Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner



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On the day I flew to San Miguel de Allende, my yoga teacher shot himself. The two things were not connected.

I was in San Miguel to attend a writing/meditation retreat. My days there began with a sitting meditation at the Shambala Center. We moved from meditation directly into morning pages, the writing done without plan, without thought, without lifting pen from paper, without anything other than the heart directing the pen. As each of us completed three pages in our notebooks, we left the center to go somewhere in town to write deliberately. Part of the program was to find a place – a café, the library, the central plaza, the church, wherever felt right – to work.

Toward the end of the retreat I discovered the Café Cumpanio. I’d written in other cafes in the preceding days, and once in the Church of San Rafael, but no place was quite right. A café has to be right. It has to be the place where the light is exactly so, the smells, the sounds, the look of things equally just so. It must be a place where all of life goes on around you so that, without entering it, you enter it fully. In this way, writing is like meditation. The sounds drift in to your pen. You become the vehicle for their transference onto paper. The movement, the voices, the sound of a coffee cup being replaced on its saucer, the smell of coffee, the veneer of the table, the height of the ceiling, the people at the next table, the waiter who knows not to interrupt, the memory of some other café, some other country, some golden place where you were able to write as if writing was the only thing on earth, all of these things must be right.

The main room of the Cumpanio is filled with light. A long yellow couch piled with yellow cushions stretches along one wall, past several tables, into the corner I appropriated. The room at the café’s entrance is darker, perhaps more traditionally a writer’s café, but I liked my corner in the light. The background music -- soft, innocuous, a mixture of Mexican, American, French -- seems part of the walls, the yellow couch, the light.

Ten days after I’d arrived in San Miguel, on the day before I was to leave, Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice broke through the background music at the Cumpanio. “I see skies of blue . . . clouds of white, Bright blessed days . . . dark sacred nights . . . And I think to myself . . . What a wonderful world,” and I knew that Frank was dead.

It was a song he often played at the end of a yoga class, as we lay in Savasana. It was a song that made him happy.

He had become seriously, increasingly ill, his illness manifesting after his wife shot a bullet into the wall next to him as he stood in the bedroom doorway one Friday night. Frightened, he called the police who led his wife away in handcuffs. Did a pistol seem to her the way out of a marriage that bored her? Or was she beguiled by the drama of shooting at a husband, as she had once been beguiled by her husband’s spirituality, a thing she wanted to possess.

As his illness progressed, most of his caretaking fell to his sister, although a few of us helped where we could . . . cleaning, doing laundry, bringing food, driving him places, helping with bookkeeping, spending time with him. I helped groom and feed the horses, so I know how well cared for they were, in spite of his wife’s attempts to get him cited for not taking proper care of his animals. She was, in fact, brilliant at thinking up schemes to harass him . . . anything to keep him having to deal with legal matters in addition to divorce issues, as he became sicker and sicker, less and less able to leave the couch where he spent all night and all day. We all marveled at the things she could conjure, marveled at the variety of evil in her mind. Perhaps she saw it as a game. Oh, got out of that one? Let’s see about this next one.

It wasn’t a game. It wasn’t anything but a sorrow.

When I told Frank a few days before going that I would be in San Miguel for eleven days attending the retreat, he informed the friend who arrived a bit later that I was moving to Mexico. At first I thought he was joking. But when he kept insisting I was moving, I began to wonder if his mind, so keen, had become addled from his medications. Later, it occurred to me that it was hard for him to imagine any one of us who formed his support not being there. Much later, after he was dead, I understood he meant that our separation was permanent. I would no longer be living where he lived.

“I’m going to be cremated next week,” he said to us, once we’d abandoned discussion of my move to Mexico.

“But you have to be dead to be cremated,” I said.

“I’m going to have last rites,” he said.

“But you need to be dying to get last rites,” our friend said.

“I want to be buried in the church yard.”

“You have to be a member to be buried there,” his sister, who had arrived in the middle of the discussion, said.

“I helped build that church,” Frank said.

“But you’re not a member,” his sister said. “You became a Buddhist or something.”

“I’m going to have last rites,” he said.

After I heard the song and knew that Frank was dead, there was no one to tell. It was just something to carry with me.

David met me at the airport the next evening. We drove to a Mexican restaurant we both like, chosen, perhaps, to ease my return from Mexico. He parked the car in front of the restaurant.

“I need to tell you something,” he said, “before we go inside.”

I thought he was going to tell me that he loved me, that he’d missed me.

“Frank shot himself,” he said.

“I knew he was dead,” I said. “I was writing in a café when suddenly there was Louis Armstrong singing ‘What a Wonderful World.’ I knew when I heard it.”

“It was on the day you left. Everyone who called me agreed we shouldn’t tell you.”

Frank would never get better. He could only deteriorate to the point where he would be unable to carry out decisions about his life. This one final decision needed to be his. He knew he had little time in which to act.

“The body is just a suit we put on when we take on human life,” he used to say. The suit no longer fit. Nothing fit.

The memorial was on the day that Louis Armstrong sang. I was told the service was beautiful. His son had found a priest to administer last rites. My friend who was there on the afternoon of my last visit took me to the cemetery in the church yard. It is all sand there, a silent desert graveyard of scattered crosses and monuments and a few huge, ancient, overarching trees. It is not far from where I live.

Namaste, Frank . . .

 

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Rudner