Tag Archives: sorrow

How then does one achieve enlightenment?

[thoughts from   ~burning woman~  and essay, by Sha’Tara]

Quote: “Prescience reveals no absolutes, only possibilities. The surest way to know exactly what the future holds is to experience it in real time.” (Sandworms of Dune – Kevin Anderson)

How do I approach this? Let me say that lately I have been allowing myself to “feel” and that has translated into deep and abiding sorrow for this world. Certainly if one is remotely aware of the many sick things going on here, or being done here, there must arise a sense of anxiety. But “anxiety” means concern for one’s self, or one’s “special people” within the greater body politic.

Sorrow is a different thing, as I have written about before. My understanding of it is, it isn’t about me (or mine, if I had any special people) but about all of it, about the flow of life… and death… all around me, as far as my senses can reach.

One achieves “enlightenment” when one gathers enough personal courage to look at her or his world exactly as it is and not as the conflicting sources of propaganda declare it to be. Yes, that takes courage because it removes all the facile excuses we constantly make up to justify our sustaining beliefs regardless of how such beliefs affect others. Enlightenment means I no longer regard others as conveniences to supply my endless wants; I no longer view them as competitors for space or resources; I no longer see them as threats to my personal, or national, beliefs and security.

Enlightenment means becoming aware of reality without blinders or protective armor. It means choosing to become vulnerable so that others may not have to feel vulnerable but safe in our presence.

Enlightenment then means living the compassionate life does it not?

If we accept the truth of our current social condition, that being a very difficult thing to do, we will of necessity plunge into a maelstrom of personal conflict. If we are of the relatively “rich” West, we will feel the weight of responsibility for many of the world’s ills and we won’t know what to do about it. We will want to protest; we will seek to blame someone, particularly “they” for the world’s major problems. We will think that just changing “me” is useless in the grand scheme of things and when we see that all our struggles, our protests, our votes and our hopes are increasingly dashed, we will go the route of despair, despondency, denial or seek solace in “old time religion” and our spirit will die within. We will go through the motions of living and when death comes, that will be that. It might even be seen as a relief from pointlessness and boredom.

This reminds me of a song I once wondered about so long ago, sung by Peggy Lee: “Is That All There Is?”

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sWTnsemkIs

Lyrics:
I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
And I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire?

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, “is that all there is to the circus?

And then I fell in love with the most wonderful boy in the world
We’d take take long walks down by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
And then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
And when I didn’t I said to myself, is that all there is to love?

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me I’m not ready for that final disappointment
‘Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Yesterday was my 73rd birthday, a pretty good milestone, even by today’s standards and I realize that all my life I have refused to accept that “is that all there is” condition.

In “Sandworms of Dune” Kevin Anderson wrote: “By following the same beliefs and making the same decisions one wears life’s path into a circular rut, going nowhere, accomplishing nothing, making no progress.”

That is “the” problem Earthians seem unable to confront and move beyond. Many a time I suggested doing something outside the status quo in order to get off the treadmill. I was mocked and accused of not knowing the difference between imagination and reality. Eventually I chose in favor of imagination and against man’s sacrosanct reality. I chose against “Is that all there is” and went on a life-long quest for whatever lay beyond this view.

I found the doorway, and I saw the future, yes, and experienced it in real time. That is what the gate keepers do not want Earthians to realize: that their future exists, that it is waiting for them to enter into it and experience it, that it is neither some bullshit religious “heaven” or “hell” nor equally bullshit materialistic annihilation.

If we would become truly enlightened we all have to take that chance and go questing for our own particular future. It’s a strictly personal reality and not a collective affair. Scary thought that, hm?

Search for the Meaning of Life

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]

Life, I ask myself, late in the night as I ponder reality: what is life? I know what I think it is; I know what I’ve read about it; I know many other peoples’ thoughts on it, but none of that answers my question. Is life a ‘what’? Is it a ‘who’? Is it a guide? Something to be endured, gotten over with on the way to something else?

I suppose my question makes as much sense as a sardine asking itself what the ocean is. Unless I can travel all of time and space, and beyond time, such it seems must remain the unsolvable riddle, the unanswerable question. Yet knowing this only makes me want to wander the labyrinth even more. I don’t want out of there until I have received a satisfactory answer.

Am I meant to live forever then, forever searching for an answer to my ultimate “Why?” and never arriving at that answer: is that how it works? Or, am I meant to discover the answer serendipitously, by assembling the puzzle pieces through a series of events based on some common sense and pure luck?

