Chapter Twenty One II
Teach this triple truth to all:
A generous heart, kind speech,
and a life of service and compassion
are the things which renew humanity.
Next morning, we happily demolish a mega omelet, wheat toast, buttery grits, Ms. Alva’s legacy lives on. I have three cups of coffee, something I miss mightily in the temple.
By 7:45 we’re in James’ office at the hospital, he explains, “We have a female patient, adolescent, who saw her mother shot. If that wasn’t bad enough, from her vantage point, it was the father who shot her. It appears to be accidental, a hand gun he believed to be unloaded. He admits not checking the chamber. It actually wasn’t the wound itself that killed her; it was severe, not necessarily fatal. She died of a heart attack. One that was likely anyway considering the condition of her heart and arteries. The bullet hit her shoulder, entered sideways, not directly, lodged in her back near the spinal cord. Didn’t hit it, not that it matters now. I mention it because there was a fair amount of blood, the daughter was standing right there. The father called 911 immediately, his wife died before they got there. The father is one problem, he is clearly anguished. It’s a mess, you can imagine. Here’s the immediate problem. The girl doesn’t speak, eat or anything else, she’s on a feeding tube, she can’t confirm anything. She’s not recovering from the shock, it’s like she’s stuck in a loop of the event. EMS paramedics said she was not responsive when they arrived and hasn’t said a word since, catatonic.”
Janah, “Rigid or in a stupor?”
James, “More like a stupor. She doesn’t move, barely blinks, just stares up at the ceiling. Her arms and legs flex when moved, bend her knee, it stays bent. If I lift her arm and let go, it falls back down.”
Janah, “So she doesn’t know the death really isn’t dad’s fault?”
James, “I’m sure she doesn’t. From the report from her father, she saw the bullet hit her mom, he ran to his wife, then grabbed the cell and called 911. The girl was in shock when he got off the phone.”
Janah, “You want me to see her?”
James, “Maybe you can connect, energize her, we’re at a loss. Of course we can just wait, sometimes they come out of it on their own. We haven’t encouraged the father to see her because we haven’t decided if it hurts or helps. Dr. Epstein was about to let him in just to get a response of any kind. I told him you guys were home, so we’re going with this first. Dad isn’t demanding to see her, he’s naturally afraid of a bad outcome, he’s just starting to come around himself. As for the girl, if we can get some kind of response, eye contact, any vocalization, it’s a start. The idea is to stop the hourglass, the program never loads. It’s been three weeks, if she was going to come around, it should have begun by now. Frankly, we’re on the verge of electroshock.”
Janah, “Where’s her dad?”
James, “He’s waiting down the hall. I told him what you were doing and that you would be willing to sit with the girl for a while. He’s clear you’re a visitor, not a medical person or a hospital employee. At this point he’d let a witch doctor in the room if he could get his daughter to speak.”
Janah, “I’d like to talk to him.”
James retrieves the father, Royce Nelson, and introduces him to us. He is drawn and, even three weeks later, still deeply mired in the effect of the strain and shock. He and Janah go into James’ office alone, sit next to each other in the visitor’s chairs. I can monitor the conversation from outside.
Royce, “You’re not much older than Sonia. She’s my angel, so beautiful and talented, now….”
Janah looks him in the eyes, there are tears forming, “I’ve ruined her life, I’ve ruined mine, all for that stupid ‘protection.’ Helena, my wife, nagged me about it, wanted me to get rid of it. It was my father’s, I kept it for sentimental reasons and for the scare value if someone broke in. Who’s going to break in to a 12th floor Manhattan apartment? I should have checked the chamber, always check the chamber. I would have sworn there was no bullet in there. I hadn’t had the thing out in months, so why didn’t I check?”
He bursts into tears, sobbing, he keeps repeating his anguish then silent, breath coming in gasps, like the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Janah lets him grieve, sits quietly, hands folded in her lap. He settles down, gets a tissue, it’s a psychiatrist’s office, always a box of tissue.
Royce, “You’re a monk your father says, I’ve never seen a young woman in robes like that, I thought they were all men.”
Janah, “There are several females in our monastery.”
