I was sitting beside Bob, who was settled into a recliner, covered with a blanket, while some new medicinal poison dripped through his veins, something the doctors hoped would be more lethal than the cancer that was killing him.
So far, their hopes and ours had not been realized. Nothing had worked, but Bob was still determined to keep trying every possible avenue. He even talked about flying to Mexico to visit a shaman I’d once mentioned, semi-facetiously, which was somehow when I realized we would not be coming back from this downhill slide we were on. He was such a brilliant and analytical thinker. For some people, the mention of such a far out option might have been a sign they were opening to more possibilities in the universe. When Bob brought it up, I looked at his gray face and knew he was grasping at straws.
We didn’t speak of the hopelessness that had descended on us. We just kept going through the medical motions. So I was sitting at his side, reading a book I’d lifted, more or less randomly, from our bookcase, just because it was small enough to fit in my purse. It wasn’t one of mine, but something Bob must have picked up along the way, a thin, small volume titled Ten Bulls.
It was a Zen concept. The ten bulls represent the stages of enlightenment, the process of mastering our own rampaging minds. I wasn’t a Zen Buddhist, but I could recognize the stages: the search for the bull, yep, been there. Discovering the footprints, then perceiving the bull? That, too, I could identify with.
The next couple of stages were catching the bull and taming him. Well, there you are. If I could look at the first few steps and feel like I had made some progress, when it came to these steps, they expressed exactly what I was wrestling with. My own bull seemed to be constantly either just out of reach or trampling me with gleeful abandon, while I lay there, exhausted, helpless, confused.
And yet, through it all, I kept getting these inklings of just how miraculous it was that I could perceive a bull in my life at all. About the same odds as spotting Sasquatch, only with more potential as a long-term companion.
As to what came after that, the next stages were: riding the bull home, transcending the bull, then transcending both the bull and the Self, reaching the Source, and, finally, going back into the world, transformed.
I couldn’t begin to imagine those steps. From where I sat, it all sounded as alien as life on Mars.
It wasn’t like nothing was going on inside. I got random hits of insight and even that irrational experience of love that comes on suddenly and for no reason at all. I studied karma and knew I was up to my ass in it. And even though I knew I was not in any way graceful or serene or wise about, well, anything, I knew I had no choice but to keep slogging through the challenges of my life, knew that eventually, eventually, I would see a light at the end of this tunnel.
I remembered people I’d come across in Colorado, the ones who always walked around giving off a kind of “oh, like wow, man” vibe.
That wasn’t me. I was in the depths, holding it together on the outside – barely – while on the inside, I was fighting for my life with all the darker angels. I sat in waiting rooms, I waited in pharmacy lines, all the while wrestling with all kinds of mental and emotional bulls and their related bullshit, getting just enough glimpses, just often enough, to remind me there really was something higher I was working toward. I could no more stop grasping for it than I could walk away from the burdens in my life.
Frustrated, I put the book aside and pulled out my own laptop, trying to shift my focus back onto work. Yes, I was still working. I didn’t really want to admit it, but at that point, work was a much more effective means of distracting my attention from Bob, or Mom, than my spiritual practice often was.
I didn’t realize then that it was all part of the same picture.
From the very onset of his illness, Bob insisted I shouldn’t give up my job, though I don’t think he really had any idea how much time and energy I was spending on everyone else. NOW very nicely agreed to sponsor me to do a blog, and Bob, in between doctor visits, re-did the whole NOW website, including my page. He bought me the latest laptop.
And, in spite of the craziness of my personal life, or possibly as the one source of escape from it I could justify, I got more and more drawn into the political scene. Granted, it was mostly as an outside observer, reporter and commentator. After decades of progress, the culture suddenly seemed to be sliding backward on women’s rights, abortion rights, health care, all of it. The wing nuts and their ilk were getting louder and better funded, somehow getting the rhetorical leap on any issue, turning and twisting the facts or simply denying or creating facts at their own whim.
That’s the kind of research I was good at. I’d had a lot of experience. And now, even while spending hours on end sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms, sitting in surgical waiting rooms, I worked. Sitting with Mom in her new private care room, I watched her slipping away, as she alternated between a child-like sweetness and a new and vicious anger there was no countering. I watched, and plied my electronic trade; worked my contacts, surfed the obscure corners of the web, tracking the lies and the innuendos, and reporting what I found.
I was a ghost on-line. I was a ghost in real life.
It became clear to me that there was one locus of all this in particular: Lester Worsham, a radio talk show host I’d always written off as simply another blow-hard. But once I started doing my obsessive cyber investigating, once I started tracking the subtle shifts over time, I started seeing the coordination of efforts across different organizations, the PACs springing up, the money trail, the shell companies and the straw men. Worsham came up again and again.
I’d grab a bit of information and write about it. At first, I went under his radar – I’m sure he dismissed NOW as beneath his contempt. But gradually, I realized he was getting uncomfortable with me. He needled NOW more, without referring to me specifically. He constantly discredited us, along with every other women’s advocacy group around. He called us sluts and whores on the air. He belittled women everywhere, painting females as hysterical, untrustworthy. He himself seemed to have had no success with women. He kept to his own, as far as I could detect.
It wasn’t only women, it was how he’d played up Wall Street, mocked tax reform and health care, promoted mindless video games, defended the “rights” of the people to obesity and heart disease, debunking scientific facts, global warming, at every turn, mocking anyone who used logic and reason to try to inject sanity into the public debate.
He proposed that public schools as a whole concept were obsolete, raving on every day, a kind of Darwinian eagerness to let the unfortunate fall away, die away, get what they deserved, which was to serve as the economic foil for the Powers That Be. It seemed like no matter what came up, he was ahead of it, on top of it. Like he was always one step ahead of everyone else on the planet.
And he seemed to have come out of nowhere. His paper trail was almost impossible to trace. I kept digging. I guess it was a kind of feverish focus that helped distract me from the fact that my beloved husband was dying and my mother no longer knew who I was.