much worth it.  The story of the romance in the book is one of my favorite parts — and I loved hearing more about it first-hand.

I contributed some of my own story.  I met my husband many years ago and it was not long before I fell madly in love.  I’ve written about Fred before, my son’s father, my partner-in-love-and-travel-and-craziness, followed by some tough years and, finally, not one separation, but two.  The second one lasted 9 years before he finally walked into my apartment shortly after 9/11 and handed me divorce papers.  “Why now?” I asked.  “Why not?” he answered – and I had to agree.  Our divorce was final in February, 2002.

Many years ago, after the initial anger and fights of the separation wore off, we became friends – probably because there never was much to fight about to begin with.  I’m convinced, even today, that if either one of us had had an ounce of transformation skills between us,  we would never have separated.  But, separate we did.  And, friends we’ve been – for all these years.

My friends and teachers and coaches always commented that they wondered why we weren’t together.  Not only have we been close friends, full of mutual admiration and respect, neither of us married again.  He was still my “person”, as they say on the television show,  “Grey’s Anatomy” – if something good happened to me, I called Fred first.  If something awful was going on – well, there you go…. Fred was the one I called for support and comfort.

He had been with the same woman since we separated.  We never spoke of his relationship with her.  We spoke of almost everything else, though.   In fact, our relationship was mostly conversation – phone calls about good movies, a course he or I was taking, what we thought about life and love, and, most of all, about our son, Josh, who was, and still is, the focus of our attention, our care, our love. 

We rarely saw each other.

At Christmas time, while I was in Minneapolis visiting Josh, everything seemed as usual between Fred and me – calls checking in with each other about what I was doing with Josh, where we were going, what restaurants Josh was liking those days, chirpy little conversations about ordinary “friend” stuff.

On the day before I was to leave Minneapolis, Fred ended one of our phone calls with, “Oh, I have to tell you something.  I’m getting married in January.”

I wish I could explain what happened next.  My throat closed up and I couldn’t speak, I had to hang up, I fell to the floor, sobbing, as if someone I loved deeply had just died.  Well, no person died, but something did die.  Whatever that illusion was, it was over, and mourning that death has taken the better part of the last five months.

We’ve had fights we haven’t had in years, with accusations back and forth.  I felt as if I was in a time warp and I’m sure he did, too.  We’re not speaking now and perhaps that is part of the process.

I felt,  and still feel,  silly – mourning a marriage that was over 17 years ago, but I didn’t mourn way back then and it needed to be done.   The grieving needed to be done, the tears needed to flow, a new life needed to be born out of the loss, perhaps a new love out of the acceptance of what is over.

Even now, months later, I’m still surprised at my reaction, stunned that it threw me into a grief so deep that I am only now pulling myself up the well-walls by my finger-tips, looking back down into that deep, dark hole of abandonment and loss as if I could so easily let go and fall back in and drown in the sadness of it once again.

But…   I don’t.

I’m sitting on the ledge of the well now, swinging my feet over to the outside – although, I haven’t tried to stand yet.   I often wonder if I can carry my own weight alone.

I shared all this with Linda Leaming at our coffee date.  She answered with a story about what Namgay said when he heard that friends of theirs were divorcing:  “Perhaps they’ve finished out their karma together.”

Even as she said it, I felt the tears well up and I sensed that it was true – and I was sad that it probably is true.  There’s a finality now that never was there before in any of our fights, our partings, our separation, or our divorce.

It reminded me of a story from Linda’s  book about when a baby died — Namgay told her, “Sometimes they come back and live for a year or two, then they die.  They’re just finishing out the samsara.”    Fred and I were soulmates — perhaps we came back together in this life to finish out our samsara.  

It is complete.  Part of me feels frightened to be alone for really the first time in my life.   Another part of me feels truly free for the first time in my life.

Thank you, Linda, for saying the exact thing I needed to hear at the exact time I needed to hear it – another gift from Bhutan, another example of people coming into our lives just when we need them to — to teach us something, to push us a little further along on our journey.

I hope that someday Fred and I can be friendly, but not yet.  I hope that someday we can both walk our son down the aisle when he marries, knowing that we did a good thing there with him.  I hope that someday we can be in the same room with our grandchildren and remember that once we were in love and it was great and we meant everything to each other and we have that to give to our son and to his children.  The relationship may be complete, the karma may be finished, but love never dies, and that is the gift we can remember and give.