“What can you do the doctors can’t?’
“Perhaps nothing. Maybe she will feel something from another young woman that will stir her, perhaps she isn’t ready.”
“What kind of religion is it? We aren’t religious.”
“Shaolin is not a religion.”
“You’re a Shaolin priest? Like on television?”
“Television is entertainment, drama, depending on what you saw, there may be similarities. There are no gods or prayers, only meditation.”
“What do you do there?”
“I learn, serve, try to ease suffering.”
“I’m beyond help. If you can help my daughter, get her to blink normally for God’s sake, that will be something.”
“You cling to the pain within you.”
Royce says bitterly, “I deserve it.”
“Does punishing heal?”
“I’m not going for all that forgiveness crap, not while my daughter is lost to everything.”
“Perhaps you need to hear her say she forgives you. Could it be that beginning to forgive yourself will help her come to terms with it?”
“She’s going to despise me, her mother was everything.”
“She may be angry for a time, or forever. Forgiving you may help her heal.”
Royce is quiet for a bit, then, “And what do I do? How do I deal with what I did and her hatred on top of it?”
“For now, nothing. Feel your pain. Can you feel it, the feeling of the emotion without the name, the label of self hatred, anguish, regret? Our minds hang on to incomplete thoughts, feelings we push aside or cover over with assumptions. We don’t know that she will hate anyone. For now, can you let the feeling come, be fully with it, look at it, feel it through to the end, completely?”
Royce puts his head in his hands, “I don’t know, I don’t know if I even understand what you mean.”
“Over the coming days, when feelings come, avoid calling them anything. Try not to label or verbalize, just feel and be still.”
“I feel it all the time now.”
“Do you? Or when you call yourself names, punish yourself, is it a way of avoiding the real pain? Can you stay with the actual pain? Applying self punishment is a salve we put on, it stings at first, then diminishes the underlying pain temporarily. Hard words don’t heal, relief is only temporary and soon the pain returns. Only by facing the actual thing, being fully with it, can the wound heal.”
Royce stares ahead, “Maybe there’s something to it, to what you say. I’ll think about it. Can you help Sonia, please, anything?”
“With your permission, I’m going to sit with her, it could be a while. Are you staying at the hospital?’
“I did for a few days, then to a hotel. After they, uh, cleaned the place, I went home. I come every day. They’re trying to decide if I should see her and I haven’t pressed it, I’m afraid, for both of us.”
Janah, “Dr. Svensson will call you.”
She waits to see if he has anything left to say. After a minute, he rises, “Please, help her.” He leaves, speaks with James on the way to the visitors waiting area. He wants to stay, to be around if he needed to do anything.
Janah goes to Sonia’s room, “I’m going in to sit with her. Daphne, please go to the temple, this may be a while. I need you to explain to Master Sung. I’ll let you know what to do as things develop.”
Janah can reach out to me if she needs me back at the hospital. I kiss her, hug James and head to the temple.
Chapter Twenty Two II
I’ve been an RN for twenty five years.
I’ve seen some things. Nothing like this.
Janah enters the room, a nurse is just finishing up, checking the tubes, monitoring the girl’s vitals, she looks perplexed, a girl in a robe, but then smiles at Janah and leaves. Janah stands next to the bedside. Sonia is a small framed, brunette, fifteen as Janah recalls, her eyes are open and empty. Big brown eyes, narrow face, drawn from not eating, her lips are dry. She is covered in a sheet, only her head and arms visible, staring at nothing on the ceiling. Janah takes a small hand, it is cool. She peers into the girl’s eyes, holds her hand for half an hour. She’s getting a feel for the energy flow, not using qi, rather letting the girl’s qi find her. A faint warmth, the flow is a trickle and sporadic. Sonia’s frozen mind is letting her body die. That isn’t acceptable. She puts her other hand on Sonia’s forehead, focuses her energy mildly, through her hands, to the head and hand for a quarter hour, then sits on the floor on a pillow, drops into meditation.
I enter the temple, curious glances as there is no Janah. The monks continue with their activities, waving at me, smiling. I ask for Master Sung and find him in the library with a few open books, a research report open on the computer in front of him, he looked up, I bow.
