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A Meeting Place of Friends
by Smita

Osho spoke of His ashram as a meeting place of friends. Miten sings about a meeting place of friends. I always see Candolim in Goa, in the season, as a meeting place of friends – a physical space where sannyasins gather like migrant birds to feast on that immediate connection that many of us seem to share. Something happened yesterday, though, that brought a whole new dimension to that phrase for me.

I drove along winding English country lanes with high hedges. There were fields and fields of green and gold spreading out on either side, almost to the horizon. There were leafy trees, open skies, prim little villages, all caught and held in that moment between late summer and autumn.
I was on my way to see Devopama, who has been living in a home in Somerset for the past few years. His body is suffering from that mysterious degenerative condition, multiple sclerosis. I hadn’t seen him in about seven years, and he had been frail but definitely mobile the last time we had met. Now I wanted to make this journey with Rashid, who had initiated it, but I was also nervous as hell. I had heard that Devopama had finally needed to go into a home, an old people’s home, actually. There was no other facility available for his situation.

I was not sure that I would not fall immediately, unconsciously into sentimental caring mode, bored, disconnected, and uncomfortable after 15 minutes. I didn’t know how an acute mind and a searching spirit could live in a body trapped in a place where people come to die. I didn’t know if I would recognize the Devopama I used to know – the man with the delicate features, the sharp perceptions, the friendly smile.

Rashid and I walked into the heated, moist hall. The air was thick with the smell of chronic illness, old age discarded, institutional food, and a kind of cheerful desperation that the English are so good at. Wheelchairs lined one wall, television voices competed mutedly for space, and Devopama’s room was suddenly there on the right, his name stenciled on the door.
His body was shrunken, withering in on itself like a plant struggling to survive in conditions completely alien to its needs and structure. His hair and face were white, his clothes a very pale blue that matched his eyes. I moved toward him uncertainly, yet as I bent to hug him something warm and vital surged between us, and the rest was easy.

The three of us spent the next four or so hours together. The sun bloomed for us so we could sit thankfully outside, in the fresh air. Rashid and I commiserated with him playfully as he struggled with his lunch, especially the rhubarb and custard congealed into a violent artistic endeavor of yellow and pink. We are both familiar with English boarding school food, so we could empathize entirely, though delighted that we didn’t have to eat it ourselves.

After lunch we strolled behind his wheelchair, and he led us to a walnut tree beside a pond full of sun-bleached goldfish the size of salmon. There were dragonflies and open water lilies. I lay on the warmed grass and stretched out, at home, relaxed with these two hearts and minds connecting so easily with mine. We watched an elegant heron flap its long wings from tree to tree as it waited impatiently for us to leave. Our talk moved effortlessly here and there, alighting now on Devopama’s frustration at a medical system that seems to be sleepwalking as it prescribes pills and creams, the long-term effects of which it barely comprehends. We spoke of the force that has squeezed me once again out of the comfort zone of my world on to a new landscape where everything is unknown and untried except the love and support of my friends. We listened to Rashid talk about his fascination with his bees – this astonishing tribe that has been on the planet for 50 million years and invariably pulls him back with a sting every time he moves away from the here and now when he is with them...

Devopama said that his body has deteriorated noticeably in the last nine months. He has pain in his legs, in his back, and in his neck, and it hurts him to be in his wheelchair. He would prefer not to be living in an institution that is nudging him subtly away from any kind of wellness because that is what it knows how to do best, but then, this is what life is offering him. When he wheeled away to go and have a pee I said to Rashid, “I’d be sick in two weeks if I had to be here.”

Rashid replied, “I’d be sick in three and dead in four.”

Devopama came back with some organic apples, which we cut into slices and shared. The light had begun to deepen on the water and on the grasses around us. The heron patrolled restlessly above us. It was time to go.
When we got into the car to drive away, I laid my head against the headrest and shut my eyes, expecting – I don’t know – at least five different emotions all jostling for attention, but there was nothing at all.

Only an emptiness, so lovely.

A stillness, so pure...

It was then that I understood where this meeting place of friends that we talk about is. I had expected all the words and sharings and connectings and stories of the past four hours to come away with me, but they were simply not there. Something else had been happening. This empty space that Osho invited us to share with Him had been growing and expanding while the three of us were hanging out together, and I saw that this is the meeting place.

This is where His friends meet.

Article first published in Viha Connection