Kukai (from Lotus)
“The flower of the lotus-womb world signifies reality.” Kukai goes on to say that reality can be found everywhere. It is in the place we know as our world, and it includes everything and is called the “Lotus Flower Storehouse World” and is therefore called paradise.
Of all the rooms in the old Victorian house, the sleeping porch beckoned most—more than the entry, more even than the space under the staircase. The upstairs landing came close.
The entry—with its sturdy, polished outer door with burnished, decorated brass knob, it’s inner door of divided lights and gathered sheers, side walls with small windows too high to see out of but letting in light from both sides—straddled two worlds and made a third but one too limited to remain in long.
From the entry, across the living room—four steps up, a 4′ by 4′ landing with a windowed bay, and then four steps down—was the kitchen world: a world from a different time when convenience for the cook wasn’t much of a thought, the room being really four tiny spaces. The refrigerator placed outside the back door on a landing to the cellar; dishes, place settings and cooking pots in a separate butler’s pantry; food pantry in a closet behind that; the main kitchen area—stove, sink, table for two, the four steps down to the space making extra seating (plate on your lap)—were all touchable by reaching out while standing in the middle of that space.
Under the stairs behind the stove, a tiny carved-out space was just large enough for an apron hook, a broom and a small chest of drawers holding forgotten, wondrous treasures: decalcomania, tiny tarnished metal spoons and hors d’oeuvres picks, paper doilies of various sizes and patterns, cocktail napkins with decades-old designs. It held an invitation to a way of living long gone, materials no longer produced, courtesies no longer kept, time and lives now treated differently.
Above this Aladdin’s cave, was the upstairs landing offering a respite from downstairs talk and activity. The landing–a 6′ by 6′ square with four doors, one on each side–led to the three bedrooms and the small bath. Curiously, a banister extended about a foot onto the landing from the stairs. To a child playing on the top step, the rails made a Petra for imagination. No matter its tall spindles, mimicking Petra’s columns, were white painted wood not red stone. They kept the gate that led to all destinations: master, guest, bath, box room, beyond.
The master bedroom, extending the length of the house, faced the street. It held not only the bed and dressers but a small sitting area with vanity and two windowed, walk-in closets—a novelty for their time. The guest room, tiny but comfortable, gave a view of the side yard’s large pine tree. The tiny bath–just toilet, two-faucet sink, and tub–had a window that opened onto the porch and back yard. Frosted for privacy, the window offered the only ventilation. The third bedroom was really just a box room. A twin bed had been squeezed between the side wall and door to the porch. Other than it, there was only a small bookcase and a window over the driveway. The room did offer access to both the attic and sleeping porch, giving it a clout the other rooms did not possess.
Off the box room towards the backyard was the sleeping porch. Above the doorway leading to it was a picture announcing Sleeping Porch like trumpeters announcing royalty. At the bottom of the announcement’s rose-vine border, a robin sat contentedly on the ground; above the words, a monarch, wings spread, rested on the flowers.
The sleeping porch was an afterthought, an add-on above the back screen porch. Made of simple materials like the original back of the house, it incorporated its outsidedness. The porch floor, canting slightly away from the house but structurally sound, was of painted metal and buckled a bit and clicked metallically when stepped on. The room was long and thin and contained only an unadorned bed with minimal linens and a small chest of drawers mostly empty. The bottom half of the walls were painted siding, the top half, screens, no glass. No curtains or shades to keep the sun out; no glass to keep out sounds of the city: the grinding of trash trucks and chirping of birds, footsteps, or voices from below. Only the roof’s overhang protected the interior from rain. Misty and cool on a rainy morning or already sticky on a sunny summer day, it simply was. An inhabitant simply was along with it. Plans, memories did not exist. It was other, apart, belonging to itself.
From One of the Irish Writers
Several times a day she walked to the cliff and stood watching for her son and husband to return from fishing. Every day, she tended their tiny cottage, did the chores, gathered firewood, prepared meals if only for herself, mended, gardened, rested with quilting or other needlework perhaps. And walked to the cliff to stand, to watch.
Books? Music? Naps in a comfy chair? Doubtful. Who would choose that kind of life, I thought? Why didn’t she make an outlet for herself, get her son and husband to do something else for a living, or just walk away across the headland? I don’t remember the story’s author. I do remember the class and the question our teacher asked. Much later I understood his question: Will you accept your destiny? Will you follow it?
If it is your destiny, run after it, catch it, hold it close. Cherish it. Stand. Watch. Come in and go out. If it’s your circumstances, well, then the choices are messier. Some advice: Go out the same way you come in. Some more advice: no matter how messy, treat it with joy.
Lotus by Allan Baillie (author), Kaz Tanahashi (photographer), 2006, Wisdom Publications. This poem is one of many in the book and is by Kukai, the 1st century mystic and founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism.
One of the Irish writers. I read this story so long ago in college, I can’t remember who wrote it. If someone recognizes the story, please let me know so I can cite it.