Master Sung, “Welcome back student Sylk.”
“It’s good to be home sir. Studying for finals?”
Master Sung smiles, “Neurobiology, trying to keep up with Master J.”
“I’m familiar with the feeling. She sent me to you with a message if you have a moment.”
Sung indicates I should continue. I reiterate the story and Janah’s involvement, that she would be in touch regularly.
Sung is thoughtful, “Good work for a monk, she honors our tradition. You are on twenty four hour ethernet connection with Master J, will you keep me updated on the progress of the young woman?”
“Of course. As soon as I hear from her. May I return to training?’
“Have you decided on a day?”
“Oh, yes, nearly forgot with this other thing. The last Saturday in September if it suits.”
Master Sung nods approval, I go to change and find my gung fu instructor. I wonder about Sung’s ethernet comment. Sly old Abbot, hard to stay ahead of his curve, Janah would be interested in his observation. We’re offline now, Janah’s mind is empty of everything except the state of the troubled girl.
A nurse comes in again an hour later, the curious white haired monk sitting on the floor, eyes closed, girl on the bed staring. As the nurse puts drops in Sonia’s eyes, she wonders what the state of medicine is coming to, next there would be half naked Indians dancing in the halls. Then she smiles for no reason, sits in the chair and feels her tension ease; her neck, chronically flaring up and achy, pops and there is no pain. Twists her head slowly back and forth, the stab she felt since getting up this morning is gone. She tells herself the ibuprofen finally kicked in, although she had taken it hours earlier and had been thinking of taking more. She starts to get up, there are other patients to see. Lingers for a minute longer, the air seems crisp, clean, there is no hospital odor. Finally, she forces herself up and reluctantly leaves the room. She feels cleansed, refreshed.
Dr. Epstein comes an hour after that, he doesn’t see Janah at first. Then spots her sitting on the floor on the side of the bed, motionless, eyes shut. He backs out of the room to find James.
Dr. Epstein, “How long she been in there?’
James, “About three hours, did you check on them?”
Dr. Epstein, “Stuck my head in, Janah’s in meditation, on a pillow on the floor. The nurse said she’s been like that a couple of hours, they’ve stayed out, they can monitor vitals from the nurses’ station, other than check tubes, put drops in her eyes and shift her position a bit, there’s nothing to do. The nurses have been talking to her, nothing’s helped.”
James, “The father gave his permission for her to be there, he talked to Janah, then went to the waiting area, I think he’s still down there. I’ll be here until Janah tells me something.”
Janah stirs, rises, goes to the girl and repeats the morning ritual, hands on over a half hour, focusing a bit more energy. She looks into the girl’s eyes for any sign of recognition. Seeing no movement, she strokes Sonia’s cheek and leaves to find James. They wait for Dr. Epstein to join them, he hugs Janah, she gets right to details.
Janah, “Her energy flow is miniscule, she’s letting herself die. I checked her again before I came here, nothing visible yet. I’m using qi very carefully. Her system is weak, she’s in a delicate state. Do you want me to continue?”
Dr. Epstein, “I want to talk again with her father with James there. Can you wait? It’s necessarily bureaucratic, I want him to understand this is medically a shot in the dark. It’s not like we’re sending him a bill, but if she dies, or even gets sicker, we have to cover bases.”
Janah, “It’s okay, he needs to know this may take some time, and she needs to find a stimulus to live within herself. I’m simply trying to apply some gentle energy to keep her going, and to let her unconscious mind know someone is with her.”
Janah does restroom necessities and a glass of water, then decides she better eat before she goes back into a bad routine again. In the cafeteria, realizes she has no money. She’s about to return to her father’s office when one of the cafeteria workers who saw her looking at the choices asks, “Couldn’t find anything?”
Janah, “Forgot money, my dad works here. I have to go get some from him.”
The lady knows James, “We heard Dr. Svensson’ daughter is a Shaolin priest, that’s you?”
Janah, “I am in the temple.”
“We’ll call it a clergy discount. Go get yourself some food and I’ll tell the cashier.”
Janah bows, “Thank you for your kindness.”
She has mixed vegetables and green tea, feeling much refreshed returns upstairs, drawing nods and stares from visitors and employees. Two Chinese women pass and stop, bowing trying to speak to her in English. She speaks to them in Chinese to their great relief, the other staff trying to get their heads around an American female monk chattering away with two Chinese women in their native language. Janah bows to them, they bow in return refusing to rise until Janah has turned to continue to her dad’s office.
Dr. Epstein, “You’ve eaten?”
Janah recounts the kindness of the cafeteria employee.
Dr. Epstein, “I’ll be sure to thank her for her good judgment.”
Janah, “It was a blessing, the food good and I needed calories. What happens, do I continue?”
Dr. Epstein, “Mr. Nelson insisted on it. He also said your conversation was the first time he’d felt remotely human since it happened. Our lawyer wanted him to sign a release, I suggested he see you as no different than any clergyman or spiritual advisor who sees family. He spoke to Mr. Nelson and was satisfied that you were there with his permission and that he was clear you weren’t a hospital employee. Did he understand his daughter was very ill, that you weren’t treating her in any medical way, all the legal necessities. Mr. Nelson offered to sign a release before it was brought up, so the lawyer took him up on it. He couldn’t turn it down, he wouldn’t have been doing his job.”
Janah, “So I can go back in?”
Dr. Epstein smiles, “I should have just said yes when you asked. You don’t need to know all the behind the scenes stuff do you?”
Janah, “I don’t want you, dad or the hospital sued over this. I want to try and help the girl, none of this is her doing.”
Dr. Epstein, “And the lawyer agrees. The girl is very sick, you are hope at the very least and the father has stated in writing he wants you here. So go do your thing.”
Janah returns to the room, does her qi routine again, then back cross-legged on the floor and mentals me, It’s going to be a while. I won’t be at the temple tonight. Tell Master Sung I need you to help here. He’ll give you permission, then get the following herbs from Master Hue. When you see dad, I forgot to get money, we’ll need it for the cafeteria.
She lists the herbs, full of antioxidants, some liniment for stimulating circulation. She wouldn’t give the girl anything internally, the herbs are for us, the liniment she might use on Sonia to stimulate blood flow.
Janah returns to no mind. Two hours later I enter the room and sit silently. James looks in a couple of hours after that, us motionless on the floor. He returns to his office, I appear around seven.
“A sick young lady, dad. She’s carrying the scent of deep sadness, not yet the scent of death fortunately, but it isn’t far away. I’m going to eat, then stay with her while Janah goes to eat, how long is the cafeteria open?”
James, “You can get food until nine, then it’s vending machines. There’s an all night deli to the left of the front door a block down, I’ve survived on their stuff many nights. Do you need more money?’
Daphne, “Not if you’re coming back in the morning. We’ll eat now, other than that, we’ll make tea tonight, then I’ll get Janah fed in the morning.”
James, “Cafeteria opens at 6, breakfast is good, you have money for that? Look, let’s make this simple, I’ll put forty bucks in the top left drawer. Just come here if you need it. I’ll be in early anyway. I’ll leave the door unlocked, it’s no big deal. The patient records are encrypted by a reference number, not even on this hard drive. There’s nothing for anyone to steal that matters.”
“I’ll make Janah go for lunch, then I’ll check in. She wants one of us to be in there until we get a breakthrough.”
“Does she think there’ll be one?”
“Can’t tell yet. The good news is that Sonia’s not getting worse. Of course she was so depleted, Janah said any worse would have meant cardiac arrest or brain damage.”
James, “The nurses have to be in and out.”
“It’s not bothering us, besides it’s regular stimulation for Sonia. Maybe it registers that lots of people are pulling for her.”
The night passes uneventfully, Janah up every three hours to lay her hands on the girl, then back to meditation. At three in the morning, she enlists me to take the other hand, then we work on her feet thirty minutes, then back to sit, this time one on one side of the bed, one on the other. When the nurses come in, they check vitals, look at the tubes and return to the station, shaking their heads about two monks seated cross legged on the floor, motionless.
