wRite: A self and nation divided | Book Talk | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Culture » Book Talk

wRite: A self and nation divided

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Hatred keeps on increasing to a point where both you and I burn ourselves in mutual hatred, and to the Buddha, the only way to solve it is that one party must stop...

- Ananda W. P. Guruge

Awakenings: Asian Wisdom for Every Day

April 2001, I was on a solo road trip researching Nevada light, indigo mountains and small-town casinos for my novel Going Through Ghosts. I had stopped in a convenience store for coffee and yakked with the clerk. She told me there was a warm spring in a nearby cottonwood grove. "Don't tell anybody where it is. It's for locals only. We take care of it."

On April 21, 2010, I slid back into that silken water. Soft desert sunlight gleamed on the cottonwoods' new leaves. I listened to the whisper of the old trees. The locals had reinforced the crumbling cinderblock walls around the spring. They had set a beat-up barbecue grill beneath the biggest cottonwood and a sign that read: Please clean up after yourself. Thank you.

I closed my eyes. I was a two-day drive from my old home and less than two days from where I now live. My time in the old home had been a patchwork of finding myself in places and with people that felt like home - and aching with the knowledge that the place was no longer home. Home. Not home. Home. Not home. "Perhaps there is home," my friend CG had said, "and then there is Home." I thought of his words as warm water held me and I realized that on this eight-day journey I had come Home to myself.

I was close to being who I'd been in April of 2001 - a woman who had believed she was a local wherever she was. But in April 2010, I wasn't a local everywhere. That morning I'd eaten eggs and fried potatoes served by a warm-eyed woman in a mom 'n' pop cafe. The wall behind her had been plastered with bumper stickers hating Socialists, Healthcareists, both Clintons, both Obamas, Harry Reid, Mexicans and goddamned global warming nuts.

The woman told me about surviving eight months of chemo. Laughter had been her best medicine. I talked about a friend surviving the same illness whose friendship with a wounded eagle had sustained him through chemotherapy. As she hugged me goodbye, I saw over her shoulder a bumper sticker that said: You f---in' liberals can't have my country - or my gun. When I unlocked my car's trunk, I saw the old sticker I'd put there in 2006: My cats hate Bush.

In Flagstaff and Vegas, friends and I had talked about our deep apprehension for America. We were stunned to find that more than anything we might fear from the corporate takeover of our country, it was the lockstep thinking of a growing number of our neighbors that chilled our blood. "How," Kathleen said, "can seemingly kind and decent people spew so much hate?"

"They probably wonder the same thing about us," I'd said.

I sank deeper into the warm spring. I thought about the rage I feel hearing yet another story about the greed of people who believe they are always entitled to more. Then, there in the heart of an uncomplicated beauty, I remembered another part of who I'd been in 2001. I'd been well on my way into the heart of a profoundly complicated malaise. My research trip had included hours of cheerful and oblivious slot machine gambling - betting for more and more. I didn't know that in a few years I would begin to find my home only in a casino and only when I was chasing more. I'd had no idea I would become a woman divided - a woman in exile from her self.

My thoughts faded away. For a precious time, there was only my body held by the silken water, the miracle of breath moving easily in and out and the cry of a hawk diving for a kill. I thanked the water and green cottonwood light. I dressed, picked up a couple beer cans in the parking lot, climbed into the car and headed home.

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