Het is maandagochtend. Ik lees op bol.com de preview van Caravan of No Despair van Mirabai Starr.

‘This was not the way I had pictured this day. The first copy of my first book lay splayed on the kitchen table like a bruise. Dark Night of the Soul, by the sixteenth-century mystic John of the Cross: the quintessential teachings on the transformational power of radical unknowing, of sacred unraveling and holy despair. Its black and purple cover thinly shot with the possibility of dawn. My mother and sister taking turns thumbing through the pages and making appreciative comments while I paced.

I picked it up, put it back down, and resumed my post at the window.

Thirty minutes after the UPS truck had delivered my new book, the police pulled into the driveway. This was not a surprise. My daughter Jenny had been missing since the night before, when she tricked me and took off in my car. All night I rose and fell on waves of turmoil and peace, fearing she would never return, certain that all would be well.

Now our tribe had mobilized. Mom and Amy had cleaned Jenny’s messy room so that it would feel good when she came home. Friends had gathered like strands of grass and woven a basket of waiting. Others fanned out in search parties across Taos County, from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to the Colorado border.

“Ms. Starr?” An impossibly young state cop stood at the front door, holding a clipboard. A more seasoned trooper stood behind him, hands clasped behind his back. “I’m Officer Rael, and this is Officer Pfeiffer.”

“Did you find her?”

Officer Rael took in the halo of heads that gathered around me in the doorway. Friends and family, straining for news. “Would you please step outside, Ma’am?”

“Is she in trouble?”

“We need to speak to you in private,” said the teenager-in-uniform.

“Okay, but not without my mother.”

Officer Rael nodded. I reached for Mom’s hand, and we stepped onto the porch.

The policeman got straight to the point. “There’s been an accident.”

“Is Jenny okay?” I grabbed his arm. He looked down at my hand.

“Your daughter has passed away, Ms. Starr.”

Passed away?

“How do you know it’s my daughter?” Maybe they had confused her with some other dead girl. “How do you know it’s Jenny?”

Officer Rael smiled a little. “The purple hair,” he said. “The report you filed described her hair as curly and . . . purple.” He cleared his throat. “The victim matches this description.”


“Where is she?”

“She’s been taken to the mortuary.” He looked down at his clipboard, as if he had forgotten his next line and had to consult the script. “Ms. Starr, we are going to need you to come and identify the body.”

The body.

“How did it happen?” My voice was calm, as though I were inquiring about the final score in a soccer game. “Is anyone else . . . dead?”

“She lost control speeding down the east side of U.S. Hill, almost to the Peñasco turn-off,” he said. “She was alone.”

Alone—my baby died alone.

My thighs melted and my kneecaps stopped working. I slid to the cement slab and kept going until my arms and legs were outstretched.

“No,” I whispered. And then I was wailing. “No!”

In a dark night of the soul (as I had explained in my little book) all the ways you have become accustomed to tasting the sacred dry up and fall away. All concepts of the Holy One evaporate. You are plunged into a darkness so impenetrable that you are convinced it will never lift. You may flail about for something—anything—to prop you up, but you grasp only emptiness. And so, rendered reckless by despair, you let yourself fall backward into the arms of nothing.

This, according to John of the Cross, is a blessing of the highest order.

Tell that to the mother of a dead child.’

Mirabai Starr. Iets diep treurigs in het gelaat. Haar ogen? Af en toe vlamt iets op: een glimlach, een briesje langs haar gezicht, tegen de zwaartekracht in. Ik leer Mirabai Starr kennen als ze voorleest uit The Book of my Life en The Inner Castle van Teresa van Avila, die ze vertaalde. Vertalen is een spiegel, zegt ze. Ik kijk naar de vrouw (op de achtergrond pauweveren in een vaas, drie kaarsen, een poster met een Hindugod die ik niet ken, een kamerscherm dat licht dempt, spirituele goodies). Je spiegelt altijd je eigen ziel. Het treurige dat ik waarneem is er helemaal niet. Ze neemt een slok water uit een glas met een rode rand, leest, bladert, zoekt een passage in The Book of my Life. Het rustige wachten tot ze de bladzijde heeft gevonden, de bladzijde heeft genoemd, drie keer een zin opnieuw begint is meditatie, contemplatie, aanwezig zijn. Teresa van Avila hield van lezen, zegt ze. Ik spits mijn oren, als een nachtdier, bange prooi, en ruik een kans, focus als een roofdier. Zich een scene uit het leven van Jezus voorstellen, wat je te doen stond in een klooster, lukte Teresa van Avila niet zo goed.

‘But what I liked best is to read good books. This is because God did not give me much talent for figuring things out with my intellect or making good use of my imagination. In fact, my imagination was so clumsy that no matter how hard I tried to meditate on the Lord’s humanity, I could never quite succeed. During all that time I never dared to sit down to pray unless I had a book close at hand. My soul was as terrified of praying without a book as it would have been if thrown unarmed onto a raging battlefield. Books were my companions, my consolation, my shield against the explosion of thoughts. If I didn’t have a book, I would suffer from terrible aridity. The minute I found myself without something to read my soul would become immediately agitated and my mind would start to wander. But as soon as I started reading the words acted like bait to lure my soul and my thoughts began to collect themselves again. Sometimes it was enough just to know that I had a book beside me. I didn’t even have to open it.’ 

Dit stukje tekst bevrijdde haar, zegt Mirabai Starr. Bij eerste lezing had ze eroverheen gelezen, maar toen ze het vertaalde drong het tot haar door. Lezen stopt het denken, je hebt er geen verbeelding voor nodig, het voert je mee, de schrijver heeft gedacht. Reflecteren is hondsmoeilijk. Vertalen. Het stuk tekst gaf Mirabai Starr toestemming te zijn wie ze was. ‘I am a Jnana Yogi. I have a life of the mind. The intellect is a valid mode of being with God.’

Ik ben wat aan het rondklikken, dit boek kan ik zo snel niet vinden op PDF-drive, Wild Mercy over vrouwelijke mystici wel.

Ik ga liever lezen dan aan het werk. Ik moet hiervoor angst onderdrukken.

De man, vol van kennis, arriveerde vol verwachting bij de Zenmeester, die hem een theekop inschonk en bleef gieten, tot de rand en verder. Gloeiend hete thee over zijn hand, zo stel ik me voor. Kom bij me terug als je kop leeg is, zegt de Zenmeester.

[bij het volgen van Reflections Parallel, Teresa of Avila as a guide for our times]