Morning comes, Janah is at the beside with me again, another round of qi, hands, head and feet, Janah puts her hands alongside the girl’s cheeks while I gently massage her feet.
James arrives, takes Janah to breakfast. I ask them to bring back fresh fruit, plain yogurt and tea. When she returns, Janah stands and strokes the girl’s forehead and looks steadily into her eyes while I eat. We take a few minutes to freshen up, brush teeth, stretch and return to meditation. The moms come few hours later and take Janah to lunch, bring me an egg salad sandwich and more tea.
Janah thinks Sonia has regained a bit of energy. It s hard to pick up progress, although it is clear the qi isn’t hurting anything. We spend a full hour on the girl, sit again for three hours then work on her another hour. Janah increases the sessions to every two hours, both of us a full thirty minutes, then one of us holds her hand while the other sits in meditation.
Chapter Twenty Three II
“What in hell happened?”
“Beats me, they sat on the floor, as still as the furniture most of the time.”
“Maybe we should all take up meditation and quit giving patients all these damn pills”
In the afternoon of day three, Sonia blinks. Her eyes move to Janah’s and hold them, tears pour. I wipe her face, Janah lays on the bed and holds her. She weeps for an hour, then lays trembling on and off. I wipe her brow, hold her hand.
A nurse came in when the vitals changed on the monitor at the nurses’ station. Janah waves her away, the nurse goes to get James. He said Janah would let them know what to do, just leave them alone for the time being. If it had been anyone but James, she might have called the administrator. James, instead, relieves her of the decision. He calls Dr. Epstein and the hospital administrator. After some give and take, they agree to let it be, with a nurse continuously monitoring vitals from outside. After another hour and a half, I come out of the room and ask for James who is there in a half minute, Dr. Epstein just behind him.
“We need a coke and Jell-O, sorry to get all the troops out for such a small request.”
James, “For this kind of news, you can wake me at three in the morning. She’s hungry? Do you realize what a great sign that is?”
“I’m not sure how hungry she really is, Janah kind of convinced her and she’s agreed to eat. We’ll feed her a tiny bit. Will it be okay for us to clean her up and take care of her for a while, like no nurses and stuff? I promise to give everyone a regular half hour update.”
Dr. Epstein, “Okay, they’ll grumble, given the developments they’ll go along. Our nurses are very protective of the patients.”
“Sonia’s unloading on Janah, it’s painful. She couldn’t take a bunch of strangers in her face. Janah’s been in there three days, to Sonia, she’s not a stranger, plus it’s Janah. She’s not a stranger to anyone.”
I take the food in, feed Sonia slowly, sharing it with Janah. We all sip the coke. Sonia croaks, her throat still dry, “You won’t leave?”
Janah smiles, “Of course not. You’ll feel better with that stuff out of you and later we can get you freshened up.”
Sonia wants the tubes and needles gone, I ask the nurses if they could undo the tubes and split, I do it in a friendly way, requesting, not commanding. They are models of efficiency, taking a pulse and blood pressure, fiddling with charts, then haul the equipment away.
Sonia sits up and puts her feet over the bed, I massage her shoulders and back gently, deeply enough to get circulation going. Sonia has been laying in bed for over three weeks. She gets a little light headed, lays back down. Later we raise the bed bit by bit until she’s sitting up. By the end of the day she’s walked with Janah to the restroom, and that evening gets her first shower in three weeks, me holding her, Janah bathing. She eats a small salad that night and ice cream, we watch television. We talk about school, how we wound up as monks, how Sonia is feeling, there are tears every so often. Janah doesn’t bring up anything about Sonia’s dad, Sonia will ask when she feels ready. We get her to sleep, the little movement, eating, sitting and talking has exhausted her. We sleep on the floor on blankets provided by the nurses, it is what we are used to anyway. Nurses come and go, checking on her throughout the night, but not waking her. For the first time in three weeks, the girl is actually sleeping.
Naturally, James calls Sonia’s dad and updates him. A phone call telling him his daughter wasn’t going to let herself waste away is beyond the best news he could have imagined. He asks questions, her general health, prognosis, and the big one, “Did she say anything about me?”
