Learning From Bowls

“We’ll give him a few more minutes, shall we?” The kindly old man seated across from me crossed one leg over the other and sat back as if he had all the time in the world to wait.

“The thing is…I mean…,” I hung my head in shame. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

“Ah, yes.” He picked up his note pad, uncrossed and leaned forward. “I suspected as much.”

“He went away for the weekend, you see, and he hasn’t returned yet.” How could I tell him that my husband left on Friday, and this was Monday, and I hadn’t heard a word from him? “He knew about the appointment,” I scrambled to make an excuse, “he just wasn’t sure if he’d make it back on time.”

“Do you think he wanted to be here?”

The question hit me hard. Tears caught in my throat and the best I could muster was a silent shake of the head.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time, and I really don’t see any point of beating about the bush,” the psychiatrist said reaching for a tissue. “The fact is you and I both know he never had any intention of coming here today. He’s left it in my lap to tell you the marriage is over.”

It was the first of December, and when my partner of seventeen years did return home, he confirmed the doctor’s conclusion.

“We’ll wait till after Christmas,” he declared matter-of-factly. “That way we won’t ruin the children’s holiday.”

I hadn’t seen it coming. The shock was replaced with an overwhelming numbness that spurred me into robotic overdrive. Maintain a semblance of normalcy, I kept telling myself. No one must know! Secretly, I think I was hoping that if I acted like nothing was happening, then nothing would happen.

Inside, I was a mess. I had built all my hopes and dreams around this man. Seventeen years are a long time to commit your life to another, and frankly, I didn’t know what else to do.

The days passed, and in a fog, I trudged through, looking for meaning to the madness that surrounded me.

I just want some joy in my life, I prayed. How do I feel alive again?

The answer came during an ordinary outing with my children to the local library. I loved the library, because after I’d settled the kids in with some books of their own, I could search for myself. “Read; it will help keep you distracted,” my psychiatrist had advised. No arguments there.

Abandoned on an empty shelf, a little book caught my eye. “Everyday Sacred” was the title and the picture was of a large, red, earthenware bowl. I picked it up and flipped to the preface. It read:

This story is about a bowl.
A bowl waiting to be filled.
If what I have just written makes sense to you,
I am not surprised.
If I had known in the beginning what I was looking for,
I would not have written this story.
I had to trust there was a reason I had to write,
and I didn’t have to have it all figured out in order to begin.
I would find what I was looking for 
along the way.

– Sue Bender, Preface,  Everyday Sacred

I scooped the book up, then my children, and waited anxiously for the moment to explore Sue Bender’s words.

My soul resonated with the analogy of the bowl. My bowl had suddenly been emptied, and I would have to create a whole new beginning. Bender described the spiritual act associated with a begging bowl, in which the bearers would have to go into the streets and beg for their daily meals. The lesson: to learn to accept what we are given, each day, and to cherish all offerings. (My simplified version.)

Something inside me sang. I wanted to learn to live with gratitude and the joy of beholding the sacred in everyday.

Plans for the move started to take shape. As my husband worked from home, the children and I would move out. We found a townhouse not far from their school, and I ran into an old friend who was in the process of downsizing – she furnished the house for us. It was almost as if the Universe was stepping forward to buffer the blow. While my heart still ached, and I could barely manage to eat for the stress of it all, I also felt strangely comforted. My proverbial bowl continued to flow with abundance, and I just kept giving thanks.

Moving day was drawing near and the last thing I had to do was to arrange for a new home phone. Something in that act felt final, and as I hung up from the customer service rep, I put my head down on the table before me and felt the full weight of grief. There would be no going back. My life as I’d known it was over.

Look at what it spells. I swear a little voice whispered in my ear. “What what spells?” I spoke aloud, looking around for the source, but no answer came. Convinced I had really lost it, I turned my attention back to my new phone number. I would have to memorize it.

2 – 6 – 9 – 5 were the last four digits. 2, 6, 9, 5, I repeated in my head. 2695. Could this spell something?
I checked my keypad. And there it was:

b – o- w- l.

With no steady income and three mouths to feed, I had live with what each day brought, sometimes hardship, and sometimes blessings. It was a humbling, yet soul inspiring time of my life.

(This post originally appeared on One Woman’s Quest and has been edited for this edition. This week’s challenge is to write about books that inspire and motivate.)

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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