This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Wedding update: The Cow and the Cod
This is a very extended version of the brief post when I had just returned from the one-of-a -kind wedding where we all sat in a soaring, stained glass Anglican cathedral, hearing the satin-vested reverend say: "If anybody knows any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, please state it now", looking at that luscious bride tightly bound in white sequins and lace, knowing six weeks before she had been traded for 250 cows.
According to what they told us at the rehearsal dinner, the groom and his father had flown from Arctic Newfoundland to equatorial South Sudan to negotiate the mandatory bride price. It didn't matter that the bride had been long gone, one of the lost girls from the brutal conflicts in the Sudan who only found her family three years ago, or that in the long interim, she'd managed to graduate with honors from Brandeis University and get both an MBA from the London School of Economics and American citizenship. The men of her ttribe saw opportunity. At first that was 500 cows, two Range Rovers and 1 house. It took two and a half weeks of continual negotiating for the groom and his dad speaking through a local friend to get the 100 Dinka tribe male relatives of the bride, all present all the time, down to 250 cows. The cash equivalent was about $18,000. "They told me I could go across the river," the groom told me with some disgust, "and get a cheaper bride for maybe three goats if I didn't want to give them the 250 cows."
So there was the bride, free at last, all dressed in white in St. John's, Newfoundland with seven bridesmaids in flame orange gowns. Five were tall stately Dinkas, one was the groom's sister, one her foster sister who flew in from San Francisco, and one her best college friend, a Vietnamese who'd just landed from Singapore hours before. When the reverend-- a very old friend and mentor of the groom's family, proudly declared: " I now pronounce you man and wife!", the bride's foster mother's cousin sent the organ chords soaring through the stone cathedral and the Dinkas scattered in the pews ululated over them.
There were 250 cows waiting for us at the reception overlooking St John's and its sliver of harbor. The bride had spent the two and a half weeks the groom was negotiating her dowry in a pottery studio in St John's making them. Evidently the Dinka cow is humped like the Indian zebu, and like a camel, which must enable it to survive in the equatorial desert that is South Sudan. But unlike the Indian cow it's horned, or at least all of the bride's pottery cows were longhorns. They were also, as she painted them, black and white like Jerseys.
After dinner, one of the Dinka bridesmaids took the mic to explain the cow was the Dinka measure of wealth, the currency for trade and its milk the assurance of survival. "The cow is very important to us. That's really all I can say." As ulalating rose from several of the round, pink clothed tables, a stocky man head to toe in fishing oilskins blew through the door and began shouting in brogue too thick to comprehend. Newfoundlanders have a distinct brogue and cadence, leftover from their arrival in the 17th Century and held over by their isolation. Newfoundland is an island, a massive rock. I was told the cadence dates back to Shakespeare's time.
The fellow in the black oilskins and sou'wester hat kept the pitapatter banter going a mile a minute, blimey, luv and gawd. He slowed enough to let us know how important the cod was to Newfoundland, sped up and whipped a whole fish out of a cooler that had been sitting by the table with the cows. He took it from table to table so everyone could kiss it. Then he passed out shots of Screech, Newfoundland's rum flavored from the original barrels of salt cod traded for it two and three hundred years ago. (Salt cod sailed down to the Caribbean, rum brought back in the barrels.) Everyone who kissed the cod and guzzled the Screech got a certificate with their name on it, even the Dinka who ululated in joy.
Then tables were pushed back to make way for a local band that specialized in '60s and '70s rock and roll. Everybody kicked off their shoes and boogied. The best, most magical part was that everybody behaved as if nothing extraordinary was happening.
At this pitiful moment while so many raise so much ruckus about what they malign as a handout, a hand out reached me. Timing was just perfect because here we are, or would be if it wasn't for global warming, when leaves and daylight and temperature all fall down. It's the time of fear-- the counter to spring, the season of hope-- traditional bonfire time when things from the past are burned. Signs of death are coming to the Halloween nearest you: the spider's web and hobgoblin, the haunted house and dancing skeleton. Color fades. And dreams that did not grow in the heat of summer dissolve in the icy winter dark. I suppose you could call that Nature's handout. Anyway, this particular hand out really got to me because the other news has been as deadly grim as this season of dying. It has made us all afraid, very afraid, mostly of being afraid like this. There are so many things we have to stress over, like morning mouth and posting photos Google will turn into ads, we haven't the stomach for this stress of watching the entire country tank. Like kids say about London Bridge, everything is falling down. Not just bridges and schools and highways and home prices. We have to throw privacy and decency and rules and truth on the traditional October bonfire. And of course, the common good was just tossed overboard in a revolting rage against taxation, which, as it turns out, is proving a very expensive tax on the rest of us. Bah humbug. So the words of the email shone like summer sun. They came as a complete surprise. The sender was totally unexpected. A young Frenchwoman, a stranger, who spontaneously showed up at my house for two days in the full blush of May, wrote from Paris. Since she was here, she'd been thinking about my experience uniting people through food and the joy it brought everyone-- especially me. Evidently, long before her graduation last May from a New England college, she'd been searching for a purpose, a way to be of benefit to others instead of just to herself. Our conversation had narrowed her focus. This is a young woman whose last name indicates noble birth, someone quite worldly who came from abroad with a native language and graduated from an elite American college. In May, hands were out everywhere to someone with that kind of resumé. In October, she threw all those assets of circumstance in a mental bonfire and joined a charitable effort that provides havens in hellish places, drop-in sites for dropouts and the scarred, lonely and penniless.