Is life the greatest master teacher or the final trickster? Or as some have tried to convince me, nothing more than a meaningless happenstance you go through once never to be heard of again?

If one were to either through luck or good management discover the secret of life, would that answer all the other “why’s” that led to the final answer? Wouldn’t I not then be asking why was such and such a process used to create all the pieces of life’s puzzle? Why pain? Why happiness overshadowed by loss? Why they good crushed under the jack boots of evil? Of sorrow and joy, why can’t one exist without the other?

Tonight I experienced another of those recurrent bouts of empathy for a world I don’t even particularly like or care for: a world I just happen to be in at this time. I “saw” people, not as groups, collectives, races, ages, genders, but as individuals, yes even in their billions, like rain drops falling in a storm-tossed ocean. It was a wave of sorrow for this world so powerful I had to find some support to lean on, my legs did not want to support me. The world, mankind, passed through my mind and all my physical energy was focused there.

Life, so it seemed, was passing through me as through a filter.  There were sobs, sighs and tears and I thought, yes, that is what it means to become an empath. You feel but it’s a knowing, aware feeling, not an emotion that flares and dies and leaves you free to continue where you left off. This changes you, each time it happens it gives birth to a new awareness of life, a new ‘you.’

So that’s where it’s at for me in my current understanding of the meaning of life. It is an endless birthing of new awareness; an awareness that determines the path I must walk until another birthing happens, then the path changes again. Push, feel the pain, along with the need to bring this about, push again and again, then rejoice in what is birthed.

Nurture this preciousness until the next time.

Life means there will always be a next time.

Redemption

(part 2 – a short story by Sha’Tara)

“Let me show you something, Reed.”  He got up and led me from the kitchen down a short hallway.  A closed door I knew hid a bathroom, I could smell it.  He opened the next door and reaching up, pulled on a string, turning on a light bulb also hanging from the ceiling.  I was amazed.  The bedroom had a clean, fully made double bed in it and the walls were painted white.  A crucifix hung over the headboard and a bible was on its shelf.  One small closet and a set of drawers completed the room.  He opened the closet and there were a few dresses and a couple of what were called ‘maxi’ coats, terribly out of style as were the two pairs of small shoes on the floor.  I smelled the mothballs that must have been in the pockets of the garments.

“After she left I moved out and kept it as ‘ours’.  This is all I’ve got left of her.  I got rid of the pictures, they were too painful to look at.  But this, I thought, was OK.  It was an invitation for her to come back.  Then it just became a shrine.  I come here to pray.  I read from that Bible, the only thing she insisted on bringing with her when I took her away from her folks.  But I don’t find any consolation in it.  I’m not of those who believe they re-encounter loved ones in heaven.  If she didn’t want to be with me in this life, what would have changed her mind that she’d want anything to do with me in the next?  I don’t know the rules there, but I don’t think I’d be able to court her all over and make her fall in love with me for the rest of time.  I’ve thought about that a lot.  It doesn’t add up.

“Anyway, if you want, you can have this room.  Just leave everything the way it is, if you can.  If you must move something, please let me know.  I want everything back the same after you leave.  I know I keep the house a bit chilly but I’ll make sure there’s a good fire in the stove tonight.”

I agreed to staying the night and we returned to the kitchen table to talk.  I wanted to hear the details of his story, why Sally left, how she left, alone or with someone?

“Except for her folk, mainly her dad and her oldest brother who were what you’d call assholes, the people around here are quite open and trusting.  We don’t think bad of any stranger until they give us cause.  So after we’d been here three years and eight months,  May came around and spring was in full when a government surveyor came by.  He offered us some money if we’d put him up.  We had the extra room then behind the house-kind of collapsed now-and he said it’d be fine.  We certainly could use the extra money.  He’d come back after each day out surveying and putting those steel markers at the corners of each section.  He had bundles of those in the back of his government pickup truck.

He talked to Sally a great deal; I was too tired to talk much, after the field work and the chores.  But Sally couldn’t get enough of his stories, and she looked through all his magazines.  He gave her a transistor radio and she was happy to be able to hear what all was going on while she worked around the house.  I never paid much attention to it all.  Up here, a man’s married, no one bothers his wife.  She’s safe with any stranger.  And women know to stay with their men, that’s our way.  You don’t worry they’d ever leave for another man.  That’s city stuff, Hollywood stuff, not what real people do.