Before I leave you today, I want to add one thing.  I did know for about a year that what Fred and I had was somehow preventing me from being in relationship with someone else – something I finally realized that I wanted.  Last fall, I told my coach that I was going to turn that over to God to handle – and so I did.  Every night, from mid-November until I left for Minneapolis for Christmas, I prayed to God, “Please heal this – whatever this is – between me and Fred.  I want to be in relationship with someone else, and I know that this bond is stopping me from doing that.  I’m willing for it to be undone.  And, dear God, please be gentle with us – he doesn’t have to die for me to be free.  Amen.”

And so it is.

Deliciously yours in the Samsara of it All, Linda

“Samsara literally means “wandering-on.” Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to nibbana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it’s the answer, not to the question, “Where are we?” but to the question, “What are we doing?” Instead of a place, it’s a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.”   Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Here is Linda Leaming and me with Diane Ray on Hay House Radio:

http://www.hayhouseradio.com/listenagain.php?latest=true&archive_link_type=link_mp3&archive_id=8204&show_id=235&episode_id=7208

Or, you can try this one for the mp3 recording:

http://hayhouse.edgeboss.net/download/hayhouse/freecontent/free_june_archive/hayhousebookclub_052711.mp3

You can listen for free for one more week.  Then it goes into the Hay House Radio archives.  Thanks!

 

Bhutan conjures up for me images of a verdant “Shangri-La” where everyone lives a fantasy existence of joy and bliss.  So, when Hay House sent me the book, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss” by Linda Leaming, I thought I would finally find out what the “secret” is – the secret to happiness.  After all, Bhutan is a country that measures its success, not in “Gross National Product”, but  in “Gross National Happiness.”

As I got into the book and realized that Ms. Leaming is an American who grew up in Nashville, Tennessee  — and wound up going to Bhutan, falling in love –  first with the country –  then with a Bhutanese man, getting married, and living there ever since, I felt my resistance rise up.  How could someone leave everything they’ve ever known — their family, their friends, their LIFE! – to travel halfway round the world to a tiny, remote country – one with no luxuries as we know them – nay, few necessities as we require them here — and choose to live, work, and love in Bhutan forevermore?

Even as I write these paragraphs, I realize what a paradox it is to be fascinated by – and yearn for – a place that promises happiness; and, at the same time, be resistant to the idea that the ideal of happiness is something for which we would WANT to give up everything else.  In this country, we want it all — and, we rarely get it all.

It’s a metaphor for life that I believe warrants reflection for each one of us.

We want to be happy.  AND – we don’t seem to be willing to give up our “already-always” life to have that – we are attached to our struggling, our scarcity, our suffering.   We, in the West, think that success and money and things will bring us happiness.  We are, more often than not, surprised when they don’t.

Linda Leaming is not advocating that everyone move to Bhutan, or even that that would be desirable.  What she seems to be saying is, life is beautiful whatever way it is.  Further, it is the acceptance of that which allows for bliss in a way that a life crowded with “things” does not.  What she does say is, “We all need a little Bhutan in our lives.” I read that as joy in simple things, happiness in that life is a gift.  Bliss arises when we allow it the space to enter in.

I loved this paragraph:  “I was responding to that genuineness, that quality of life when you strip it down to the basics.  Happiness can’t be willed.  You have to get in the right situation and then let it come to you.  I learned this by living in Bhutan.”

It is a disconnect for me as she describes accepting things the way they are.   For example, I don’t like to be wet – going out on a rainy day is anathema to me.  I’d rather reschedule my appointments and remain cozy and dry in my apartment.  In contrast, here is her vivid description of the monsoon season:  “During this time, you can forget about being dry.  Everything – trees, dirt, clothing, food, books, beds – swells with wetness.  Throw a moist shirt in the corner and in a few hours it sprouts little black spots of mildew that never wash out.  Showering is redundant.”    Yet, her last line in that description is one of lush beauty:  “Everything is green, puffed-up, animated, and ripe.”  In spite of the rain, she and her husband, Namgay, sit outside in the early morning and drink coffee, watching the earth swell with wetness and the river flowing by – she calls it “River TV.”  

This is not “Desperate Housewives.”