Apparently, the two weeks of July she'd tested her resolve as an intern in a house among guerrilla war ruins in El Salvador ignited her commitment. She is now leaving Paris to start one of these places in another ruined country, Greece. For more than a year, she wrote, "I will be living with 4 other people... . We will be living in a deprived neighborhood in Athens in a 'Hearts Home'.
I will not have internet or phone. I will simply share my company with people who may feel isolated or alone and offer my friendship to them. This may take various forms, most of which I am unaware of at the moment... .
" Her email came just as I was being too keenly aware of fear. Tomorrow I have to do what's most impossible: get up before dawn. Everything depends on that. I must make a 2 1/2 hour drive to an airport located in a notoriously nasty traffic zone, and find the right parking lot in its dreaded maze in time to catch the one of two inconveniently scheduled flights that some days go to Newfoundland. That's the eastern most Canadian province, and happens to be the home of a place named Heart's Content. Newfoundland, as you can maybe tell by its name, was all the rage in the late 16th Century. People would kill to get there. But we've so moved on and life has changed so much, it's hard as hell to get to its one city, St John's, let alone get anywhere near Heart's Content. I have to be in St. John's for a wedding. Not just any marriage either or I wouldn't be making this heroic effort. It's a good news occasion. The bride is a movie star beautiful young woman who little more than a dozen years ago was one of the forgotten "lost girls" of Sudan. As it happens, she has just flown from Juba, South Sudan to this boondocks of Canada to get married. It's a triumph. In Boston, lost Adeui was "found", fostered and mentored, and became the first professionally educated woman of the Sudan. She has a Bachelor's degree from Brandeis, a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics, and was back in her precarious new country helping to set it up.
Adeui met the groom, Matt, at the London School of Economics. He was there in a course of study that would allow him to work in the development of east Africa. "Where are you from?" she asked him after class. "Canada," he said. "Where?" she pressed. "Let's just say Canada because it's a place you've never heard of." "Yeh, well try me. Are you from Newfoundland?" "Oh my God! How would you know that? I mean how would you know about Newfoundland?"
And that's the beauty of this wedding. The Boston-based woman who fostered and mentored Adeui is half Newfie: her late father was from there. Half his family is still in St John's where Matt is from. They're all coming to this wedding. All coming together: north and south, black and white, haves and had not. How could I miss it? Besides, after they put their hands out to each other at the wedding, the newlyweds are going back out in the world to put their hands out and help others. I just love the way this news lights up and dispels the dark and fearsome time. There's still happy magic in this world.
Forty days and nights I have been flooded by antibiotics, a record at least for me. The overkill is not because of a "superbug," something so foxy medical scientists can't hound it out. No. The somewhat befuddled doctor on my case thinks we are chasing not so super ethmoid sinus bacteria that settled in and set up shop enough time ago to have become a booming business. Their swelling may be what put pressure on the nerves around my eye that caused the pain, blurriness and trouble that led me to think my eye was going to shut down. I wasn't too far off. My retina detached. All the medical men insisted this was mere coincidence. Ho ho ha. It doesn't take a super Buddhist to be aware that all phenomena exist as cause and effect. If you believe in virgin birth, you can believe in spontaneous retina detachment. The big squeeze on my eye, I insisted, caused the detached retina. And I desperately did not want that to happen again. Enter antibiotics, cause for a new effect. Happily, the retina is holding firm and the swelling has noticeably subsided. The doc congratulated himself on hitting the target. That's the only thing doctors in our one-sided culture care about: the one isolated organ that is their bailiwick. They are like single issue politicians.
Unfortunately, my body is as complex as the body politic. Forty days and nights of antibiotics affects other organs. For one, the kidneys declared war on this endless flow of killer medication. Its trickle down has annoyed them so much, they are now all fired up and throwing the stuff out so fast I live in fear they will shut down. Also I am running out of toilet paper.
Elsewhere, like in the stomach, vital good bacteria have died as collateral damage. Their wipe-out has damaged my digestion. I am now running a counter terror operation with probiotic pills, local raw milk yogurt, mushrooms, and all the greens I can grab: arugula, watercress, turnip tops, collards et al cooked with cider vinegar. Anything to get the good ferment going.
As fate would have it, I have been fed and fighting this mountain of antibiotics at the same time I am being fed a steady stream of fighting newspaper and internet reports about the enormous collateral damage coming from overfeeding of antibiotics to dinner plate animals. You know, steer, hogs and chickens. They get even more amoxicillin and tetracycline than me. The Federal government, in this case the pathetic FDA, is unwilling to stop the cavalier cramming of these once precious pills into the meat supply even though the practice has yet again been pinpointed as the chief cause of the lethal superbugs killing people. Since 80% of all antibiotics are sold to feedlot folks, Big Pharma is defending its profits to the death, of us. Supermarket shoppers have involuntarily ingested so much antibiotic in their sandwiches and suppers, the whole anti effect has worn off. That's left us vulnerable to attack, sometimes fatal, by new super improved killer bacteria. As fate would have it, I've been drowning in this news about superbugs and my own bugs at the very moment the American Taliban erupted into its biggest cry baby temper tantrum ever. Not getting what they want--no Obama, no Obamacare, no regulations--they've spitefully shut down the United States government. Their way or the highway has infected us. Of course because it's their way right now, the highway is crumbling. But I digress.
Actually everything is crumbling. I could see in the news and in faces on the street, in schools and hospitals and the whole damned horror show of sequester how these vicious beings with their all or nothing at all attitude have rapidly infected and weakened the body politic and blighted the physical landscape. You could say these people are vampires sucking the lifeblood out of our common good. I say the
Tea Party is another lethal superbug overdosing has created before we can counteract it with anti something. Remember, in the 60s when we could still remember the common cause of World War II, we were able to inoculate ourselves against the lunacy of the John Birch Society and scariness of Barry Goldwater. But as we now know, these lived on underground in the money vaults of the Koch Brothers where the disinfectant known as sunlight could not shine. Apparently they grew into an infectious new superbug by feeding not just on money, but on what the Buddha identified as the primary cause of all human suffering: change. You know, life does not stop so you have to go with the flow. Bacteria bugs actually do that: they have the awesomely
intelligent ability to morph and adapt and progress. A lot people don't. Or just plain won't. Moving on is not an option. New is the unknown, so it is scary. It is involuntary. It may even be inconvenient, the most inexcusable sin in America today. Facing it can be hard work. Psychology creates Conservatives, and eventually supersized super bugged ones that kill.
Here's the recipe: you take all the rightwing self-medication with lies, deceptions and pretenses to inoculate
against change, adaption and progress, in other words: to hang onto male white Christian
supremacy--a target reality has bull's eyed, and cross it all with the corporate catering to consumerism that has force fed us a virulent strain of foie gras called instant gratification. (I love it that "foie" doesn't just mean liver; it also means faith.) Add in today's carefully cultivated rabid sports fanaticism, all the overdoses of winning is not just everything, it's the only thing! And the body politic gets violently infected with the I want what I wantand I want it winner take all now
The obsession with preventing progress makes the
extorting, hostage taking, suicide bombing Tea Partyers no different
from the Taliban or Al Qaeda: terrifying because they are terrified. They feel so threatened by the future, which is to say all the demographic, lifestyle and intellectual knowledge changes, they're as fired up as my kidneys, unleashing their own endless stream of polluted bile to keep it at bay. They have just resorted to an Al Shabab terror attempt to blow up the United States for being as modern and international as Nairobi's Westgate Mall. These people bring to mind that great 1960s Broadway show title: Stop the World, I Want to get Off!
As it happens, tra la, that show's ultra-famous hit song was What Kind of Fool Am I? Honestly I'd be happy to tell the Tea Partyers. Honestly reality humiliates us all sometime. We have to move on and get past it. But honestly, as I said, some people just can't move on. And with these particular people stuck as they are, anything that isn't what they want to hear about how pure and perfect they are just fuels their huge grudge about being disrespected and supersizes what super bugs them.
Well, all I can say is despite these people who want to roll back time, life does move on. Tomorrow will be day 41 of antibiotics for me with no let up in preventing a stomach or kidney shut down. I am though heartened by signs the medication may be working. In any event, the shutdown of antibiotics is 9 days away. There is an end in sight.
As for that virulent superbug that has shut down the less than United States of America with no end in sight, don't count on John Boehner or even Barack Obama to come up with a remedy. Our only hope is probably the Buddha because he already did. And as it happens, his cure perfectly fits the Tea Party bill: it's DIY and promotes their very special interests: self-reliance, freedom, and total independence.
The Buddha referred to doses of Dharma as medicine you can take if you want to heal a dis-eased mind. Of course the American Taliban's whole point is not being told what to do. It's their way or no way. Of course, they don't see themselves as dis-eased at all. In fact they are so sure they're pure and perfect, they don't feel any need for healing. I reckon that's why giving people access to medical attention is what superbugs them bad enough to have shut us all down.
They squawk about entitlements. Well, there's one I'd be happy to counteract for forty days and nights or however long it takes to stop the superbugged from killing us.
Author of How To Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market, new edition published May 2011; and Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking, published September 2011 by Wisdom Publications. Founder and president of Veggiyana, a charitable effort to feed Buddhist monastics and schoolchildren in India, Nepal and Tibet. On Facebook as Prima Dharma Cook.
This is a blog of essays from the Buddhist perspective of Sandy Garson.
Visit my web site Yours In The Dharma, where I try to make sense of the bewilderment in daily life. I meditate aloud on how the teachings of my guru Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, the golden rosary of his Tibetan Kagyu lineage and the Buddha himself come alive in the headlines and heartaches to rescue us all from suffering.