For the Charlotte chapter of my life, God gifted me Jane Frazier. He put her in the parking lot, for me to discover her there. Something had prompted me to go and talk to her that afternoon when the local churches had got together to give furniture to international students like myself, who had come from around the globe with just two packed suitcases filled with clothes, books and food and moved into stark empty apartments. Jane was not a student. She was Academic Dean at a school in Charlotte and also taught Latin there. That afternoon, she had come to lend a hand in the church’s very kind work, which makes it so much more easier for international students to start off life in a new land. From our first conversation, there was a sense of ease which converted into a silken friendship.
The time I spent with Jane, remains in me as a garland of cherished moments that fill my being with quietude and is testament to how utterly graceful, divine and serendipitous some gifts of life can be. We were never short of topics to talk about, some of them were rather intense, even then, the residual impact of our conversations was always the same – quietude. In our first meeting on the parking lot, within seconds, Jane was telling me how a U.S. president (I don’t remember which one) chose to invest big time in highways rather than railroads, and now USA is one of the biggest guzzlers of petroleum on the globe. In the second meeting I told her of the seven vows of the Hindu marriage and that the last vow is, “We shall be best friends to each other.”
“Are your parents best friends to each other?” she asked.
Within seconds, she withdrew her question, “Sorry. Maybe it was not proper of me to ask that.” She had read the dilemma on my face, for I did not know how to answer her.
Another time when she visited me, I was sharing with her, “There are only two primary emotions: fear and love.”
“Wow! Not even five minutes have passed since I have come. Our conversations get intense fast!”
Yes, it was that way. We spoke about intense stuff, but there was always a sense of ease, made all the more pleasant because of the points of our rendezvous. Panera Bread and Sue’s Garden were our favorite haunts.
Panera Bread is a chain of cafes in U.S.A. – not raucous like Café Coffee Day, and having a more genteel artistic aura than Starbucks, with instrumental music, mostly jazz, playing softly in the background, good art on the walls, colourful upholstery and a quiet atmosphere. Their salads are excellent too. I used to go there often, even by myself, and look at the cars zipping up and down North Tyron Street at the edge of the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) campus and the sky which went nowhere – it kept being vast, deep and of different hues. Once in Panera Bread, Jane showed me an album of her family, which she had compiled. It led our conversation to how each family itself has a unique personality of its own.
Sue’s Garden, our second favorite haunt, is the most beautiful open secret of the UNCC campus. A few students know about it because the path at its edge leads to their apartments, but hardly anyone goes inside the garden – after all, to just sit in a garden counts for no achievement at all.
The land given to Sue’s Garden is rather uneven, and so it has been landscaped in a rugged manner. One may even feel that it is not landscaped and has been left to its own designs, apart from the hut to sit in beside the pond at the center of the garden. It is not so. The whole garden is an exquisite balance of control by man and the wildness of nature, with its big trees and falling leaves, different kinds of flowers that are changed as per season, a sundial, a few small bridges of the creek and pathways and benches through it all. We would meet, Jane and I, in Sue’s Garden, and then I do not remember what we would talk of – for the quietude would be so much more explicit there.
One incident I do recall. I had a box of blackberries with me – luscious pods packed together that burst into instant energy giving juice in the mouth. As we were sitting on the bench, I asked Jane to help herself to some, but she was politely hesitant at first. So I gave her a quick education on the Indian system of friendship, which is hardly a friendship unless we pounce and gobble up friend’s food – to hoot with niceties such as fair share. She learned fast and soon between us, the blackberries were over.
Jane attends an event in Asheville every year, which has a wonderful name – Bon Clarken. It means good vision. It is a small women-only spiritual retreat held right when the apples are freshly picked from the trees, filling up garages that become impromptu stores. One year, she took me along – two days of peace and beauty born of the grounded simplicity of how the events were organized and by the quiet participation of the trees and mountains in the bonding and sharing between us ladies.
“I dreamt that you know Hindi, only you are not telling me,” I declared to Jane after a yummy afternoon siesta at Bon Clarken, and then she showed me how she has been trying to draw a heron but it does not look like a heron. You see, I was right. She knew my language – the language of resonant frequencies, the language that existed before any words or herons were born.
After a lot of ifs and buts lasting over several months, I finally decided to drop out of the PhD I was pursuing at UNCC. When Jane got to know, she gently asked, “Would you like to come over and talk about it?” It is one of the more beautiful questions I have heard. If I had said no, she would not have taken it personally. It was a gentle invitation, not demanding, knowing that the decision must not have been easy and I must still be reeling under its practical and emotional impact. It is one of the best ways to help a friend during testing times, to ask, “Would you like to talk about it?” and then leave it at that.
As the Charlotte chapter of my life approached completion, Jane authored a beautiful night – dinner of juicy pineapples and baked sweet potato chips with her husband and daughter, followed by a bonfire under the dense dark skies outside her home – the original way for friends to share the timeless beauty of the universe, vast and still, independent of time and decisions. Then she sent me off on the river. Her farewell gift to me – a kayaking trip down the river, sometimes stopping at sand banks, sometimes watching herons and turtles at the edge of the serene waters as we paddled – for memories do not take up space when we are packing up.