Two Sufi Friends Dance in the Beyond
I want to write about Mary Manly (Schneiderman), a tall, pale blonde beauty who died of cancer this past week. I met Mary at Sufi Camp many years ago, did workshops at her Tribeca loft with Adnan in the 70s when life was slower and cheaper, affording Seekers the time to gather in ease and in strong numbers, dancing and chanting for days on end. Mary’s loft was funky. She ran a heavy duty extension cord from the floor above in and out through the street-side windows to power a boom box. The floor, made of worn pine boards, slanted toward the stairwell. Mary knit gorgeous, arty sweaters of silvery, heavy yarns and fantastical colors. She was a young, free bird like all of us.
Years passed. She came to a few of my NYC classes and I learned that she was married, raising children—one, two, then three.
Time passed. She came to a New Year’s Day workshop I taught in Katonah three years ago. She told me she was getting radiation. The machine was like a large flower, she said, its petals opening then closing, pointing just exactly at certain spots on her body. She looked gorgeous, radiant. The next June, she came to the Summer Movement Monastery, the year we worked in the Pocketbook Factory in Hudson. She danced, she did all the exercises and breathing. The day we all painted veils, hers was full of breathy streaks of pale color with white space in between. A portrait of who she was becoming, sheerer, less dense with earthly considerations?
Mary attended my Kripalu retreat last November. Emaciated except for one leg that was swollen four times its normal size, she was on a lot of pain medication and on a trial medical protocol, the kind they do with terminal people. It ravaged her facial skin. We sat and talked. How do you talk to someone who is dying? We moved in and out of her present concerns of pain and consciousness. She was fighting to stay alive in order to continue with the spiritual Path she loved, the Sufi work with me, with Adnan, with other teachers she knew. We talked about her visits to Turkey with her daughters. She’d stay talking with me until the pain was too intense.
Two weeks ago, our dear mutual friend, Jeff, and I sat with Mary on her front porch in the glorious spring sunshine. She was swaddled in a blanket, in a wheelchair. She wore a stylish hat. We played finger cymbals together and sang, ate a bowl of lentil soup. The whole neighborhood stopped by and waved and passed a word or two. She and I held hands and one point. Her hand was bony, shaking. She squeezed mine hard, and I felt a surge of love that I knew was goodbye. We might have told one another that we loved each other, but I don’t remember the words so much as that hand squeeze. I knew my squeeze meant, “I am here for you, now and when you are leaving incarnation. If you need me in the invisible world, I am here.” It is interesting how the surface of that morning was placid while its undertow roiled with support and communion.
A week later Jayne Bissonette, another Sufi and Dancemeditator and I spoke on the phone. She was very frail, also dying. When she said, “I love you, “ I knew it was goodbye, and how lucky that I was able to say “I love you too, Jayne.” Jayne departed a week later. Now Mary has died. Two dear beloveds whose company on the Path I’ve deeply cherished. I see their unique dances in my mind. I honor how deeply they valued our spiritual endeavor.
Jeff sent me the email about Mary’s departure and the memorial service, which is today as I write this. I sit in my Ravenrock cabin listening to the Ravel string quartet and weeping. The second movement bursts forth, and down on the front rock a huge bright green gecko appears. It trots to the top of a high sunny stone and gazes seductively at me. The music plays. The green gecko moves, little staccato motions in perfect accord with the musicians’ pizzicato. My heart swells and swells and spills. I know that is Mary—all green beauty, all dancing, all color and pleasure in the sun. Absolutely Mary. Now the music is concluding. She casts one last, penetrating look, tosses her head as if to exclaim joyously, “Ha!”, then leaps from the stage, and disappears. She is off! She moves through the Invisible Worlds.
Dear Mary, may you eternally dance in Comfort and Joy.
Dear Jayne, may you eternally dance in Comfort and Joy.
Thank you for reading.
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