She describes the beauty – and she describes the harshness – with equal fervor.  Death is a constant in Bhutan. Yet, the Buddhist belief in reincarnation allows for the acceptance even of death – “It’s OK, we’ll work it out in our next life.”  She is forthcoming about her Western angst in contrast to her husband’s Buddhist transcendence.  A story about a dead baby caught in the river elicits Namgay’s spiritual response to her fretting:  “Sometimes they come back and live for a year or two, then they die.  They’re just finishing out the samsara.”  What a peaceful contrast to what would be the Western response that any early death is a tragedy.  I found comfort in that.

The theme that runs all through this book is the importance of presence in life.  Ms. Leaming points out that “sometimes in the silence there are answers.”  Her choice to become a mother after much anxiety hit home for me, as I am one who worries about getting it right: “There is no power in not seeing and in not being aware.  Try to get out of yourself and overcome your ego.  You might be a good mother.  You might not.  What good does it do to ask that question?”  She vowed to become the “best half-assed mother I could possibly be.”  Yep – me, too!  Context is everything!  I am so relieved that I don’t have to be perfect.

“Married to Bhutan” is a study in contrasts.  Contrasts in ways of life, ways of thinking, ways of being.  It’s clear that Ms. Leaming is not assigning right or wrong, just pointing out differences.  And pointing out the impact of those differences on our lives and in our thoughts – isn’t that where happiness lives?   In our thoughts?

Yes, differences worthy of reflection…

If what you want is bliss.

Deliciously yours in the Enlightenment of it All,  Linda

“Acceptance is so much a part of being in love, and love can make a person exceptional.”  Linda Leaming, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss.”

This is Linda Leaming, author of “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss.  Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Mandala Magazine, The Guardian U.K. and many other publications.  She received an M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Arizona.  She lives in Bhutan with her husband, Phurba Namgay, a Bhutanese thangka painter.

And, here is the link to the book at Hay House Publishing:

http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000086&type=4

And, here is Linda Leaming and me with Diane Ray on Hay House Radio:

<a href=""Hay“><a href=”"Hay“><a href=”http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000046&type=4&subid=0″><IMG alt=”Hay House, Inc. 125×125″ border=”0″ src=”http://affiliate.hayhouse.com/Event/ICDITampa125x125.jpg”></a><IMG border=”0″ width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”http://ad.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/show?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&bids=206928.10000046&type=4&subid=0″&gt;

Disclosure:  I received Linda Leaming’s book, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss” for free from Hay House Publishing.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

A dear friend emailed me this morning that Sathya Sai Baba died yesterday morning in India.  I was sad at the news and then, almost immediately,  I felt peace.  He was Love on earth and is still Love now.

Sai Baba connects my friend and me in that we both have been in his presence; we both have felt the love that everyone feels when they are with him; and we both have experienced a healing, either of ourselves or someone close to us as a result of our contact with him.  This is a story of the healing that I didn’t even know I was receiving for myself – and, because of a letter my friend asked me to bring to Baba – a healing for her daughter.

It was 2003.  That was the year that I heard of Sai Baba from Landon Carter, one of the original EST leaders and someone who had lived at Baba’s ashram in India for six or seven months when he was younger.  I remember being intrigued when Landon said, “I have never felt such love around anyone the way I felt it around Sai Baba.”   Curious, I went to a Google map and looked up where Sai Baba’s ashrams were.   I said to myself, “When I go to India, I will go see him.”

At the time, I had no plans to go to India, I had no resources to go to India, and, if I did have the financial resources to go anywhere, India would not be the place I would have chosen.

Shortly after that, I got a job at a mens’ designer firm that I knew was partly owned by an Indian company, but didn’t think much about that.  After working there for about four months, the owners told me that I would go to India in November to work on the private label program for the company.

I was going to Bangalore.  I knew that Baba’s main ashram was in Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Peace), about 3 hours Northeast of Bangalore.  I wondered how I would get there.  India is not an easy country to get around in.  I thought, “Something will happen.  I will get there.”

My travel to India was long and arduous.  I became sick in the Amsterdam airport as a result of the Maleria medication I was taking, and  spent the next two hours in the airport mini-hospital.  I missed my plane to Mumbai.

I was so sick, I could not travel until the next day.  I wished I could have done something in Amsterdam (my first time there) but was so ill,  all I could do was sleep until the next morning, with the doctor calling me at the hotel every 2-3 hours to see how I was doing.  I’ve since learned that I had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the Malaria medication.

I was able to get a flight to Delhi the next day.  I arrived in the middle of the night, only to find out that, in order to fly to Bangalore, I had to take a taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal.  Not so difficult, you say?

