Charlotte and I sink into soft chairs with our wine glasses, just beginning to unwind a thread that has pulled us together. Forty of the world’s greatest scholars in the area of Philosophy and Buddhist Studies mingle around us, nibbling on caprese skewers and vegan sausages, if there can really be such a thing, and steaming ahead in conversation about consciousness, neuroscience, the charms of Charleston. They’ve gathered here from many countries to move ideas along, thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities, and my friends who are hosting this rarified company. I just happened to offer my living room for an after-hours salon, and now they are here, escaping the dripping heat, happy to clink glasses and wander through my loom room.
Charlotte teaches Japanese literature (in Japanese, that is), having lived in Asia and studied their culture and its stories. She alludes to sūtras which are collections of aphorisms and distilled wisdom, texts for the wiser ways of living; and reminds me that sūtra comes from a word meaning to sew, since the original sūtras were written on flat leaves and sewn together to form a little book. Sūtra is the thread holding things together, and the sewing of it. Which is where suture comes from as well — the surgical sewing that holds flesh together. She quickly traces the linguistic history through not only Japanese but also Chinese characters, suggesting an almost universal bow to a sacred thread running through everything, holding us all together.
As she speaks, Charlotte emanates a Buddha-like quality. Peace, perhaps, underneath the puffs of chatter in the room. A generous spirit. An eruptive laugh. She speaks of coming from a Primitive Baptist background in a small town of South Carolina, and though her gay orientation is not at home in their biases, still holds to the thread of goodness which they gave her. My mouth is somewhat ajar as she spins out this unlikely story. The way she spins it tells me that she has fully received the best of those lessons from her past (a rare thing, itself), and sewn them together with the quiet aphorisms of the East, and a lifetime of experience, as well. I sit in her presence as though reading a beautiful sūtra, utterly unique, a life compiled from organic pieces, and stories written in many languages, but sewn through with the strength of one who collects them all in simple, quiet, expansive gratitude.
I’ve often said that I am only following a thread – that’s how I move through life. The thread is destiny, you might say, or sacred; but its filament tugs right through the center of me. That much I know. Now I’m wondering if we do not, at last, become the binding thread. The twine needling through the center of our sutra. The radical line that receives all that life brings to us, and sews it into one marvelous thing. Like Charlotte. Buddha of the Baptists.