The Bardo Realm
Shortly before New Year's, I had an unexpected dinner with my older brother and his new wife. We met near their loft in Tribeca, at a Vietnamese restaurant that had just opened two blocks from Ground Zero.
Passing the site, I was reminded of the Buddhist term, bardo (literally, "between two"): the interval of transition between death and rebirth.[*] I felt I too was in a private bardo, passing through an invisible barrier to a new life. How does one navigate this? I wondered. My divorce, just finalized, had left me sifting through eleven years of gritty debris.
On the sidewalks of this nearly deserted neighborhood, the headlights of an occasional passing car lit the chilling, obsidian night. I was attending this family dinner alone. The realization made me wobbly. As we had gone our separate ways this holiday, how would I define my family now? Days before, my husband had moved away, to a remote ski resort community in Idaho to recreate himself; our child was in Michigan with his grandparents. I was a tourist in my own life.
With two days remaining before the new year, the saying, 'Everything old seems new,' came to mind. Or perhaps, more appropriately, 'Everything normal seems odd.' That's precisely how daily life struck me now: Routine events, like shopping for food—I now buy and cook considerably less; or answering annoying telemarketing calls—I hear myself say, "He doesn't live here anymore,' and realize it's true; memories of showering together ricochet across my brain. Intimate gestures, permanently lost. I ask, Is my bedroom closet half empty, or is it half full? This must be the bardo realm.
Inside, where my brother and his wife were already seated, it was as serene as a sun-dappled verandah in a Balinese resort. Both fifty, they had married over the summer. Their union provided me a glimpse of future possibilities. Greeted by them with affection and a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé, I began to drink in the peaceful environment.
The restaurant walls, painted a buttery cream, were reminiscent of frosting on a childhood birthday cake. Round sconce lights, translucent as moonstone, cast a delicate glow like a gathering of fireflies, and the back wall, lit by minute, colored bulbs shaped like tulips, was awash in soft turquoise. The effect was soothing, without looking like spa décor, and I felt myself begin to slip into the skin of a new life.
As we caught up with one another on matters large and small, I couldn't help but notice their wedding bands: the simplest of gold rings identically inscribed, gleaming with promise. I have often wondered what to do with mine. A former symbol of lives shared now became an idle reminder of what was no more, exemplifying the uncertainty of outcomes and the impermanent nature of things.
It is the occasional whisper signaling new awareness that transports me along the bardo, a private excursion heading one way. As I maneuver along its protean state of fresh opportunities punctured by occasional intravenous drips of old pain, I sense that transformation, like all change, arrives when you least expect it.
(Diane Travers is a freelance writer currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence. She lives in Nyack with her son.)
[*] Editors' Note: The Tibetan Book of the Dead gives detailed descriptions of the stages of death and of the afterlife, with instructions on confronting and reacting to them. The first stage or bardo of the afterlife follows the initial experience of the dissolution of the five elements of the physical body at the time of death. These consist of earth, fire, water, air, and ether and are related to the progressive disassociation of the soul from the physical body. This dissolution follows a prescribed progression: the senses fail, the muscles lose their strength, there is loss of control over bodily fluids, the body loses its warmth, and the breath fails. All this is experienced in sequence by the dying person. Thereafter, his experience of the first bardo commences. For those who have undergone training in meditation, etc., there will be several opportunities to meet with spiritual beings and enter the realms of enlightened beings. SOURCE: spiritualtravel.org]