It was a bumpy ride on a back road in a tiny cab with a smelly, turbaned Indian who spoke no English.  It was 3:00 in the morning.  As we drove in the pitch-dark night through what seemed like a long, dry country road with no other cars on it, I arrived at an empty terminal building with two gate doors.  I paid my taxi driver and got out.  I was too tired to be scared — not from the ride in the dark and not of the empty terminal — so I curled up on a filthy seat in the waiting room and slept until the 6AM flight to Bangalore was called.

This was my week in India: one culturally-taxing event after another – during the dry season when everything is dusty and dirty and tin huts line the sides of the roads with dirty, barefoot swamis praying before home-made alters as the noisy traffic rolls by, horns blaring, dust swirling, beggars screaming for your attention and your hand-out.  I kept the windows closed on those rides, locked inside the equally dirty cab with three or four of my other co-workers, traveling from hotel to factory, to and fro every day.

We only felt safe eating in the hotel.  Even so, I had physical reactions to the food.  I never actually got sick to my stomach, but something in the spices made my blood pressure spike to a dangerous level and I had to have the doctor come to the hotel no less than 5 times.  He prescribed medication and, if I wasn’t well enough to go into work, he would come back in the afternoon to check on me and take my blood pressure again.  Blood pressure medication escalated to anti-anxiety medication and he ordered me to bed.  Fortunately, those were the days the samples were being made so I didn’t need to be at the factory every moment.  Still, it added to my fear and tentativeness about India.  I wished I could go home and sleep in my own bed.

By the end of the week, I was ready to leave India, but had another week to go.  I told one of the people in the factory that I wanted to go visit Sai Baba, but had no idea how to do that.  I noticed a change in the people with whom I worked the moment I mentioned his name.

On Saturday before the only day I had off, this one woman with whom I  had shared my desire to visit Baba  told me that she was a devotee of his and she would see what she could do.  She came back a few hours later to tell me that the owner of the factory had offered his car and driver to take me to Puttaparthi, where Prasanthi Nilayam is, if she could come with me.  Of course!

We woke up at 3AM to start the journey.  It is not very far in kilometers, but the journey is on dirt roads through a barren part of India, so the trip took over 3 hours.  We arrived about a half hour before “darshan” was supposed to start.

Darshan.  How do I explain this?  “Darshan” is to be in the presence of a holy person.  It is supposed to be the most incredible experience one can have.   I had heard of the “darshan junkies” who travel from city to city, around the world, to be in the presence of a holy person in order to experience the “rush” of that experience.  I was ambivalent.  I mean, really?

I arrived at the ashram at the first light of dawn.  As I walked through the gates, I could see hundreds of pairs of shoes.  Oh, No!  I was going to have to take my shoes off and walk around this dirty place barefoot?    Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to have to do.

As we headed to the temple to line up for Darshan, I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom.  I had been in the car for 3 ½ hours already, and once we went into the open-air temple, we would not be allowed out – or, if we were, how would I know how to find my companion?  There were thousands of devotees there!

The bathroom was primitive.  Open holes in the ground with plastic pitchers by each one to wash down the urine and – well, whatever…. And, I’m barefoot and the entire floor is wet from all the water being sloshed about.  I was disgusted and upset and wanted to run out of the place and head back to Bangalore!

But, I made it.  I took a breath, did what there was to do, and walked out to join my fellow “devotee” to head to the line where they wouldn’t allow us to take anything into the temple, not even a water bottle!

I followed a brightly sarong-ed old woman who could not have been more than 4 ft tall.  She kept throwing me dirty looks every time they pushed us closer together in the line.  I don’t know how, but I always smiled back – while continuing to think, “What on earth am I doing here?”

They lined us up inside the temple VERY close together and then gestured that we were to sit down.  Right there.  On the hard tiled and cement floor.  No cushions, no pads, no nothing.  I knew that my delicate Western behind, hips, and knees were not going to like this – and I was right.

I sat down and curled my legs and feet to one side.  In the process of doing so, I accidentally touched the older woman with my foot.  The feet are the lowest of the low in India, perhaps only surpassed by the left hand (the bathroom hand).  She growled and yelled and pulled her sari tightly around her and brought her legs closer into her body.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is a spiritual devotee of a famous guru?”  I was surprised at how “un-spiritual” she seemed to be, but what did I know?   I wasn’t sure of anything at that moment except that I had probably made a grave error by coming here.

