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The Circle

The Circle [Preface: The nunnery in which I live in northern India, Thosamling, hosts residents, visitors and volunteers from around the world. India is a haven for spiritual aspirants, and spiritual work here is rarely easy, elegant or expedient. But this haven can deepen one’s connection to Divinity in even the most undignified of times when one is willing to accept it on its own terms.]

mary little

When all my dignity is gone, this child is still there, trusting.

At 10:30 Monday morning I was carried out from the nunnery on a stretcher. An Indian gardener, a French pastry chef and a French osteopath carried me ten minutes down a narrow rocky path as a Dutch carpenter walked ahead and an Indian yoga teacher walked behind.

When they laid me down on the dirt road to wait for the car to arrive, the pastry chef knelt beside me and took my hand. He began slowly tracing circles around my palm with his finger. In a quiet voice he said, “There is nothing else happening in your body right now except this circle. Just focus on this circle, okay?”

I couldn’t open my eyes to look at him but tried to give all my attention to the circle. It was at once soothing and consoling.

The Dutch abbess of the nunnery pulled up in the Thosamling van. The carpenter helped me into the back bench seat where I could lie down, and the osteopath and yoga teacher slid into the middle bench seat.

As the abbess pulled away, the osteopath turned around, leaned over the seat back, and gently took my hand. She began tracing circles around my palm with her finger, and never let go of me until we arrived at the hospital thirty minutes later.

Fourteen hours earlier a German Tibetan-language translator had heard me yell HELP from my room. I had been yelling periodically for forty minutes after sudden weakness and fever had come up and rapidly increased. Everyone was away from their rooms at that time attending prayers and a talk; during this same time I had also texted four people asking for help but everyone had left their phones in their rooms.

The translator arrived to find me flushed and with pain in my mid-back and stomach, so she went to fetch an Austrian nun who is a former nurse. In the meantime one of the people I had texted, a German nun, arrived. The nuns took my temperature while the translator went to get cold juice and ice. The nuns removed the thermometer before it beeped because it seemed to be taking too long; the reading at that point was 39.9C, or 103.9F.

The abbess soon arrived in my room, followed by the osteopath. The Austrian nun left and came back with aspirin. The Germans put ice on my head and wet towels around my legs, and helped me sip cold orange juice. The abbess called the doctor.

The aspirin and cold applications gradually began to reduce my fever, and the abbess and German nun took shifts checking on me throughout the night. I took aspirin promptly every four hours trying to keep the fever down.

Diarrhea that had slowly started hours earlier became urgent by midnight. I woke up four times in the night shitting on myself. My mid-back and stomach grew more painful.

mary little

By morning the fever started to escalate again. Someone placed the stretcher outside my door, and minutes later the transport stage of the event was underway.

The hospital lobby was extremely full; throng