I felt different after the chant, in the days following. Maybe, I thought, maybe I could look into all this guru stuff more closely. Maybe this is what has been missing. Maybe I have been wrong about what a guru is.
I had been feeling like I’d been wrong about a lot of things for awhile. Peeling away from Geoffrey had meant stepping into waters I had not before included as important. Alissa had told me they were and I had listened. And the images of my sister Liz’s happy new life in Boston was strong evidence that I had been focusing on the wrong things – I’d been too intellectual, too cold, too superficial. I must try to become different.
Liz was four years younger than me and from the moment she was born people pointed out our differences. The grown-ups who visited our house consistently remarked that I was “just like” my father, and Liz was like my mother. I liked the comparison. My father was the life of our party, the one who brought pleasure and fun into the room, the one who went on business trips and came back with presents, the one who other people liked. My mother was the awkward one who embarrassed me with the way she was plainer than other women, never dressed as prettily as they, and was always out of place in gatherings. My sister and my mother seemed well matched to me. I wanted to be like my father and until I was 12 it was easy to be with other kids most of the time even though I changed schools every year.
My confidence snapped in two overnight when I was 12. It happened in boarding school, a place I had gone to when I was 9 when we moved to England. I had loved it there the first few years – loved my friends and our games, loved the old building with its smells of floor wax, the nuns we could make fun of behind their backs. Until I accidentally befriended the wrong people and upset my social network and my friends openly turned against me. I asked my mother then if I could leave the school and without asking questions she readily enrolled me in the neighborhood school my sister attended. Boarding school, after all, had been my father’s plan, not hers.
When I entered the new school – not as special as my boarding school just because it was close to home – it was like my legs had been broken. A strength, a talent I used to have and take for granted, had deserted me and I found myself stuck on the sidelines of every group – any class, any conversation. It was like a shawl had been thrown over me and I couldn’t get out from under it. With real terror, I thought I had turned into my mother.
I fought it with every ounce of strength I had. I pretended nothing bothered me, while everything bothered me. I pretended I wanted to be alone. Every day through 12, 13, 14 – the return to the U.S. and American high school -- 15, 16, 17 – was living with the gross difference between how it should be and how it was, living with the secret burden of unrelenting failure.
Then came the night when I was 18, home from college for Christmas, and my sister swallowed a bottle of pills from my father’s medicine cabinet. It was such a large act, impossible even for my family to ignore though we did our best to right ourselves quickly and pretend it hadn’t happened. But my sister changed after that. No longer a wallflower, she began to have friends, a life outside the four walls of our quiet family. I watched her get boyfriends – boys she really liked, who liked her -- go to art classes and on camping trips, have huge enthusiasms and opinions, make dandelion wine in the kitchen. This while no boy called me, while I spent most days at school in silence, watching others talk and laugh, my company in the afternoons and evenings radio DJ’s and books.
And now, a few years later, still so sharply aware that my life felt far away from me, like a science project that would not behave, I watched my sister in her Boston life, in the house full of women who laughed and ate together. While I watched my sister make an animated film and cycle into the city to sell felt toys at a flea market – I had the nagging feeling that I’d been wrong and she’d been right. I’d been wrong to be popular and confidant and my father’s favorite. She’d been right to be shy and quiet and on the edge of things.
I had begun to try and soften the side of me that didn’t like softness, to do the things I was not drawn to. My own tastes became suspect. Maybe, I thought, coming out of the chant at Natvar’s school that night, maybe this is another thing I need to do. It doesn’t suit my plan, my Manhattan picture: I want to be Suzanne in the Leonard Cohen song. I want to be Bob Dylan’s woman who’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.
But maybe I have to look back. Be softer. Not gag when I hear the word “guru.”
The words I’d read during the chant still pounded inside of me: you have something within you that is unique and special, strong and true. Despite the complete failure of my months in New York – it was pretty obvious that I was not really a writer, there were no lovers when there should have been many, no apartment in a cool part of town, no phone ringing off the hook – I felt the truth of the chant’s words. But the way to ignite that hidden time-bomb was news.
The prayer had said that that’s what a guru was for. Really? I had never thought of guru’s that way. I wanted to know more. If there was really something I could do that would bring me to life, I would do it.
I bought a book from Natvar’s bookstore, written by Baba, the man they liked to talk about. And as I read, it was as though Baba was whispering in my ear. Yes, he said, I know who you really are. I was once just like you, burning inside. I wanted a life that really meant something, and I have found my way there simply by serving my guru. Yes, that is all you need. A guru to serve. A guru is simply someone who has walked the path all the way to the end. You are at the beginning of the path. You have found a true guru. You are lucky.
Serving a guru? It was the last thing I wanted to do. Virginia Woolf had never done that. Woody Guthrie had never done that. So maybe I should.
I brought my friends one by one to Natvar’s school. As early fall became late fall I watched as my friends visited once and felt no need to return. I was shocked by their apathy. Hadn’t this always been – underneath it all – what each of us wanted? But none of them did. They were busy with other things.
My last few nights with Bill had been lack-luster. It was time to end it, I thought. At dinner in late November, just a couple of months after we had gotten going, I told him gently that I thought we should stop sleeping together. “I’m glad you said that,” he said with some relief, “I’ve actually gotten really interested in Thea.” I had introduced them, thinking that Thea with all her art connections might be able to give Bill some ideas about where to go with his paintings. Sitting in the restaurant I pretended that it didn’t matter to me who Bill wanted to sleep with.
A few days later I was sitting with a few others in the small, neat lobby of Natvar’s school after class. “The Institute needs someone to rent the back room,” said Natvar. “We could make it nice for someone. If you know of anyone who needs a place to live, please let me know. If we don’t find someone soon I don’t know how we’ll make the rent.”
The rent for the back room, I thought, would be even lower than what I was paying Scott for the little room off the kitchen. And I would be helping the Institute. I would be the only other person living there besides Natvar. We’d be the two hardcore meditators. If I was to have what Baba’s book promised, didn’t I have to not hold back? I wanted to be the solution to Natvar’s problem. I wanted to see the flash of pleasure in his eyes as I volunteered myself.
“I’ll do it,” I said. “I’ll move in.”
Causes Marta Szabo Supports
I have supported Obama since before he declared his candidacy. I particularly support organizations that advocate for animals.