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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
71 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly “No, I never met him before today. It was strange how he stopped in front of me, wasn’t it?” “Marie,” one of her friends called from the road. “The car is here. Are you ready?” She nodded and turned back to me. “I hope to see you tomorrow,” she said. “I hope so too.” The next day, Marie and her friends arrived just before Rinpoche. He entered the room and walked past her without stopping. With help, she painfully sat down on the floor, and moved slowly into a lotus position. After a few minutes she grabbed her abdomen and quickly lay on her side, her head supported by two pillows. I could see a friend whisper into her ear while Marie shook her head “No.” Before Rinpoche began, he looked in my direction, his eyes moving from my face to my open notebook, where they rested. Hesitantly, I closed it and put away my pen. He smiled, this time showing a full set of false teeth. After taking notes the previous day, I had spent the evening reviewing them, often reading the same sentence over and over. But now, just listening, there was an immediate under- standing, similar to the inexplicable feelings I often have when I look at a painting. At noon, Rinpoche stopped speaking and everyone went outside for lunch. “My life,” Marie said to me, “as short as it is, has been good. I have wonderful children and a husband and friends who love me. I think I’ve done well during my forty-three years.” I felt like a fraud. I’m sure she shared these thoughts because the previous day I’d told her I had cancer. I didn’t tell her that it was controlled. She spoke with an appreciation of what she had accomplished, what she had now, and an understanding that to grasp at anything was unrealistic. She was there, right where I wanted to be psychologically—living in the moment, relishing every second. “I may not be here tomorrow,” she said. She held my hands and kissed me on the cheek. “It’s not that bad,” she said as friends came to help her to the car. I arrived early the next day, eager to share my insights with Marie, but neither she nor her friends were there. As Rinpoche spoke about death throughout the morning, most of us glanced at where Marie had sat. We looked to that empty space every day until the workshop ended. I never saw Marie again, nor even learned her last name. As for developing a bet- ter grasp of death? That would have to wait until I became a hospice volunteer a year later, and sat at my patients’ bedside when they died. Postscript: Two years after the workshop I learned that Marie died peacefully in her home surrounded by family and friends who celebrated her life. Six years after the workshop, Kyabje Ribur Rinpoche died on January 15, 2006 at the age of 84 in Sera Me monastery in southern India. A few years later Fab- rizio returned to Vajrapani with Rinpoche’s relics—perfectly formed luminescent pearls.