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Inner Peace: Angel mamma

Waiting to join friends for a tour of India, I spent a quiet week in Pondicherry — notable for its colorful stucco houses, brilliant bougainvilleas, and the ashram of Sri Aurobindo, a guru who died during the last century. A friend, hoping I'd find solace, had urged me there after watching my efforts to cope with the sudden deaths of my youngest son and husband.

After the long taxi ride from the Madras airport, my driver waited while I checked out the premier ashram inn, only to find it full. From there we drove to an alternate, more distant site where a stern woman informed me those rooms also were taken and implied I was a fool for arriving without a reservation. Exhausted, hungry, and directionless, I slumped into a corner chair. Nothing was going the way I'd hoped.

Not so many minutes later, though, that same woman, somehow transformed, walked over and placed in my palm the key to a coveted ground-floor room and enough rupees for a snack, repayable once I exchanged some money. My personal agenda had gone awry, but my mood surged from despair to gratitude.

As the hot day cooled I enjoyed a Pedi cab ride to the ashram's beautiful courtyard with its classic white walls and an enormous tree shading much of the area. Two tombs share the arena, that of Sri Aurobindo, but also that of The Mother who was Aurobindo's lifetime companion and a revered teacher in her own right. A serpentine line of men and women in their finest clothes indicated this was indeed a sacred site. Friendly faces invited me to join in and proffered baskets of fresh flowers and incense for offerings at the tombs. Although I fervently hoped for a spot at Aurobindo's, the only openings were at The Mother's. I opted for the latter; surely the next day would bring success in connecting with the spirit of Sri Aurobindo.

Feeling more refreshed in the morning I joined others walking the popular promenade. At the ashram, however, I found the line unwaveringly long and the more I willed an open place on Aurobindo's tomb, the less likely it was to appear; again, I was nudged onto the tomb of The Mother, a figure my friend had entirely neglected to mention.

By midday, escaping the heat, I was back in my room, sitting lotus-style on the net-draped bed. I was feeling more confident, having driven out the prevailing cloud of mosquitoes, and believed I might summon up Sri Aurobindo in my own meditation. As my eyes drifted into relaxation, they momentarily fell onto a wall photo of a saintly appearing woman I immediately knew must be The Mother. Her relentless gaze was mesmerizing; I slowly gave up my resistance and softened into a meditative reverie.

Somewhat against my wishes I began compulsively writing about my mother, missing mealtimes over the next several days, jotting down every resentment I'd tenaciously held. Yet, as the words poured from my pen I felt visceral reminders of her strengths, her maternal love for me, her gift as a pianist, the grief she must have felt upon her father's early death. I cried over her final years during which she uncomplainingly coped with an insidious cancer, taught fifth-graders during her remissions, and cared for my youngsters when she was able.

By week's end a new name emerged for my mother, one I would not have imagined: Angel Mamma. My friend had warned me not to expect anything; to be open to whatever might come. As my resistance waned I was finally able to accept the subtle gifts being offered by India and The Mother. They brought me an unbidden, but true understanding and abiding love for my mother which, in turn, revealed the thin quality of the veil lying between us and those who have preceded us. That new awareness helped me immeasurably through my healing journey.

Shirley Bell, a retired psychotherapist, has explored a variety of Eastern-influenced religions. She and her husband divide their time between Ashland and Kona, Hawaii. Send your 650-word article on your path to inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeace@q.com.