“But one day I come home from the fields to do the chores and there’s no one in the house.  The dishes are done and in the drying rack, but there’s no cooking.  The table’s not set.  I get worried thinking she went out and got herself hurt.  I call her and I look everywhere.  Then it occurred to me that Jean (that’s the surveyor) isn’t there either.  Now I think maybe he’s taken her into the city and maybe she thought she’d be back in time, so didn’t bother with a note.  I waited a bit, made a sandwich, although I wasn’t hungry.  I milked the cows and fed the pigs, going through the usual chores, trying to figure out what had happened.  Finally I took the old Chief and drove to Webster’s Corner.   She’d been there, and left a note.  I could tell the store keeper, Mr. Jameson, was very upset when he gave me the unsealed envelope.  I guess Sally’d told him what she was doing.  He’d tried to talk her out of it but she had gotten really angry and left.   She’d gone off with the surveyor.  I read her note.  It was a terrible thing.  I remember it, although I tore it up then, then burned it later.

“Dear Pete,  Thanks for taking care of me and taking me away from my folks.  I never really loved you but I felt I owed you for helping me.  So I didn’t know what to say when you proposed marriage.  I really had no choice: either you, or them.  You were nice to me.  But that wasn’t the life I’d been dreaming about.  Jean’s taking me to Toronto, or maybe Montreal, he speaks French and knows people there.  I won’t be coming back.  Find yourself a proper woman, Pete and forget about me.  Take care of yourself, Sally.”

“I didn’t know what to do then.  I went to the police and tried to enlist their help to find her.  The RCMP were very sympathetic but there wasn’t much they could do.  Although Sally was a married woman, she had the right to leave.  Legally, there was nothing they could do, except to try to find out for me where she’d gone, or was staying.  They traced her in Toronto.  I sold our four cows and the pigs for the money and went there to find her, sure I’d talk her into coming back; that she’d have seen through it by then.  But that was already two years later, two years it took for the police to trace her from an employment bureau.  By the time I got there she’d moved again.  Again they traced her, in another part, where she’d worked in a hotel.  But she quit before I got there.  Three years now.  I traced her again to a slaughter house.  Four years.  I took odd jobs, lived in low-rent areas and sent just enough money to my folks to pay the taxes on the land.  Five years, and finally another break.  She was working for the CN as janitorial help.  I tried to locate her but that company was reluctant to help me.  Not our policy, they said.  So I had to hire a private detective.  It was him who found out she’d had a baby.  Not only that, but she did the one thing that made me stop looking for her: she’d abandoned her child in a department store.  I don’t know how these people find these things out, but I believed him somehow.  I suppose because I figured he knew it would mean the end of that job for him.  He told me to go home, forget her, and get my life back.  But all I heard was ‘get your wife back’ and isn’t it amazing how those two words are so much alike?  He told me the little girl’s name was ‘Redemption’ – that was the tag they found in a  pocket of her coat when they picked her up.  Even the police could not find her after that: she must have planned it carefully.  Maybe she knew by then I was after her and I’d take the child.  Only I didn’t.  She wasn’t my kid.  I wanted my Sally, not some bastard kid by some hated surveyor I would have gladly killed at the time.  I could have found the kid.  She’d be in an orphanage.  The police would know.  I could lay some claim to her and adopt her, most likely.  But I chose not to go that route and I came back home.

“But it was never the same again.  If you’ve ever considered the meaning of the phrase, ‘a broken heart’ well, that’s what I mostly suffer from.  Some people heal and some don’t.  I suppose it’s like other diseases that strike people, it seems, at random.  Cancer, heart attacks, that sort of thing.  I love Sally, Reed.  I know I always will.  Even if there’s a heaven, I’ll love her there just as much even though I have no hope inside me that I’ll find her there either, as I mentioned to you before.  It seems as if I’m under some strange spell that nothing can break.  Do you know how many times I’ve thought that maybe it was because I just didn’t want to stop loving her; that I was in love with something I’d made up and all I had to do was just stop?  Stop, then start again fresh.  ‘Get a life’ as the young people say now.  Yes, wouldn’t that be easy, simple?  Just change my mind about that part.

“Fine, except it’s not in my mind, it’s in my heart.  It’s in every aware part of me.  I guess you could say that half of me is, or was, Sally.  It was that good and great half of me that left me.  How could I deal with that?”

He started sobbing heavily, and tears ran down his face unto the old blueprints.  I walked over to stand behind him and I put my arms around him gently, then hesitantly I put my cheek against his stubbly one.  I was surprised at my own feelings.  I held him tighter and when he calmed down I asked him to tell me about the blueprints.

