Pittown: The Moving Buddha

Acceptance is easier when one is powerless.

Chapter 5: Unexpected

“It’s good for the money,” said Benjamin glancing around Merlyn’s Pittown unit.

He wanted her to have a decent place because he was decent. Relationships are a different thing. Decent can go out the window. Sometimes, it should.

Merlyn messaged him yesterday asking him to visit.

“How’s your new job?” enquired Benjamin.

“The lady is adorable,” said Merlyn.

“And the son?” asked Benjamin.

“Just as lovely but more reserved,” said Merlyn. “I don’t see him much. Only at handover.” Benjamin nodded. The undercurrent was starting to swirl. Merlyn felt it best to get to the point. “I’m pregnant, Ben.” The colour drained from Ben’s face. Then he frowned. Before he had a chance to say anything, Merlyn continued, “Remember our second last night together?”

It was probably goodbye sex although neither knew it at the time. In their last year together, they had only had sex a few times. That wasn’t Merlyn’s doing. It was Ben’s. When things weren’t smooth sailing, Ben’s go-to was to be withholding. Withholding of his body and anything else he thought might be of value. After separating, Merlyn assumed that the lack of a period was her body adjusting post-pill. She had been feeling a little unwell but thought it was the stress of separating, moving, and a new job. There were a couple of times that she had forgotten to take the pill in the last few months together but as they weren’t having an active sex life, she didn’t give it a second thought. A second thought, in retrospect, may have been wise.

As Ben didn’t say anything, Merlyn asked, “How do you feel about it?”

Ben straightened his spine and said with a mixture of courage and blame, “How I feel doesn’t matter at this point.” Merlyn wasn’t sure what he meant. Seeing her look, he added, “Because you don’t get a choice once a child is involved.”

Merlyn nodded. “Whatever problems we have had,” she said, “I don’t want to think about them anymore. There are other things to think about now.”

Over the following week, Ben wasn’t nearly as worried or upset about it as he assumed he would be. Acceptance is easier when one is powerless. Besides, it meant that, come what may, Merlyn would still be somewhere in his life.

Chapter 6: Impermanence

Pittown Hospital had a new and enthusiastic volunteer committee who were doing their best to update and beautify the hospital. As is often the case on such committees, there was a raging underground battle between two of the committee’s strongest personalities. The argument had come to settle on the Buddha statue in the Zen garden. The garden was the committee’s piece de resistance. Trendy and innovative; the small area was a place of serenity with its well-placed rocks, carefully sculptured sand, rows of azaleas, and a glorious Japanese maple.

“The statue is the highlight of the garden,” insisted one of the combating committee parties. “The people love him. He encapsulates the whole feeling of the garden which is, may I remind you, meditation and introspection in this challenging environment of the hospital.” She considered herself an expert on Zen Buddhism and Zen gardens.

So did her opponent. “I beg to differ,” he said with feigned tolerance. “Respected scholars of the philosophy know that Zen gardens and Buddha statues do not belong together. The garden draws the eye outwards towards the Infinite. The statue draws the eye inwards towards reflection. They work against each other. While they are both of value, they are in conflict together.”

As neither would concede and outright war seemed tactless, they had resorted to commanding the groundsmen to move the statue either into the storage shed or back into the middle of the garden according to their point of view. The staff of the hospital had come to affectionately refer to the statue as the Moving Buddha.

This evening, Ben was in the hospital lift and looked at the Buddha statue on the trolley. It looked serene in spite of its unceremonious transportation.

The groundsman laughed and said, “He’s pretty damn calm about being pushed all over the place. Nothin’ fazes him.”

Ben laughed too although he didn’t much feel like it. Merlyn miscarried last night. Standing at the door of her hospital room, he wondered what state she would be in. Would it have been painful? Was it still so? On entering, he was relieved to see that she looked alright; a bit pale but otherwise not too bad.

Eventually, Merlyn spoke in a soft voice, “The doctor said it was a little boy.” She started to cry. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be silly,” said Ben. “What are you sorry for?”

“I feel that I have failed the baby,” said Merlyn. “I’m his mother. I should have been able to do something. That’s what mothers do, Ben. They fix things up.”

Everything Ben thought of saying seemed trite.

On the way back to the hospital foyer, Ben decided to follow the signs leading to the rooftop Zen garden. He wondered who drew the precise spiral and ripple patterns in the sand. They looked so impermanent. No sooner would they be raked then the wind and rain would surely come and disturb the whole thing. I guess you couldn’t be too attached to whatever you made in the sand, he thought.

He sat on one of the simple, wooden benches and gazed towards the large boulders. Some were lying down and a few were upright. He felt that they must have been placed strategically but he couldn’t see the pattern. His eyes followed a line of azaleas and rested on the glowing-red Maple tree in the centre of the garden. His recent acquaintance, Buddha, was sitting undisturbed beneath it. I see you got your spot back, Ben said silently. It didn’t feel strange to talk to the statue because that’s what he seemed to be there for. Ben thought about the many people in the hospital below him and again spoke to the statue. I suppose a hospital has as much death as it does birth, as much illness as it does recovery, and as much suffering as it does healing.

As he was leaving, Ben noticed that behind the garden wall was a plaque which read,

Here in the garden,
in this quiet space,
lie little lives
not long for this place.

Go home, sweet ones,
you’re saved a lot of strife.
We who remain
will not forget your life.

It was a burial ground for miscarried foetuses. Tomorrow, thought Ben, I will tell Merlyn.

Read/listen to more of Pittown

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