James, “The girls have been with her, I really didn’t know. I suggest we let Janah discuss it, or let Sonia bring it up, can you give it a couple of days?”
Royce, “To be honest, I’m scared to see her. I guess I’d like some idea of what she is feeling. I just don’t want her to think I’m not asking after her.”
James, “Janah will take care of that.”
Royce, “Tell her thank you for me, and that I’ve listened to her, it’s helping I think. She’ll know what I mean.”
James. “I will, and I’ll call you no later than tomorrow morning.”
They hang up, James grateful that Royce is being patient. This needs to be dealt with, not by some artificial time, not pressed on Sonia. He wonders briefly what Janah said to him.
The next morning, Sonia wants to be wheeled down the hall. There is an outdoor terrace on the floor, we’re out and enjoying the early fall sun. Sonia stands and, with Janah, walks around the terrace for a lap, then back into her chair. Janah gets her to roll the chair around for a couple of laps, then I bring everyone ice cream. Sonia is up and down all day, rests a lot, massaged twice a day. I clip and paint her finger and toenails, wash and brush her hair and put the littlest bit of makeup on her, then hold up a mirror so she could see herself returning to life.
“You’re beautiful, look at those big brown eyes, get a few pounds on and you’re babe city girl.”
Sonia, “My mom was so pretty, my dad….,” she tails off.
Janah, “Is it time to talk about it?”
Sonia, “I want to hate him for that stupid gun. I know it was an accident, I was right there, he didn’t even see her come into the kitchen, next thing, she was bleeding on the floor. I was…I couldn’t breathe, I think I just stared at all the blood and fainted.”
Janah, “We haven’t talked about it, so you can’t know. Your mom died of a heart attack, not the wound. She had a weak heart, no one knew.”
Sonia, “So he didn’t kill her?”
Sonia begins to cry again, she’s absorbed a lot of information in a short time, needs to go slow and process it. I find an excuse to go down the hall, Janah lets Sonia talk, remember her mother, talk about her dad. She’s angry about the gun, coming to grips with the facts. Janah gives her a brief recap of what her dad said. She knows they have to go though the whole thing themselves, face to face. Janah makes no attempt to explain, to convince Sonia of anything. All the waves of anger, regrets and what ifs played out over the next two hours, some of the tapes repeat. Janah listens to every word in silence, just a nod, a smile, her head cocked to the side or a soft touch.
Sonia says finally, “Janah, I need to see my dad. I feel badly for, I don’t know…”
“There is no need for guilt. Let your mind has come to terms with how you feel, the facts and the emotions. You dad has been talking as well. He doesn’t want to press you and that’s been the right thing to do. Just like you’ve taken time to absorb all this without the emotion of facing him. You’ll work through all this when you’re ready, pushing it won’t help. He understands that. He’s likely even having difficulty with the idea of seeing you, for all the reasons you can imagine.”
“He must feel terrible guilt, he loved my mom. They had their ups and downs. She had been tired lately, maybe her heart. He was patient and kind, he didn’t grill me about stuff, I was allowed to have a private life. He’s protective but not interfering, do you know what I mean?”
Janah thinks about our moms, “Yes, I do.”
“Can we take a walk?”
We walk to the terrace, Sonia is gaining strength every minute it seems, the beauty of youth, resilience.
“I think I can see him tomorrow, if he’s ready. There’s one thing, I don’t know what to do. I can’t go back there, maybe it’s lame. That’s too bad. I never want to see that apartment again.”
“Do you want me to talk to your dad, make some arrangements. You’re getting better, you’ll be leaving the hospital soon.”
“What can I do? He’s got a good job. I don’t know if we can just live in a hotel for a while, does he go home to that place?”
“Let me find out, we’ll make a plan. It’s natural that you don’t want to return there. Perhaps he’s thought of that, it hasn’t come up.”
