A few notes, just before going into sesshin:
I’m reading the financial report from my friend Beth Goldring, about her project working with AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is retiring, and the question is whether the project can continue without her. Staff are doing wonderfully, she says, but they still need someone to replace her in raising funds. So probably the project will close.
Reading her reports always breaks my heart. I visited and volunteered with them for a month in 2014. Now she writes, about her year away in 2015, “I returned to find decisions skillfully made, accurate and honest reporting, and emotional strength. At the level of the staff’s actual work with patients, commitment, integrity and resilience, I could not have been more pleased.”
And “As always, the report is intended as an expression of my gratitude for the support that has enabled us to work over the past sixteen years. It is my devout hope that support will continue without me and that my wonderful staff can continue, in our small way, to be a compassionate presence in the face of our patients’ suffering.”
Beth writes, “the time when AIDS patients received comprehensive medical and social care seems to have passed. Brahmavihara Cambodia is not in a position to compensate for what has been lost.” Seven staff (most part-time, many with AIDS themselves) provide chaplaincy and other services. Operational expenses in 2015: $34,802 for both salaries and direct services.
I don’t know how to write about what is actually happening. People being evicted from the hospital when they can’t pay the daily fees. Poor people who can’t get a poor card which would pay. Caregivers (usually family) living in the hospital with the patient, sleeping on concrete floors. Doctors and nurses seeing TB patients with inadequate masks. (Our staff always had the proper masks.) People’s homes: I remember three people in one room with a beautiful Buddha statue, one hot plate, one light bulb, and somewhere outside must have been water and toilets. The mother dying there. A father and three children on an open tent platform, recovering there, the children playing and laughing. Of course we only see the poor people, but in the hospitals there are four beds in an open room with fans and wide windows, and sometimes another ten people all seeming to me like a kind of family, together facing illness and death. (We would sometimes do Reiki on the caregivers as well as the patients.)
This is a place of practicing with life and death – imminent, always present – and the work is to be present with people otherwise forgotten or ignored. It leaves me humble. Which is why I write about it. But then I cannot tell you, without also offering an opportunity if you wish to support. www.brahmaviharacambodia.org has Paypal for tax-deductible contributions. You can ask me for other ways of donating.
And here on the land, I am listening to birds, as the sun comes in the windows, and planning to plant some tomatoes before we begin sesshin. Imagining that working with the forests and the plants, I’m doing something about causes, about planetary healing. Actually only knowing that each of us must do what calls us.
So I announce that the Flower Essence Workshop has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 12, and this time we have four committed members so it will actually happen. And the whole point is returning to the earth, learning to listen and sit with the plants, in the way of zazen, receiving and giving life.
And there will be three of us at sesshin, where usually there is one. Some of our zazen will be walking or sitting outdoors – an experiment for me. I’ll write again later.