“Mr. Jameson had been an architect of sorts before he bought the store at Webster’s.  He knew how to make blueprints and everybody knew this.   Some of the richer folks around had hired him to draw buildings for them, and make blueprints of the plans.  One day while talking, Sally and I laughingly said, ‘Let’s get Mr. Jameson to make us a set of blueprints for our new farm house!’  Well, it was something we could laugh over together-we’d been drinking dandelion wine she’d made and feeling silly-but she decided on her own to ask Jameson how much he’d charge us for a house plan.  ‘I’d be honored to do it for you as a Christmas present’ he’d said.  We were shocked, but we accepted.  The plans arrived on Christmas day and we pored over them through that long winter.  We were able to scrape just enough money from the sale of our pigs to pour our foundation for the new house.

My folks and her two younger brothers (they were the decent ones in that family) came to help.  It was the happiest time of our life together.  When we’d taken off the shiplap forms, pulled the nails and stacked the lumber, we sat in what would be the living room and we drank her wine with our help.  She’d also made egg salad sandwiches and bowls of fresh vegetables from her garden.   Simon, her youngest brother, brought his fiddle and we danced to his scratchy music but no one cared.  It was the best of times.

“Give us two years,”  I said to Sally, “and we’ll be raising the walls and maybe put the roof on.  In five years we’ll have our new home.  You’ll see.”  And she smiled and sighed and kicked one foot against the other from behind as she always did when she wasn’t sure how to deal with a situation.  So, she smiled again.  That was her answer:  we’ll see.  But she meant more than that.  She was becoming restless again.  She’d always been restless as a kid but I thought it was because of her home life.  I didn’t think-didn’t know, even-that such people remained restless all their lives.  Join up with a loving partner and everything changes, right?  You know Reed, us humans, we’re a naïve bunch.  We don’t know anything about each other and yet we assume we know it all.  And that’s where we go wrong.  We should never assume we know what the other person is thinking, or thinking of doing, at any moment.  All of us, we’re liked cocked guns just waiting for something to pull that trigger.  Of course we have all sorts of safeties we could use to make others safe from ourselves, but of course, we don’t believe we are the dangerous ones, only the others are.  Our downfall is thinking that we are either better, or worse, than others and living within that constant judgmental attitude.”

I watched his head droop lower and I felt I’d heard enough for one day.  I too was dead tired.  The house was cold and I wanted a hot bath, which I would not get, so I wanted to get inside my sleeping bag on top of the nice clean double bed, pull my comforter over my head and cry myself to sleep.  Yes, me, tough Reed, the girl who survived the orphanage, was never adopted because she was too strong willed-was returned twice!-now feeling like crying over some vague thought, idea, wish, dream.  I’d come all this way in my own way to find a story-no, to find myself, or rather, to find a me that would be more real than the one that was raised in that horrible orphanage and who clawed her way to the top of her profession simply because she kept burning her bridges as she moved forth.  There had never been any turning back for Reed.  Her life was lived from a one-way ticket to another.  When she left the orphanage with the help of a visiting priest, she closed that door.   When the affair with Edward cooled, it was over-the end, that’s all she wrote.  Now here I am, all emotional over an old man and his rather pathetic story.

I’d been warned in college not to get involved with the people in my stories, or with my sources.  It was just business and you used your feminine attributes to get into places no one else could get into, and to get the answers that made great copy.  You bargained with the chips life handed you.  A female body was a great asset if you knew how to use it without getting slammed.  If you got caught, your career could be over in a day.  Found out.  Exposed.  A slut, cheat and liar.  Men could do it, of course, but women, while giving the impression they were doing it, could never afford the possibility they’d be caught actually doing it, not if they held any kind of professional status in a man’s world.  And journalism is a man’s world, make no mistake about that.  As is publication.  It’s a man’s world because it is a money world.

“Uh, Pete?  I’m sorry, but I’m dead tired.  Could we continue this tomorrow morning?  I notice there’s a bathroom next to my room.  Is it OK for me to use it, or… do I have to use the outhouse I saw out there?”

“Oh, sorry about that.  I didn’t think to ask you.  Sure, use the bathroom.  Everything works, but there’s no hot water.  It’s not the cleanest place in the house, I’m sorry.  If I’d known sooner that you would be staying overnight I would have cleaned up…”

“That’s OK, thanks.  See you in the morning then?  Say around eight?”

“Anytime.  I’m up around six anyway, don’t need to sleep much.  Today’s the most excitement I’ve had in years so maybe tonight I’ll sleep more.  Good night.”

