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Thursday, September 3, 2009

UNFOLDING JEAN

QuanYin descending the staircase
with flowers in her hair
Tonight is a full moon. I think of my friend Jean, who left the body on a full moon in December, the Cold Moon. The evening of that day when I saw the rising moon speckled behind barren trees, I told Jean in spirit I'd think of her every time I see the full moon. It's worked out that way.
Jean was something of a litmus test of other people. I found when I went somewhere with her, like a cocktail party at Christmas, the people I knew to be true human beings were drawn to Jean like a paperclip to a magnet. On sight. The people I knew to be pretentious climbers looked down their noses at her. On sight. They only talked down to her, whereas the people I think of as true human beings embraced her in a kind of instant adoration. This was consistent. It happened all the time, not just now and then.
I remember a wedding party for some friends of mine. Four sisters were there I'd known a very long time and every one of them looked down their noses at Jean and would have nothing to do with her. I knew their mother before them. I thought, If your mother knew how haughty y'all have become, she'd go into spin cycle in the grave. But she probably already knew it. She certainly was not that way.
A couple of other women came in I've known several years, spoke pleasantly to me, looked at Jean, the nose went up and off they went. It was so brazen I couldn't believe it. After the second one walked off, I said to Jean, Are you ready to go? She looked at me and said, Yes. Out the door we went. We were in the wrong company. From there we went to Floyd Va to hear the Jugbusters, an old-time band play at the Country Store. That's where the real people were.
Then there was the time at a Christmas party, shortly after we arrived, a potter I know walked in. The moment she saw Jean she started talking with her, they went into animated conversation, walked over to the fireplace, stood there and talked at least a half an hour. I've never found what it was about Jean that repelled the pretentious on sight. Some of it would be, of course, her Wilkes County accent. I remember vividly how it disgusted me when somebody looked down at her and ran their noses upward. It was comical to see such brazen behavior out of people who think they're somebody special. And it was heartening to see Jean embraced consistently by people I know to be true to who they are, people who value integrity.
It was remarkable going places with Jean, seeing the extreme in attraction and rejection. In every case, it told me about the person who was rejecting her or was drawn to her. It wasn't very long into getting to know Jean that I found her quite a remarkable individual, like Jr in that way, a hidden gem. I often remember the day we met when she told me upfront, I'm bipolar. I didn't say anything. Didn't know what to say. Could only think, So is everybody. She said she used to become friends with somebody, tell them she's bipolar and they're gone. She started telling everybody she met right off that she's bipolar. That way, she said, you bypass the disappointment of losing a friend. She turned curious about me because I didn't run.
It turned out Jean lived her life at the bottom of the pecking order where even her grandchildren disrespected her. She was crazy. She went to mental institutions. The way I see it, Jean has never been crazy. She took that as her persona, because it was how everyone saw her, so it must have been how she was. She told me of a dream she had once where she was sitting beside a concert pianist turning the pages for him, dressed in a gown. I saw indeed that was Jean. She had the kind of gentle nature that
knew classical music by piano well enough to turn pages for a maestro.
After she told me that, I saw it was Jean's innermost Jean, the quiet soul born in among a bunch of ranting souls and it made her the one everybody pecked. And when you're the bottom of the pecking order, you can't peck anybody. You just have to take it. When I first knew Jean I saw her take it over and over until I said, enough is enough. I told her she doesn't have to take all the abuse that's slung her way on a regular basis. All she had to do is say no. She learned how. And it worked. It was a joy for me all the time I knew Jean to see her unfold from within like a beautiful lotus flower.

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