Shortly after my father passed away in January of 2013 from complications of Alzheimer’s, my husband suggested a trip to Big Sur to decompress a little. We stopped as we always do at the breathtaking restaurant called Nepenthe, perched high on a seaside cliff and known for its cheeky Stellar’s jays who are invariably ready to snatch a French fry or three from even the most well-defended plates. It was an unusually apt destination for the time, nepenthe having the figurative meaning in Greek of “that which chases away sorrow.”
Waiting for our table we wandered through the Phoenix Shop. Billed as featuring gifts and local artists’ wares, years of slow economic decline had gradually crowded out the expensive latter in favor of the more impulse purchase-friendly former. Disappointed, we were about to leave and wander the grounds when tucked in a corner on the balcony I saw a small stone Buddha. It was simple, highly stylized – perhaps not a Buddha at all, as technically the “Laughing Buddha” Budai is not, but in the moment I didn’t care. It had the enigmatic, worldly otherworldliness appropriate to a Bodhisattva, and that was enough for me.
I picked it up and, like the ancient dachshund that I once adopted on impulse from animal control, couldn’t imagine leaving it behind. The downturned eyes and the upturned lips: was it smiling? or crying? Did it know a secret that it was just about to share, or was it grinning because it planned to keep that secret hidden? Were the hands pressed together in beseeching prayer, or about to part and rejoin in a clap of delight?
In that moment it reminded me, in my morass of fatigue and complicated sorrow, that there is always more than one thing to feel. And perched on an end table in the living room since then, it reminds me that there is always more than one thing to think as well. We carry multitudes within ourselves, and confront multitudes in everyone we meet, and when I’m writing my little stone Buddha murmurs to remain mindful of that as much as passion and limited perspective allow.