I watched him for a bit but he didn’t look up.  So I went out to get my stuff.  It was raining, cold sharp needles that hit the skin and felt as if they were drawing blood.  I shivered, grabbed my bag, sleeping bag, comforter and ran back in the house.  Pete was stoking-that’s what I think it’s called-the fire in the stove and putting more wood in.  The smell of dry wood burning filled the house and I suddenly felt really warm, good, safe.  ‘Thank you’ I said to no one in particular, but if I’d been pressed to say, I would have said, ‘to the goddess’ and been none the wiser as to who I meant. Emotional shit is what.

(end part 2)

Another Gift of the Magi (part 3)

Near the end of that year her body finally gave out and she remained bedridden.  Ariana spent as much time as she could spare comforting her and listening to some of her experiences in the world of high class prostitution.  Sometimes they could be heard bursting out in laughter, followed by Sylvia’s terrible coughing fits.  Surprisingly, and perhaps not so surprisingly, during that year some of Sylvia’s clients who had helplessly fallen in love with her, traced her to the hospice and she was permitted to receive them.  There were strange tearful reunions and many a new anonymous donation appeared in the “Hope Fund”.

The week before Christmas was the hardest.  Sylvia labored for breath and could not eat.  Fed intravenously, she was slipping fast.  Christmas Eve came and she couldn’t hold any longer.  Ariana came in and saw that the battle was over.  She reached down and held the frail, wasted body of her sister and said: 

“Remember our vow – no matter what the circumstances, we would always spend Christmas day together?  You have to hold on tonight.  You have to celebrate the birth of our Lord with me tomorrow.  You can’t break your vow.  You can’t!”

Sylvia understood.  She held on and passed away in the evening of December 25.  Ariana looked out the window into the city night.  Snow had fallen all day and everything was covered in white.  Street lights reflected their pale luster upon store fronts decorated with various aspects of the kind of commercial Christmas the world has come to accept as normal.  For a brief moment the city, attired in a virgin’s white hid her ugliness.  Ariana thought it fitting that it would make an effort and put on a white mantle for the passage of her sister’s soul.  Above the city, between high-rise escarpments, Ariana saw a couple of stars twinkling in the cold night.  Only then did she allow the floodgates of sorrow from her heart to open and she cried silently, for a long time.

A year went by.  Things returned to their normal madness in the hospice.  Sister Celeste drove herself even more now, but learned to ease up on the younger postulant nuns and things ran smoothly.  On Christmas Eve she found herself alone in her small office in the old house that served as rooming house for nuns and postulants, and office for the hospice next door.  She had done her final rounds to ensure that all was under control there under the night shift. 

The old house felt terribly empty as those not serving in the hospice had gone home to their families to celebrate Midnight Mass and Christmas day.  She pulled out her rosary, thought of Mother Teresa doing the same thing and smiled to herself as she looked out her office window into the night sky filled with grey clouds that presaged more snow on Christmas day.  

The beads of the rosary slipped silently through her fingers from years of practice.  She thought of Sylvia and tried to imagine the kind of life she was now having.  Pangs of sorrow, regret and emptiness hit her.  Had her foolish dream, however well it had turned out, been the cause of her sister’s death?  She shook her head as she prayed through the rosary.  “I cannot entertain such thoughts.  It is wrong. Sylvia and I were as one and she made a choice that I would have made had our positions been reversed.  She chose her life of sacrifice, not just for me, but for the people here, for the city, for the world.  We both did, and found what we wanted most.”

The front door buzzer brought her out of her meditation.  She checked the monitor.  Two men, unshaven, poorly dressed and obviously hungry and cold, stood at the door.  Compassion moved her heart as she looked at them and in violation of an unbreakable rule she had made, against all common sense, got up and went to open the door.  She invited the men inside and as she turned to lead them out a side door to to the hospice cafeteria, they grabbed her, threw her to the floor and raped her at knife point.  Then the one with the knife plunged it in her heart several times.

As Ariana lay dying, her blood-soaked hands holding her punctured chest, she whispered, “I forgive you…!”  Her final thought from this side of the veil was, “As promised, I’ll be with you for Christmas, sister.”

It is not given to us to see beyond this point.  Death guards his territory with terrible jealousy.  His reasoning, often tragic to us, remains impenetrable.  We cannot investigate further; we can but speculate on the fate of those who “cross the bar” and never return.  Some will think, heaven, and some will think, there is no more to the story.  That is how it should be but regardless of our belief choices, it is given to us to have the mental means to contemplate the lives of people such as these two sisters; their motivation and the results from such sacrificial offerings to us and our world. 

