I have a monthly tarot card date with my friend Tania. Tania taught me how to read the cards about twenty years ago. She got married thirteen years ago and moved to California and I still live in Iowa and we fell out of touch with each other for a long time except for exchanging Christmas cards and emailing occasionally. But a few years ago we figured out a way to do the tarot cards, for each other, long distance and we’ve been doing that once a month ever since. One person shuffles the cards and throws them for the other – “throws” is what Tania calls laying out the cards to be read, facedown; we use the Thoth deck, and we lay the cards out in a configuration called the High Priestess. The reader turns the cards over and tells the other person what they are, that person searches through the deck until she locates all the cards in her deck and puts them down exactly the way the reader has them, and then we stare at them together and try to figure out what they’re saying. When both readings – hers and mine — are over, we each pick our card of the month: This is an idea Tania came up with. Every month both of us pick a new card, and then when it’s time to do tarot again we write about what the card we picked last time had to do with the month we just went through.
My card this month was the Moon. The Moon has always been one of those cards I never quite knew what to make of, and when I pulled it as my card of the month the last time Tania and I met, I thought it would be sort of an average month and when the time rolled around to make sense of the Moon’s place in it I wouldn’t quite know what to say. But I had a very strong clear lesson in what the Moon means last month. I feel that I know the Moon very well now and I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.
The Moon in the Thoth deck is like a depiction of the entrance to the underworld; there are two Egyptian dog-headed soldiers guarding the entrance, a kind of path between them ending in an opening; inside the opening appears, like a shy moon showing itself, a beautiful blue ball; the ball has cloudlike pinkish purplish swirls and is bisected by a wavy red ribbon. The ball looks like the earth as seen from outer space. My friend Tania said once that this looks like an image of birth, like a metaphorical picture of what you’d see when you were coming out of the birth canal into the world.
My sister died this month. She had ALS and she took her own life, because she was getting to the point where she would be totally disabled and could no longer do that. I found out what she was going to do it two days before. I wanted to fly to from Iowa to Massachusetts and be there with her and started looking for emergency flights. I was scared to go and it was going to cost a bundle but I had thought all along that when she died I would be there. I knew she was going to die, even knew she was probably going to die like this because she told me not long after she was diagnosed that she had something for when the time came, but somehow I thought that there would be plenty of time before that time, that I would get to spend her last month with her and be there with her when she took her last breath. But when it came down to it she said that she would rather that I not go there now, at the last minute. Her daughter and her daughter’s husband were with her, visiting her from Montana, and she wanted to keep it simple. So I said of course, that of course I understood. I did understand, I didn’t mind at all.
But I was left with my own little private trip to the underworld, all by myself. Except that I wasn’t by myself. My friend Rudy and I had planned to go to his parents’ house, a couple of hours away, for a late holiday celebration. I found out my sister was going to die, in two days, on the morning of the day Rudy and I were leaving to spend two days – the same two days my sister had left to live — with his parents. I just happened to check my email before we left and there it was, an email from her with the heading “sad news.”
Once I figured out I wasn’t going to go to my sister’s I decided to go to Rudy’s parents’ house, with him, because what was the point of staying home and spoiling their holiday celebration. Rudy said his parents had the Internet and wi-fi. I went thinking I could email my sister, and get any emails from her, while I was there, before she died on Sunday. But Rudy’s parents didn’t have the Internet; his mother had gotten it turned off a few days earlier. So there I was at their house, watching TV, talking, eating ham and other things I never eat, and at the same time living in my own private underworld, contemplating what it must be like for my sister to stare down that path between the dog soldiers at that other world, that mysterious blue and pink other world peeking out through the opening, knowing she was going there soon. Except my sister didn’t believe in that other world. I did, I do, but the other world I was staring into the face of, on her behalf as well as my own, wasn’t blue and pink and full of light, as it is in the picture and probably truly is – I do believe it, I believe there is another world and it is full of happiness and light and goodness and it’s only those dogs that are guarding the doors that are frightening and ferocious — but the underworld I was looking at, living in, over that weekend and for a couple of weeks afterward, was something dark, cold, terrifying.
My sister died shortly after 2:30 eastern time, 1:30 my time. I know that’s what time she died because when I got home we exchanged a couple of emails and in my last one to her I asked if she knew what time she was going and she wrote back telling me her time was then. That’s what she called it: “my time.” I opened my email and found out when she was dying, exactly when she was dying. I felt incredible terror, imagining her leaving her body so deliberately and consciously. I went upstairs and sat in the chair where I meditate. I cried long and deeply, I rang a Tibetan meditation bell Rudy gave me for Christmas – and a few days later I got sick, really sick. It got cold here too, horribly cold, fourteen degrees below zero one day with a wind chill factor of minus forty. For about seven days, because of my flu, I coughed and coughed all night and because of the coughing I kept waking up in a half waking, half sleeping, nightmarish state. Now it’s warmer here and I feel better. I told a couple of people that I felt like I had just taken a short trip to hell – to the underworld, to somewhere else anyway, maybe to the moon — and now I’m on my way back up to the regular everyday world; it’s still wintry here, but the sun is shining and this place is still full of ordinary pleasures.