Red Bird visits her again—the same red bird she remembered guarding her passage through the womb and the same red bird that appeared to her as a child when hands of evil sometimes covered her. Those days are gone, she thinks. Yet the sweat soaking her sleep shirt says otherwise.

     They claim she is a lady of abundant compassion, that it comes quite naturally. If only “they” knew how much effort it takes to appear so effortless. Her hands shake. She reaches for the glass of water on her nightstand, takes a sip—and marvels over the clear liquid, how something so simple can quench even the most parched animal or plant. She’ll never doubt the importance of water again—not that she ever did before, but she didn’t think about it much, until it was all she could think about. Animals. Can animals be tamed? She doesn’t think so. Not really. They just put on suits and collars and pretend to be civilized around their mothers or wives.

     Red Bird sings his song, head bobbing—he seems to cautiously survey all that she is, didn’t become, or yet hopes to be—the glass safely separating them from each other’s world, something they’re both no doubt grateful about, if birds are even able to think in such a way. She doesn’t want to be on the streets again, outside, in the cold—or the hot, teetering on the brink, expected to meet her quota under the heavy breath of strangers, whose hands pass over her and through her heavier than a bear’s paw.

     Breathe. She does. She remembers. This is her space. They can’t touch her here, not anymore. Her black eye is healed, but not her heart—and what of her soul? She swipes a tear from her cheek and listens to Red Bird’s song. It’s one she hasn’t heard before. It churns up a distant memory from an astral past, her golden hybrid blood rising in peace. She will heal.  Inward she goes until her eyes lilt and Earth steps aside for a while.

     She studies moderately yet diligently the dharma—that glows like a thousand stars on a celestial path to “being”—a place that if she stares directly or gives logical thought about—fades from view.

     The woman left all she knew and followed Red Bird, which led her thousands of miles from home to a cave on a plateau overlooking flat plains, pee paw trees, and one of the most breathtaking sunsets of melting gold she’d ever seen. Stepping inside the dark cave she met Buddha himself, sitting, legs crossed, “just being”, something she’d never seemed capable of for more than a few minutes. The woman, trembling, immediately dropped into child’s pose, something she’d learned in gentle yoga class at a local shelter. The Buddha laughed.

     “I am not God,” Buddha said. “And I am definitely not your God. No need to bow before me, but you may do so with me.” He used a language she’d never heard but somehow understood, even though his lips did not move.

    The Western Woman studied this bony structure of a man with tattered robes, the renounced mendicant prince who held the riches of enlightenment between his common earthly eyes. “Buddha,” the Western Woman began.   

     “Please,” he said. “I am you and you are me. Gautama has traveled far from the future and at great risk for the benefit of others to be here.” With those words, Buddha gave her what little he had, a small piece of chicken and a mountain leek left by a farmer. Buddha did not eat after the sun crossed midday line.

     “You do not seem surprised that I arrive in the form of a woman,” she said.

     “For anyone to deem females a demotion under the dharma, strays deeper into Samsara, away from enlightenment. We are all one, the same. The man who disparages his mother, sister or daughter, wounds himself and prolongs suffering for all. A teacher cannot exist without a student. A Buddha cannot take a single step on the path of enlightenment without a mother. But you do not come so far to convince me of your worth.”

     “No. I don’t know why I’m here or how I even got here,” the woman says, looking around a bit confused.

      Buddha smiles. “Clowns pass for kings and the masses fight over glitter. Truth is found at the edge of a swamp, where alligators won’t go, but the lotuses bloom.”

      The Western Woman joins Gautama in sitting meditation. She focuses her breath, her body— the moment. She is here. Nothing else matters. She sits with Gautama for seven days in emptiness.

     Red Bird leads her to a small village in a jungle. Gautama’s physical vase will soon shatter. It doesn’t matter. He won’t need it. It will free him. Disciples who cannot see her surround him. Gautama is not afraid to leave this world because he knows there is no death. She is his proof—but he does not need proof either. The disciples fear his death because they still suffer attachment and doubt the enlightenment that already exists within them, ready to illuminate a thousand universes if only they’d open the extra eye they have. The Western Woman too, feels doubt, but accepts this as part of her humanness and knows Mara tempts her with insecurity.

     Gautama lies on his right side, ribs and chest exposed, to show he has given all there is to give. His legacy now resides within each student, to carry down the path like a torch, for future generations. He’s on a bed between two trees, minding his physical pain, stripped of worldly kingdom, accepting impermanence—grace his final example.

      The Western woman awakens to three distant gongs of a deep bell somewhere in the mist of her mind, among mountains she does not yet know, but somehow does know. She rolls over in her bed, home again, to greet the gray glow of a growing dawn, where the Red Bird chirps outside her open window before taking flight toward a rising sun.