Meena turned the pages of my large photo album yesterday. She regularly visits these pictures of her birth. When she came to the end of the pictures after ten leaves, she said, “You are going to put more pictures here?” More than half the book remains empty. There are no pictures of her after a few months old.
I hesitated. “I hope so.”
I sent my desktop hard drive off for diagnostics to DriveSavers two days ago. The 2 terabyte fancy drive is my prized possession. On it is every picture and video I own of Meena. All three years of her life. It has all my pictures of me and girlfriends over the past fifteen years. All pictures of me and Nog. As well as pictures of our trips to the Grand Canyon and numerous beautiful state parks in the mid west over the past five years.
We bought the most reputable drive. I’ve been putting all my data on it for the past year. Each time I made a new folder, I thought, As soon as I get time I’ll edit all of these and print out the best for my photo album. I haven’t had time to go through the hundreds of pictures and dozens of videos, so I don’t have any hard copies. I framed only five pictures. The rest are on the drive.
Last week the drive started making horrible noises. Scary noises. My computer was no longer able to read it. I know enough about hard drives to know that you need to turn them off if they make the kinds of noises I heard. Then I set about researching how to recover data. I soon learned that it costs $800 to $5,000 to work on a failed drive.
When I learned the cost of the work my heart sank. I don’t have a backup of any of my images and videos. I can tell you, you never want to be in my situation. So right now, while you’re thinking of it, back up whatever you deem is important to a second place.
How could I come up with that kind of money? How was I going to save my images—the record of my life for the past fifteen years—everything I have as Meena has been growing?
The hard drive isn’t all that we’re dealing with in the family. Before Nog went to work yesterday he closed off half of our grazing pasture. Rati, our brown holstein’s walk has slowed so significantly in the past two weeks we knew she was going down soon. Like horses, if a cow can’t stand they die. Once they can no longer stand it’s a matter of days or weeks. We wanted her to go down near the house so we closed off the far field. Otherwise, carrying buckets of water, shoveling cow dung away from her, and bringing hay would be more of a chore. Caring for a cow as they die takes attention and time.
All summer I’ve watched Rati limp. Limp more, move slower. Nog has been feeding her a handful of crushed aspirin for a while. Last month I figured we would have to say goodbye to Rati. How could she manage through all the cold days of this winter?
Rati came to us when she was two in November 1993—nineteen years ago. It was the month we moved into our house. I’ve lived in this house longer than any in my life.
At first Rati would only graze. For months, she turned her nose up at the kitchen scrapes I brought out for our other cow. But once she tried them she was hooked. For nineteen years she’s come running every day when I called her name.
Yesterday, as I was working on the rewrite of my memoir, I heard messages being left on the home line. At a certain point, I became uncleare what to do at a section in the book.
I’ve been writing long enough to know that when you hit a wall, are uncertain, or disgusted with what you’re writing, then it’s a good time to take a break. Inevitably I need ruminating time. I’ve encountered many gnarly situations as I write. The critic or the worrier loves to plague me as much as possible. But when I allow space and time between me and the issue, I receive intuition or ideas and move on. It’s always beneficial for the writing. I’m consistently amazed how resilient the creative spirit is, how reliable intuition is.
I’ve learn to trust the process. The process of being uncomfortable and doubtful and fearful. I just allow the emotions, wade through them. I feel them and witness them. I no longer have a need to send them away as soon as they arrive.
Without judging why I was disgusted with the section in the book I was at, I decided to pick up the messages on the machine.
Kelly from DriveSavers left me her number. Oh, the call I’ve been dreading in the back of my mind! How does one decide how much money to spend on saving something as precious as life memories?
I never used to capture memories with film. I have only a handful of pictures of my son as a child. I have two pictures of Nog and I. We’ve been married twenty-seven years. I decided to change that a few years ago and bought a camera. Now I’ve been documenting the fleeting seconds that remind me what I was thinking and why, what was happening at the time—just a whole slew of associations that come with seeing Time in a split second.
I find that examining the past, when there is time to reflect deeply, is a master teacher. Wisdom grows from reflection on experience.
Ah! Who am I kidding? I made so many mistakes raising my son, that I’ve been determined not to make any of the same ones as I raise Meena. That goes for everything from taking pictures to taking personal care of her, instead of leaving her with a friend for seven months to make money. And I certainly won’t be putting her in a boarding school at five. There are many more things I won’t be doing with Meena that I subjected my son to.
At my age you know how transient time is, how quickly a child grows, how delicately one must nurture a child. Additionally, I don’t expect more grandchildren. So I’m giving Meena my all.
Beyond that, my relationship with Meena is intensely special. I knew she was coming before her mom and dad knew they were pregnant. Two weeks before they told me, I called my mom and said, “Mark my words. You are my witness. I’ve had two dreams that a baby is coming. I can feel it all over my body.”
When the kids announced they were pregnant, I shouted, “I knew it! I knew it!”
So, how do you decide how much you’re going to pay for what you want very badly?
Are memories important to you? Do you have them in albums and picture frames? Like I said. I have half an album of photos of Meena’s birth and I have five pictures I printed out. That’s it.
Waiting is interesting.
