Sunday, October 4, 2009

up and very down

It was a happy Sunday, as far as Mom's walk was concerned. Fort Hunt Park was a crowded place-- something we don't normally see, because we usually do our walks with Mom on weekdays. Today, it was all about dogs on leashes, running and biking kids, billowing streamers of grill smoke, laughter, shouts, and cooking odors. We joked about crashing one of the parties, as it was getting close to dinnertime. I'm proud to say that Mom walked the same distance (roughly 680 yards) that she had walked the two previous times, occasionally squeezing my hand and even reassuring me that she was fine, just fine. Earlier in the day, she had looked at my eyelid and declared, very distinctly, "You look better." Except for the loose skin, the eyelid is just about back to normal.

In the evening, however, Mom was a bit of a difficult customer: she refused to down her Decadron pill, either holding it in her hand for minutes on end or leaving it on the arm of the couch while she watched TV and steadfastly ignored our entreaties to take the medicine. Eventually, Dad settled on the hospital solution: he ran out and bought apple sauce, which proved to be a winner. He put the Decadron on a spoon, scooped apple sauce onto it, and fed it to Mom-- with another spoonful of apple sauce as a chaser. Crisis averted.

Sadly, however, Dad learned that a friend of ours, Julie Burns, had died of cancer in 2007. We hadn't been in touch with her for a long time, and I think Dad had tried to contact her to tell her about Mom's situation. Little did we know that Mrs. Burns had had her own battle with the beast. I'm very sorry to hear about her death. She was a wonderful woman, with two great kids (who are happily married, I hear). She often allowed me to come over to her house to play video games with her son.

Many, many years later, when I was giving a small lecture on Buddhism at an evening "class" being held at my church, Mrs. Burns was in attendance. She was quiet throughout my presentation as I talked about the Buddha's life and some salient points in Buddhist metaphysics, but after everyone had adjourned, she walked up to me with a frown and said, "I'm a Buddhist, and I never heard any of what you said growing up in Taiwan." I had to laugh-- she was right. Reducing Buddhism to a dry set of principles, stripping away the religion so as to make it seem as if it's only a philosophy (hence all the hilarious debates in the West about whether it's a religion or a philosophy-- a conundrum of the West's making), turns it into something unrecognizable.

The same problem occurs when you take a person and reduce her to a few "essentials." Summarizing the life of Julie Burns, conveying her "essence" through a few sentences in a humble blog post, is an impossible task. I wouldn't be surprised if someone who knew Mrs. Burns well were to read this blog entry, frown, and say, "I knew Julie for years, and I never heard any of that about her." No summary could do her justice. I don't envy the person who had the unfortunate task of eulogizing her.

So we're sad tonight. My very belated condolences go out to Mrs. Burns's friends and loved ones. I remember her beauty, her smile, and how hard-working she was. Mom doesn't react strongly to much these days, but even she was floored this evening, when Dad told us the news. We never had the chance to say goodbye. Our thanks to another family friend, Mrs. Bentley, for giving us the news about Mrs. Burns's passing.


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