The story is fictitious, certainly, but how many real lives provide the flesh and blood background for stories such as this one?  My question, as always, is: can we take ourselves beyond just admiration and perhaps temporary sadness?  Is there some food here for us? Something to move us to better ourselves and take new steps, however hesitant, towards becoming compassionate beings? Surely, anyone who has read the story to the end must realize such are not given to us simply to entertain, or bring out a few temporary tears, as beneficial as such may be to our eyes strained by the harsh glare of consumerism. 

 I do not easily give Christmas wishes for to the degree that I understand the concept I strive to live without hypocrisy.  However, I will do this: on behalf of Sylvia and Ariana, cast out any darkness from your hearts during this time and do give yourselves, one and all, a merry Christmas!

Another Gift of the Magi (part 2)

The anonymous donations kept coming, always enough to meet the rent and the basic needs.

But where was Sylvia?

After she collected the original amount, she quit university and hired herself out as a model and a call girl.  It was the only way she could see to raise money in sufficient amounts, consistently and quickly enough to meet her sister’s obligations.  Her sociable ways, confidence, physical beauty and intelligence soon made her the number one choice companion in the “underworld.” 

She changed her identity and had a false address.  She took the name Folie Delacroix.  She had one rule only: no entertaining in her place.  She rented a run-down basement suite in the old part of town, among the poorer segments of society.  Some she even directed to her sister’s hospice.  Every dollar she made not needed for immediate personal necessities she put in her sister’s “Hope Fund” as they now called it.

Every Christmas, as they had promised each other, Sylvia came to visit her sister.  When pressed about her doings in the world, she remained  evasive,  explaining that getting her degree had been put on hold due to more immediate commitments.  She spoke of trips to Europe as assistant secretary to the CEO of some software company.  She made up stories of exciting times on the Riviera and other places.  She was determined to keep her deepest and, to her, most shameful secret.  

At the end of their yearly visit, they would hold each other and say nothing.  Moments that brought back so many happy times for Sylvia and gave so much hope to Ariana.

The anonymous donor was faithful.  The money was always there, sometimes more than expected.  Then on the tenth anniversary of their vow, as they met for another Christmas, Ariana noticed her sister looked pale and thin.  The luster in her eyes was dulled. 

“Syl, what’s wrong?” 

Sylvia shrugged.

“Don’t do that,”  admonished her sister, “I’m a trained practical nurse and I handle sick people everyday.  I can read the signs.  What’s with you?”

Sylvia began to cry… “I’m sick, Ari.  I’m… I’m dying.  I’m being punished.”

“What are you saying?  What have you done?”

Sylvia sat crying for a long time without saying a word.  Ariana waited, holding her, sensing her fear and confusion.  Finally, Sylvia unburdened herself and told the story of the last ten years.

Ariana was shocked.  She kept staring at her sick sister and finally exploded:

“You foolish, foolish woman.  What have you done?  Why?  You gave away everything you had, everything you were, including your reputation, to give me this hospice?  You sacrificed all that meant anything to you so I could have what I wanted?  You gave away your life for me.  Syl… I never knew until now what love is.  You… you did this — for me, so I could fulfill my dream…

She stopped.  Sylvia continued to sob, their tears mixing as they held and kissed each other. 

Ariana held her sister’s hand in a tight clasp, looking deep into the sad blue eyes.  She said: “Listen to me very, very carefully, Syl.  Few people could do what you have done.  Let me never hear you speak of punishment.  What awaits you, sister, is not terror but joy.  You have demonstrated once again that love given freely, unconditionally, to another –which is the same as saying “to God” is the greatest gift of all – it’s the gift of the Magi.”

“Say no more.  You will remain here.  I will look after you from now on.  No more work,” and in a gentle whisper, “Please say you will stay?”  “Please!” “For me?”

Sylvia protests: “But how will you meet your expenses if the money stops?”

“Remember what you said to me once?  ‘Has God ever failed either of us sister?’  The money won’t stop.  For some time now, the overall donations have exceeded those of the one we called “God’s Agent”.  The Church has, shall we say, adopted this hospice and it will be regularly funded.  You have done your part, now let me do mine and let us do ours.”

Too weak to protest and fully aware that life as “Folie” was over, Sylvia stayed at the Sisters’ hospice.  Despite her sister’s dearest hope and prayers her health did not improve.  But while she could still work, she helped with the chores and her singing voice often echoed in the rooms where she worked.