The River

She has completely cut the knots

She is completely liberated from extreme torment

She is liberated from craving

She has crossed the River

- Buddhist chant


She was tentative, cautious, as she made her way to the river. She had to walk carefully through the trees and low hanging branches the loose sharp sticks the overgrowth and undergrowth of a dry forest, but she was moving slower still. Several people were already gathered at the river’s side, most of whom were expected to be there. Maybe a few extra people, people who were affiliated or even some who weren’t, strangers, but that didn’t really concern her. Even the water wasn’t of real concern to her, as cold and swift moving as it turned out to be. Her fear was bigger, less located in a particularness, but in in the greatness of the event itself, which included the state of mind that had come before this moment. That caused a fearfulness and unrest that had led her to the women.

They had been there all along, Mary and Sarin, but in her ignorance or rather in the absence of fear, she passed them almost daily on her path to school. But they were there, usually on the front porch of the church. A church that could look more like a house depending on the angle or mood from which one viewed it. And there were always folks on the front porch, sitting and talking, or standing against the railing, some coming some going, the big red front door swinging open. But none of this caught her eye until she began looking.

It started at night. She went through her normal routine before going to sleep. Reading, always fiction, usually a literary novel. A title from a long list that she created, occasionally added to , a book that spoke to her somehow. Closing the book that night, setting it on the nightstand, turning off the light, closing her eyes against her favorite pillow, and it came, like a wave. Up her body, like electricity but not in an enlightening and ticklish way, but she felt a dread, a cold sweat, and a wash of fear the zinged straight up from her feet into her chest and landed in her jaw. Her body and mind alert, as if she had just heard some break through her bedroom window.  But that hadn’t happened. The room was quiet. In fact she kept her eyes closed. Scared, confused, was she going to be sick? She tried to force positive thoughts, tomorrow she gets to see her friend, she can take a walk by the lake -- but then her leg shook, and jumped. And then the other, involuntary. The jumping came up to her chest, another wave, more sweating. The night went on like that. Even after reading more, drinking cold water, using the bathroom, as she would close her eyes the terror would rush her again. Almost just when her body would let itself relax again, muscles bones eyelids sinking into the mattress, a wave of pure fear would shake her awake. That night, even amid exhaustion, she read all night, intermittently smoking cigarettes on her front stoop. She was scared. What was wrong with her? That night although when completely honest with herself she knew ‘it’ had started before that night, she started looking for a way to feel better. To not feel this fear. This uncomfortable distracting state of mind that felt like anxiety, vigilance, terror, not about anything in particular she noticed but to her own self, her own mind. Was this it? Was she losing her mind? 

She noticed new parts of her mind, a part that seemed to be watching her, watching her thoughts and feelings with a vigilance so fierce, ready to pounce on any wayward out of the ordinary sensation, that it could then push a red button: danger danger alert alert something is wrong. It felt as if her mind was shattering, free falling. She may have a thought, say the sun is out today, but then she’d have a thought about that thought, I just had a thought about the sun, now what. Simple thoughts lost a sense of coherency because they were interrupted by this new part of her mind that was keeping close watch over everything.

During that time she felt quite alone. It wasn’t that she was alone, plenty of the same people were still around her, many of the same interactions happened. Most functioning continued normally but it was different. The light was different, the colors, the smells, the food tasted different. People’s voices were different. And the way she could describe it was as a disconnection. She was not connected to these normal natural events. They felt surreal. Were they ever real? Is he real? And she felt fear. The fear continued to rock her body, mostly in the uncontrollable way her legs would tremor at night. Movies helped and cigarettes. She was looking to be distracted from these new and awful feelings. She was looking to be grounded, to counter a weightlessness, a tingling feeling, dread and seat that she was not attached to anything and may float away from this unreal world.

She thinks what it was that caught her eye that day was Mary on the front porch, rocking in a wooden rocking chair, laughing and smoking a cigarette. She was a heavier set woman with wavy thicket of silver and gold hair, a wide face, wide eyes and wide moth. She laughed and smoked and rocked openly. She did not seem afraid. Not many people smoked in public or seemed to as happy as she did. So she noticed it. And she noticed too that it was a church. She had never really known what it was. There was the red door and white painted wood siding and the brown porch. There were potted plants on and around the porch, of various styles sizes and colors. There were wildflowers and weeds and tall grass that filled the yard, and a stone path that led from the sidewalk to the porch steps. There was colored glass around the house. One day she realized the largest piece was colored glass bottles broken and reassembled, glued placed in a wooden frame, and hung in front of a window. The effect was beautiful and that was comforting to her. She could recognize and feel that beauty amidst all the terror.

And Mary must have noticed her because one day as she was walking by and now slowing down in front of the house to take in more its mysterious beauty - there was a moonlike symobl next to the front door. Something hung or painted there, but mayr was there and said, “there you are. How is it today?” And she stopped, scared of course. Confused, was she caught? Can she get away. But she also felt see, even discovered, and that wsa an ok feeling. “Hi. Good.” she said. “You know The Triple Goddess?” Mary asked. Again confused. She didn’t reconzied hose wors and still wondered is she tlking tome? But mary stood up nd gestured to the moon symbol that she’d been looking at. “Uh, I don’t know..” “yes, this this here, this is called the Triple Goddess.” and she took it off the hook it had been on and walked down the steps off the front porch otward her. Holding it out she could see it was an iron piece. It laid across mary’s hand just igger then her wide weathered fingers. “You see , it is the three phases of the moon. Here’s the waxing, the full and the waning. The waxing moon that growing moon, is the maiden, the young woman coming into the world. The full moon is the mother, the fertile strong woman th the center. The third is the waning moon, the crone. The wise woman nearing the end. Pretty cool, huh?” And before she could respond. “Here, hold it” She took it, heavy and cool to the touch, “That’s really beautiful. Thank you. Is it yours?” “Yes, it’s all of ours.” And Mary waved her hand back towards the church.


Sarin worked in the basement floor of a manufacturing company, in the accounting dept, data entry was really what she did. For years she drank all day, vodka. She fumbled at work, she made mistakes, being drunk the numbers would blur, things would get misfiled. She was confronted by her non confrontational boss, a man who vaguely resembled an elf. She took time off, which was the state hospital an hour away where she detoxed and started a recovery program. She went to AA meetings and had a sponsor and Sarin had several sober years. The serenity prayer, stitched and framed, hung in her cubicle at work. But the drinking came back to her, and that time she felt like there was no hope for her. This day she went to the river to end her life, but once there she saw a group of women, some in the water, some on the river’s side. One broad woman was wading in the water, quiet and looking about her. It seemed as if they were waiting for something to begin. Then Mary spotted Sarin. She called out to her, come on out of the trees. Sarin was looked a scared and beaten animal, Mary said it’s ok, come on out here, no one out here is going to hurt you. And slowly Sarin did creep out of the trees, in her wrinkled blouse and slacks, slightly drunk, and although she didn't know it yet, she was ready to be saved.