It was Valentine’s Day and I was driving home from the late evening meditation class that I teach every week. To close the class I’d led a guided visualisation – seeing the heart as a beautiful rose which opens and closes. Singing the sacred maha-mantra in call and response, we envisioned the heart gently, automatically opening, as a rose does in the warming rays of the sun. The session was sweet and peaceful, but as I drove home I was feeling some mixed emotions. I have a had a difficult heart experience to go through recently, and I am still experiencing strong ripples, long after the stone was thrown some months ago. As it happens, I was returning to an empty house – with my parents in India, and brother staying at university.
A song came to mind as I drove: ‘The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that, no, no they can’t take that away from me…’ I remembered hearing it some years ago in Manhattan, on a brilliant-blue, cheek tingling winter’s morning. I was staying in the city, and going through something similarly difficult internally. For some heart relief, I walked to the outdoor ice rink in Bryant Park. I have always loved ice skating since childhood, but I don’t think I had ever skated alone before.
It was beautiful. Old 1950s songs played, and the rink was fairly quiet on a weekday morning. Though I was a little rusty, I felt so free and happy, wobbling across the smooth ice. After over an hour, when my calves burned and toes began to blister, I sat and watched the other skaters. One lady caught my eye in particular – slender, with brown skin and brightly coloured clothing. She danced to the music, bouncing and bopping, flouncing her raised hands gracefully from side to side like Ginger Rogers. Her smile was almost Buddha like – inward focused – her gaze fell on no one in particular. The image of her carefree dancing, and the song that played, ‘No, no, they can’t take that away from me!’ fused together in my mind. The song spoke of the bitter pain of love and loss, but her ice-dance, on the clear cold day, evoked freedom, release and self contained joy.
Anyway, back to last Tuesday – I arrived home and spent near two hours pottering about downstairs before heading upstairs for bed. Before doing so I double checked the back door was locked. I knew it was. But I pressed down the handle and — it was open…strange… I turned the key in the lock and it rotated smoothly round and round in circles — the lock seemed to be broken. I got a strange, sinking feeling, but the penny hadn’t dropped yet. Walking up the stairs in the dark, I had a sudden rush of dread that someone might be hiding in the shadows. I snapped on the hall light.
Shock of my life! Every room upstairs was overturned. Clothes, papers, jewellery and picture frames were tossed all over the place. The cupboards looked as though they’d vomited out their contents in every direction. It still took me a few seconds to realise that we’d been burgled.
My body reacted in all the expected ways – wondering if there was still someone in the house as I called 999. I tried to call a few people but most were asleep – after midnight. After standing frozen amidst the chaos for what felt like forever, my dear friends Kap and Ananda came to rescue me – getting there much faster than the police did.
The drama was all over within 48 hours. Police visits; learning that they’d broken into five other houses the same night; clearing up the mess and discovering much they’d left behind, and a few things lost. As I folded and swept and tidied, the ‘You can’t take that away’ song came to mind again. I thought about what treasures can never be lost – though the externals of a situation may be shocking or distressing.
Somehow the experience highlighted and affirmed some beautiful, subtler things — the chance to call upon friends in a time of fear and distress; to experience their protection and love; to realise that even if some valuable items were taken – that the most precious things were overlooked because their value is not monetary; to experience the care and concern of neighbours I rarely speak to beyond ‘Good mornings’; to know that I am never alone.
On a day that I felt a little heart sore, in a most unexpected way, I ended up receiving love from all sides. Acknowledging that the ultimate source of that love is the Supreme Person, Shri Krishna – the refrain echoed in my mind again and again – ‘No, no, they can’t take that away from me…’ I thought again of the lady dancing on ice – how even in moments of solitude, or bitter loss – joy can still burst through the cloud – the freedom of knowing that the most precious love is eternal and deep beyond fathoming. True, there were no red roses. But it was a Valentine’s day I’ll never forget.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies