My mother had come to me in a dream. Four years dead, she was standing on my front porch. I rushed up and hugged her. Her body was like ash in my arms, crumbling and decayed, but I was not afraid or repulsed. She took me up. We flew into space, into the vast darkness and pulsing light. I felt celestial wind in my face. It was exhilarating.
I asked her, “Is there a heaven?”
She said yes.
“What’s it like?”
Like this, she said, like this.
It was an attribute of her deep faith and her final, modest confusion that my mother believed she was dying on Easter, and it was, for her. But for the rest of us it was in the small hours before Good Friday, the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them.
Not too long ago I chanced upon a telling of what has become a bit of family lore, that my mother, a devoted Lutheran and good churchgoer, had never known that I was Buddhist. She would not have stood for that, the reasoning goes among my relatives, who have mistaken the strength of her faith for hardness.
What is true for me, what I remember, is what my mother said when I told her of my first encounter with my Zen teacher and the peace that I had found. What she said then was what I recognize today as the ultimate sanction a mother can give.
“Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”
In the dream my mom brought me back home to my own front door, and then she said something.
“There’s only one thing I want you to do.”
‘What is it?” I would have done anything she said. I was filled with immense joy and thankfulness.
“Love Jesus,” my mother said.
I will, I said. I will.
Only later, upon waking, did I wonder. And then I stopped wondering.
There are many names, many stories, but only one love, and only one place or time that I can love them all without exception.
An excerpt from Hand Wash Cold.