Janah leaves to get James and contact Sonia’s dad. He comes to the hospital that afternoon. He’d already been looking for places to live, and is pretty sure he’d found something. It wouldn’t be available for two more weeks. James said Sonia wanted to see him in the morning and gave him a positive update on her progress. He tells Royce to let Sonia talk, warns him that perhaps not everything would be pleasant to hear. He coaches him on listening, to understand how important it is to let her say whatever she needs to say. He also explains that there would likely be a need to revisit the whole thing for a few weeks afterward, to cover ground they already walked. His patience might be tested, eventually she would gain her footing.
Janah, “She can stay with the moms for a couple of weeks, until the new place is ready.”
James looks at Royce, who asks, “Who are the moms?”
James explains and Royce said it seemed like a wonderfully kind solution. He went through all the imposition arguments, finally said if Sonia wanted to, it certainly solved one immediate problem.
Royce, “What do I do otherwise?”
James, “Be her father, love her, listen to her. She intellectually understands that this was an accident. That’s not the same as dealing with it emotionally. That may take longer. At some point, she’ll see that blaming doesn’t fix anything and that her life will go on. Trying to explain all that logically is pointless. This has to be lived through, talked over and revisited until it’s done. If it appears to be an endless agony, then she might need further counseling. Let’s not look for problems that don’t yet exist. Doing that often has a way of making problems where there weren’t any.”
Royce says to Janah, “There is no way that thanks covers any of this.”
Janah, “You have a beautiful, intelligent daughter, it’s been our pleasure to know her, even in these unfortunate circumstances. I’ll be here in the morning, then give you two time alone.”
He leaves, Janah to Sonia’s room, she is sitting laughing at stuff I’m making fun of on the news. She gets a wider grim when she sees Janah.
Janah, “You dad’s doing okay, he’s concerned about you and nervous about tomorrow. I told him you had asked to see him, not that some third party thought it was time or any of that. He’s a nice man, he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s also found another apartment, so you won’t be going back to your old one. It will take a couple of weeks. We want you to stay with our moms until then, if you’re okay with it.”
Sonia, “That seems like trouble for everyone, will you be there?”
Janah, “First, we have a big place, three moms and dad. All the moms work at home and are there all the time, no special arrangements necessary. You have your own room, your dad can come over or take you out to dinner, have dinner with them, visit or whatever. It’s a couple of weeks, then you’ll be in a new place. I’ll ask them to come tomorrow, after you see your dad you can visit with them, then you can decide. It’s entirely up to you.”
Sonia, “Can you be there?”
Janah, “We have to return to the temple. I’ll come over anytime you want me. We want to see you after that as well if you feel like it. You can make all those decisions later.”
Sonia is getting sleepy, so we massage her for the next hour while she drifts off, then curl up together on the floor and sleep the entire night for the first time in almost five days.
The next morning, I go to the cafeteria to wait, Janah stays with Sonia until her dad gets there. Janah can’t figure out whether father or daughter is more nervous. That evaporates when they came together in the room. They embrace, Royce busy with “I’m so sorry,” Sonia replying, “It was an accident.”
Lots of tears and most important, long hugs. Janah exits quietly and comes to the cafeteria. We drink tea and mental about the flow of events and things we need to do when we get to the temple. We’ll return this afternoon, after the moms meet Sonia and the conversation gets going. They’ll have Sonia in complete working order by the time she moves to her new apartment. James and Dr. Epstein appear with lunch trays.
Janah, “Wow, it is lunch already? Daphne and I have been in plan making mode and we’ve been out of it.”
James, “We could tell, you were both looking like there was some other world different from the one you happened to be sitting in at the moment.”
Janah, “I know you have a plan, can you tell me what happens with Royce for the next few weeks? I think Sonia will be okay, particularly if she decides to stay with the moms for a bit.”
Dr. Epstein, “That was a stroke of generous genius on your part. Your mothers will give her both a bridge in transition and someone to call down the road if she needs to. Thank you for that.”
Janah, “They are delighted to be involved, that was almost a no-brainer.”
Dr. Epstein, “Maybe for you two, not for lots of folks. The idea of taking in a potentially troubled stranger wouldn’t cross their minds, much less happen.”
“She’s a wonderful girl, the moms will likely forget all about us.”
Dr. Epstein, “Well, if it happens, just call Mrs. Epstein, she’ll happily take over where they left off.”
Chapter Twenty Four II
You start thinking about failure, you fail. Your brain looks for patterns.
You input the word failure, it finds failure patterns.
Input failure into Google, you get what you asked for.
Test day arrives, the monks gather in ceremonial robes. There are at least twenty visiting disciples and masters from other temples. A demonstration of another art is an occasion, particularly with one of their own being tested. Students had been hard at work cleaning and preparing for the guests. Fresh flowers color every area of the grounds, visitors take time to walk through the gardens and peer into the meditation hall. Families and guests are shown to the dining room and offered tea, fresh fruit and Chinese pastries.
Master Sung entertains the family with stories of his childhood. From questions woven subtly through the conversation, Sung learns details of their lives. James begins to understand that there are more people in the world like Janah. People who have a presence that draws others to them. For all his psychiatric experience, he simply felt that he could talk to this man and that no subject was off limits. What he suspected is confirmed, Janah and I are in exactly the right place with exactly the right people.
The rank test begins at two. Janah spent the morning with me in meditation. She knows I’m calm and prepared. It is, in my mind, more than a promotion. It is my gift to Kim for the hours and consideration he has given to C-mom, Sis, Janah and me, not the least of which was giving me up to the Shaolin.
Janah, in saffron robes, sits with the family, next to Sonia. She asks Janah a thousand questions. What is Shaolin? Why am I taking a taekwondo test in the Shaolin monastery? What is a master? What is Buddhism about? What does Janah do every day? What do the robes signify? What is the difference between Master Kim and Master Sung? How did Janah get to be a master at seventeen? If I am going to be a taekwondo master how come I’m not a Shaolin master? Janah answers, adding details that don’t violate temple rules. Sonia hangs on every word. Mrs. Epstein, Lacy and Dr. Epstein are attentive to Janah’s explanations. Sonia asked the questions they all had. Mrs. Epstein is enthusiastically enthralled at the whole scene.
“Sonia, thank you for getting Janah to explain. I had many of the same questions. As long as I’ve known the girls, we never got into the subtleties of difference in the arts Daphne studies. This has been a fascinating exposition. I’m going to be inundated with calls over the next few days. You have no idea how many people are envious of my good fortune. Most could get an interview with the President if they pressed. No amount of phone calls and check writing will get them this opportunity. I have never been so thrilled at anything. Daphinity rules!”
Sonia and Janah get the giggles, she hugs Janah, “You saved my life. I know you don’t think of it that way. I do. Don’t say anything, it’s not necessary. Thank you. I love you and Daphne. If there’s ever anything…”
Janah, “You here is more than enough. Let’s enjoy Daphne’s test or she’ll have more fun than any of us.”
Sonia kisses Janah on the cheek and takes her arm. It does not escape her notice that every monk who passes stops, bows to Janah and all were given a smile the warmth of which could come only from Master J. The youngest come along and give each family member a small gift, all handmade. Leather bracelets, with wooden Buddhas, a smiling old monk. A block of wood with Shaolin carved in Chinese, or carved elephants. Ceramic dishes meticulously painted in beautiful bright colors. There is something for each family member which includes the Epsteins, Lacy, Sonia and her dad. Susan weeps at the beauty of the gifts and more for the beauty of the givers, even Mrs. Epstein tears up.
“Bernie Epstein, something about the natural generosity of these children better show up in one of your stuffy psychiatric journals, or there’ll be hell to pay…darling,” Mrs. E smiles sweetly.
Chris, “It’s going to show up in my dojang, and in revisions of my training books and in my novels, I can guarantee that. That there is a completely different way to live, and it is not theoretical, needs to be spread to as wide an audience as we can reach. And it won’t sound preachy either. Just stating facts I’ve witnessed.”
James, “I want a piece of that article, Bernie and I will work on it together. I hope we can baffle and challenge the medical community to rise to what ought to be a simple common standard.”
Kara, “Coming from you two will give it cred and clout, not to mention Chris’ widening audience. I’m already envisioning a work I’m doing right away, perhaps I’ll call it ‘Sharing’…..no, that’s not right, I’m going to call it ‘Intelligence.’”