We can wait in distress, ignorance, or with patience or trust. We choose how we wait. Wait for our pet to die, wait to know how the scenario with your precious memories will play out. Wait for the results of the lab work. We all must wait.
Can I be so fully trusting in the intelligence of life, as I face possible loss—or whatever challenge—that I don’t even think of how I will emotionally live out the experience when I’m finally asked to confront it?
Somehow that’s seems an enviable goal. After all, why fret over what we must live? There are plenty of things we have no control over. I didn’t abuse the hard drive. I didn’t forward the clock nineteen years to bring me to this winter with Rati.
I waited for the news about the hard drive without allowing myself to worry. When I felt a twinge, I let it go—completely. When Meena asked me if I had more pictures to add to the photo album—a question she’s never asked before—I quickly thought, my stomach sank for a second, then I answered and dropped any thought about the drive.
When you’re facing loss, you stand in front of pending emotion: relief or anxiety or unhappiness or any number of responses. And when the loss will impact you on a visceral level, from your bones to your psyche, you know you’re in for a ride and there’s nothing you can do but let it play out.
I decided many years ago not to withhold the emotions that race through the body in response to suffering, loss, love—the full range of emotions we experience.
We can detach from the experience and emotions, but if we do it prematurely, or cut the process mid-flow, I can almost guarantee you, you’ll have to deal with it later.
And it’s less pretty later, and more difficult, because what is raw and alive emotion in the moment becomes encrusted with other emotions and perceptions later. Better to give full expression to the emotion when it’s present in the moment. Those of us who practice being present in the now, in the moment, know that presence doesn’t remove emotion. We become present to emotion.
Besides allowing ourselves to fully experience emotion for mental and physical health, when we do so, without favoring one emotion over another, we can achieve empathy with other human beings. Each new emotional experience brings us greater empathy.
We want empathy.
I find it more powerful than its sister, sympathy. Empathy enables us to help others through personal experience. Empathy breeds compassion, gentleness, humility, and genuine love.
It seems the price of owning empathy is that one must deeply feel. This is one reason I’ve stopped hiding from emotions, being embarrassed by emotions, pretending I didn’t have certain emotions, etc.
“I’m sorry to say I have bad news, ” Kelly said.
You hope, actually, no you assume, that the bad news is that it will cost $4,500 to get back your memories.
“The platters on both drives were physically damaged so badly that there’s is nothing we can retrieve.”
My mind starting racing, in that funny, awful kind of way when panic starts.
“You’d expect this kind of damage if someone threw the unit down the side of a mountain. This is so unusual.”
Kelly kept talking. I couldn’t hear anything. “I’ll call back, I’ll call back.”
I rushed into Nog’s room sobbing, “It’s all gone. Everything. Everything is gone!”
It felt like my house had burned down. I continued sobbing, really sobbing, for about half an hour, then I wiped my tears.
Krishna was that really necessary? My question wasn’t whether my emotions were necessary, but whether everything had to be taken. I know the answer. I mean, I don’t know the answer, but I will. There are always answers and reasons. Usually a lot of them.
I’m not a glutton for punishment, but for me life seems to unfold at a certain intensity. I see it for others, too. When shit happens more of it happens. Why is that?
Sobbing stopped, but tears still coming, I walked out to the extra fridge in the shed to get something to make for dinner. I couldn’t wallow in my sorrow for too long.
As I approached the shed, I acknowledged I have been avoiding going to see Rati. I’ve been dreading to watch her die. But I can’t avoid it. Now was as good a time as any to check in on her. I walked past the shed a few feet. There was Rati, lying on the ground. She didn’t even try to stand.
I walked up to her and cried more. Letting tears for the memories and tears for her rush through me like a mad tidal wave. Let the flood waters run where they must, pain washes conceptions and perceptions clean, replaces them with more mature ones. When the flood waters recede, and they always do, new growth sprouts. Many times this growth is so strong the next flood doesn’t wipe it out. Gradually, gradually wisdom comes. We can live it, be sustained by it, be filled up with it.
I continued crying as I pet Rati and spoke and chanted to her. “I’m so sorry you’re going to die now. I’m so sorry.”
She was unusually affectionate. She nestled her head close to me, soaking up every touch, every word.
“Don’t worry Rati. Everything is all right. If it gets cold I’ll put blankets on you. I’ll start a tape of kirtan with mantras to keep you company. We’ll bring hay and water and I’ll bring more grain treats. We’ll keep you as comfortable as possible.”
She put her nose on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. Her large brown eyes looked frightened. “We’ll do everything we can. The mantras will keep you company.”
Last night my son helped set up the iPod to rotate continuously through my chosen spiritual songs. Nog hooked it up outside the shed so Rati can hear. We placed a wool blanket over her.
Now I begin my wait with Rati.
When she dies, I won’t be able to avoid the tears, the feelings, the thoughts that remind me nothing in this world is mine and I, too, will die. It’s just a matter of days.
This morning I spent a few extra minutes under the warm water of my shower. Then I picked up my meditation beads and let my mantra fill my chest and soothe me. Today I’m sober, perhaps a little sad and tired, but ready for the day. Ready to love Rati, Meena, my son, my husband and anyone who comes to me this day.
I was going to put a picture of Rati with this blog, but . . .