Wind over lilacs

A last taste

April's tastes had become more unpredictable the closer she came to her cancer-bequeathed death. The announcement of them was equally erratic. The 79-year-old former ad executive from New York might rise from a nap one day of pain to chirp that saltine crackers topped with maple syrup were in order. Or she might be spooning cottage cheese mixed with mandarin oranges into her mouth, wrinkle her wide nose and scowl with the thick cheeks of her broad face, and declare the substance no better than the fecal output of the worst of the Devil's goat-headed stepsons. That declaration, just a week before a Sunday morning that found her eyes opening with the pink-sky breaking of the night's shell, ended with a demand for a vanilla milkshake, a gift eventually granted by her daily- visiting nurse, a woman also called April who smelled of lilacs because she always perfumed herself with scents related to the season containing her name.

She rose slowly from her dreams, the warmth of the early morning light as much a gentle nudge to return to sleep as an invitation to begin another day. The cheap wooden blinds hanging over the water-streaked storm windows of her Florida home were open; she surmised that must be why she was approaching wakefulness far earlier than normal. She tried to stretch, but her weak body merely shifted up and down the hilly pile of three too-soft pillows that still smelled of floor wax and bathroom cleaner. She tried to remember when she had last awoken to the sun, and she was uncertain whether she ever had. Perhaps it was the cancer reaching into her brain, yanking memories out of her life like a monkey taking berries from a bush. She wished she knew so she could better understand the confusing longing that grew stronger with each minute's amplification of the sun's strength. As her skin of her face warmed, then her chest and arms beneath the too-thick blanket, her mouth began to water. She wanted to taste something, but she had no words for it. She raced through her mind, trying to find the memory that would explain this amorphous want that stretched to fill her throat, her chest, her stomach, her hips, legs, spreading and warming and not stopping until the tips of her toes were calling out for something she could not name, until her last breath, a gentle brushing of air across the tips of lilacs, found the sound as the shape of all her beginnings turned into the vessel of her end.

Just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so also this Dharma and Discipline has one taste, the taste of liberation.


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