We sat and waited for a long time.  Baba is notorious for being late for Darshan.  The crowd grumbled and fidgeted.  People glared and tried to pull away, except that there was nowhere to pull away to!  Monkeys swung from the rafters, gibbering their monkey talk at the crowd below.  Birds flew in and out of the temple, chirping and screaming their hysterical screeching at all the people.

In the distance, I heard the sound of a car starting up.  Baba had suffered a fall and had to be driven to and from Darshan every morning and afternoon.  The shift in the crowd was palpable. What happened next would be forever burned into my memory — and into my Being.

The chanting started and then the movement – back and forth, hands raised up in  front of each devotee, singing out at the top of their lungs, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om” over and over again, until the entire crowd was raising up on their knees, undulating as one body, like a snake curling through the crowd, chanting, chanting, louder and louder…

His car drove into the temple and I saw Baba’s face – he was looking my way – and that was it.  I was washed over by a love so pure that everything else faded away.  It was the first time in my life that I went from worry and fear to utter Joy in  a moment!  The tears ran down my cheeks and I had no tissues, so I was wiping them away, making mud of my blusher and foundation and I didn’t care.  I curled up onto my knees and joined the sensuous snake, arms raised in devotion and supplication, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om!”

I looked around and everyone looked beautiful.  Everything was Joy and I felt such love for all of them.  I caught the eye of the old woman and she was transformed – her face was radiant – and she smiled at me with tears in her eyes.  I returned the Joy, the tears, the cries of devotion.

Baba went inside the building to meet with the people who had appointments.  The rest of us sat outside and watched for glimpses of him – Swami would come to the door every now and then and wave to us – to more chanting and devotion!  I remember that he was always smiling.

I looked around – how beautiful it all was!  Why didn’t I notice that before?

I sat there for hours, speaking to a woman who had come from South Africa just to be in Baba’s  presence – she slept in the sparse accommodations, on a cement floor with no pillow, for $2 a night.  She had been there a week.

The joy I felt was astounding.  I didn’t want to leave.  My hips stopped hurting even as I sat longer and longer on the hard floor, under the monkeys swinging from rafter to rafter.  I looked up at them in pure bliss – I would not have it any other way.

After two hours, Baba got back into his car and was driven out of the Temple.  I was too joyful to feel sad that he left.   I was in the after-glow of Baba’s darshan for hours .

I didn’t want to leave so I talked my companion into getting some food and having a picnic on the grounds.

I bought some Vibhuti, the sacred ash that Baba manifests out of thin air.  I bought 5 bags.  One for my friend and her daughter and the rest for anyone else who needed healing.  I saw very sick people walk into Baba’s temple that morning, only to see them later on, sitting on the grass  — with color in their cheeks and laughing and walking and singing.  Say what you will, those were miracles of healing.

I was healed, too – healed of my complaints about dirt, dust, bathrooms with plastic pitchers, barefoot gurus, and people touching feet.   Everyone is beautiful.  Life is Bliss.

That was the day I fell in love with India.

After my life-threatening experience in Amsterdam and my high blood-pressure the week before, I suddenly had no physical complaints at all!

I have not been seriously ill since then.

We found our driver who had been frantically trying to find us, although not frantic enough to miss Darshan.  As we walked the grounds, I remembered the letter that my friend had asked me to give to Baba.  That was not possible in the temple, but each of the postal boxes was only for mail to Swami.  I slipped the letter inside the box.

I drove back to Bangalore in a dreamy state of perfect peace.

I came back to the states and gave my friend her bag of Vibhuti and told her I had mailed the letter to Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam.  She was happy.

I forgot about that.  Many months later, my friend told me that her daughter had been miraculously healed and was disabled no more.

I was raised a Christian and am one to this day.  I DO have unorthodox ideas about what that means, but I know one thing.  People followed Christ because he was pure Love – it must have been a blessing to be in his presence — the ultimate darshan!  People like Christ, like Baba, like Krishna, like Buddha are Avatars —  and they offset much of the evil in the world.  I would have loved to have been in Christ’s presence the way I was in Baba’s presence.

Then again, I am – every day of my life.  People who are only Love live on forever whenever we choose Love in the moment.

“Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba, Om”

Deliciously yours in the Love that is All, Linda

%d bloggers like this: