It can be a small thing: for instance, last week my friend and Naturopath, Dr. Cecelia Hart, made a very unexpected transition. None of her friends knew she was sick, and in fact, I had not seen her in over a year. Though we occasionally saw each other at East Bay Church of Religious Science, which attracted us by its deep spirituality and vibrant soul, we had lost touch after she administered to me during a medical situation that caused me concern. She was funny, slow – I used to read while she went to her storeroom and mixed herbs – with a handwriting that was inscrutable without a magnifying glass. I loved her dreadlocks, her short skirts, her languid way of making a diagnosis. Hummm… Maybe it’s this. Maybe it’s that. Could be both. Oh No! And we would laugh. One time she gave me a remedy made from pigs’ eyes, but that was as extreme as it got, and she had misgivings, being, I think, vegetarian. I took the pills for a while, in desperation, but couldn’t keep it up because of a mental image of a pig whose eyes twinkled at me. When I told her what had happened, she chuckled and said, Well, drink lots of water.
The thing she taught me that comes to mind each morning is how to drink green tea, which I like a lot, and not get wired on the caffeine. I had invited her to come for a rest in the country, exactly two years ago, and each morning she watched me make my cup of tea, a weak cup, and drink half of it. At last she told me what she’d learned in China, where she’d studied for a year. You can drink green tea all day long as the folks in China do and not worry about the caffeine, she said. What you do, she said, taking my tea bowl and demonstrating as she talked, is put in the tea, put in the water, hot but not boiling, and let it steep for a few minutes. Then you pour the water from that tea, the first bowl of tea, down the drain, keeping the tea leaves. That first bowl holds the caffeine. For the rest of the day you pour hot water over the tea leaves left in the bowl. It will taste fine. That’s how they drink tea in China.
I last saw Dr. Cecilia on June 3rd. She was a devotee of Amma (the spiritual leader who has hugged by now upwards of 26,000,000,000 people) and she invited me and my partner to darshan. He was unable to come, but a friend, a devotee of Anandi Ma (another Indian spiritual leader) and admirer of Amma, was able to come instead. I had gone to see, and be hugged by Amma, twice. The first time was amazing. I fell into those warm, cushiony arms like a little bird finding its nest, while Amma chanted a mantra that seemed tailor made for my current quest. The second time I went I left without darshan because Amma seemed tired (I was certainly tired, and so no doubt projected) and I couldn’t bear to add to the number of people – thousands, it seemed – there to be hugged that day. This time, I went only because Dr. Cecilia invited me, and because, over the phone, she promised more stories about her and Amma’s recent visit to Kenya, where Amma had opened a school for Massai youth.
My friend, Rafiki Rama, and I, waited nearly an hour at the entrance to Amma’s temple, where Dr. Cecilia had said she’d be. At last this extremely thin, slow moving woman came up behind us. I didn’t recognize her at first. She said she’d been holding seats near Amma’s chair, and that she’d been afraid to leave them for fear they’d be taken. The place was, as always, packed. We moved along beside her, sat in the chairs she’d saved, and waited for the service to begin. While we waited I asked about her weight loss. Dear One, I said, you’re really thin. What’s up? She smiled slowly and whispered: parasites. She explained she’d been in India, as well as Africa, and had gotten them there. Well, I joked, there goes my trip to India and the visit to Amma’s ashram! It wasn’t at the ashram, she said; the food there is wonderful. But I went off on my own, exploring.
She made sure Amma knew we were there, and took us herself to the front of the line for darshan. Once again I knelt in front of this living saint, who looked less tired than before and who beamed at us as I leaned my head onto her shoulder. I love her darkness, her roundness, her deep Oneness with The Feminine and devotion to The Mother. Her clear and well expressed intelligence on any and all matters of urgency afflicting our planet. Once again she whispered a mantra that seemed perfect for that moment of my life. We sat near her for a little while, Dr. Cecilia using her limited strength to get our three precious chairs to follow us, and then we left the temple. Walking Dr. Cecilia uphill towards her car, it was easy to see her strength was failing. We walked along beside her, very slowly, up the hill. At her car, Rafiki helped her inside. I sat beside her as she found and inserted her key. She had the look of someone who wasn’t quite sure what a car is for. Come with us, we said, we will drive you home. No, she said. Well, let us tail you, we said. No, she said, that’ all right. I can do this. She started the car. I joked about the intelligence of cars, and how sometimes, lucky for humans, they seem to know the way home. I have experienced this in my own life. We still worried.
A little over two weeks later, she was gone. A friend alerted me to the fact that she was in the hospital and that it looked serious. I sent flowers to her and alerted our friends who might not have known she’d been taken there. Several of them went to visit her. Rafiki was able to be there to watch over her while she slept and then sing for her. Henri Norris and Angel Kyodo Williams were there. Our wonderful Reverend Elouise from East Bay Church of Religious Science was with her when she made her move, as was Reverend Andriette. That these two precious women were there, at that moment, brought tears of joy to my eyes. I had called every day, once I knew she had a phone, and at last was able to get through to her. I had learned she was an only child, that her parents were dead. A male cousin answered the phone, a person with a gentle, angelic voice, and placed the phone near her ear. She could make only sounds, not words, as I talked to her. My Darling! I greeted her. I thanked her for taking such good care of so many of us in our community, leery as we are of what passes for Medicine in the modern world. I thanked her for her humor, her slowness in filling out prescriptions and her inscrutable writing, which we all complained about and all adored.(I believe she chuckled). I thanked her for her thick head of copper colored locks, and for her love of Ethiopian food, which she shared with quite a number of us. I thanked her for being our teacher, and for loving us enough to go to distant lands to study new and ancient ways to keep us healthy. I thanked her for her mysterious Being.
Because, finally, she was such a mystery. How could she have become so ill and none of us know it? And what does this say about our vaunted belief in community?
While she was in the hospital, I read for the first time a note she had left on her visit two years ago. It was in a blank journal that is kept beside the bed where she slept. She said she’d come without expectations and received a healing she was unaware she needed. That is how I feel about my visits to her office on Ashby Street. Expecting nothing as I ambled up her wa
lk one troubled day, I had found not only a funny and loveable healer, but a teacher and a friend.
©2009 Alice Walker