Dressing For Winter

and  days go by

long from the hot summer sun.

bears are in their nest.

and i need peace

from the crush of the masses

that sadden my soul.

no more noise of

endless boring chatter from

sad desolate lives.

the gears of a slow

world grind even more slowly

now that time has changed.

and profound darkness

creaks out of the coldest nights

the moon fails to rise.

take me where the old

jazz man blows his sorrow horn

in some warm dark bar

where everyone

silently dresses in black

drinking sweet absinthe.

where poets write quatrains

with worn out pencils behind

frosty dirty glass.

we leave at the dawn

hand in hand to the short day

where we must now rest.

fall into some bed

down soft comfort warm in love

crying quietly to sleep.

Black Marie, finish

While my mind was clear and my sleep was good, I really didn’t feel that I wanted to leave right then I asked if I could remain as part of the ashram a while longer. He agreed. I would begin to help with the daily work needs around the center to earn my keep. I became part of the Ashram. I stayed for three years working meditating, practicing yoga, and healing.

The Choudarys were happy that Ravi would continue to stay with them during my tenure at the Ashram. I gave them a monthly stipend for his expenses plus a little more. I had money saved from my road crew work and almost all my Navy pay. I spent every weekend with Ravi and the Choudary family. The rest of the time I spent at the ashram. I was finding out how to be happy again.

After six months, Rakesh asked me to teach beginning meditation to the constant flow of newcomers. Teaching was a new experience and I liked it. (Teaching would eventually become my life’s work.) I enjoyed meeting other people that came from all over the world, mainly from America and Europe.

It was only later that I discovered that Rakesh was the head honcho holy man and that this was his ashram. I felt very honored and humbled.

All the time I was there, I felt Amisha’s presence, like she was always right by my side, day and night. I talked with Rakesh about this, and he assured me that her spirit was with me and I should embrace her and honor her presence.

I liked where I was and what I was doing. I felt a home in many ways. I loved the energy and the calm presence of the ashram, the people, my work there. But I had not been to home to see my family for almost four years. It was weighing on me more heavily each passing day to go home.

Then in March of 1974 when I received a letter from my mother. In it she said that it would be Dad’s 60th birthday in June. Would I please come home to celebrate with everyone? Would I please just come home to them?

I was long overdue. I was ready. I had returned to humanity. It was time.

Ravi and I left India in April that year after tearful good byes and promises to return, which we did every year thereafter. I even got my parents to with come along with Ravi and me once so they could meet the Choudarys and Rakesh. They all got along famously and my parents returned several times on their own.

The war had left an irreparable scar on my psyche like so many of the others that thought they were serving some noble cause, which eventually turned to be all a lie. We all suffered and we all still do. The war would remain with me for all my years. But I was so fortunate to have had the counsel and care of so many wonderful people in India who helped me to forgive myself for participating in that horrible debacle that was Viet Nam.

I was finally able to forgive myself for not saving Amisha, for not being strong enough to stay with her that night, for not leaving with her, for not being there when she was alone, for not being there when our son was born, for not being there to save her life, for not being there when she died. I was able to forgive myself for just simply not being there to love her. Om Shanti Om.

© 2015 Ed Lehner

Black Marie, cont’d

I made it to Pondicherry where I found that there were several ashrams for me to search. The third one I went to was it. The woman at the entrance desk said that Amisha had been there. The woman looked closely at me, “You are Ray?” When I nodded and smiled, she turned away, began to cry so hard, she shook. “I am sorry. I am so sorry, “ she said between sobs. “Amisha, she caught a bad fever two months ago . . . we couldn’t, the hospital, the doctors . . . we couldn’t save her. She died six weeks ago. I am so sorry, Ray. I am so sorry . . . sorry . . . sorry. I am so sorry.”

And she put her face into her hands and continued to sob.

Stunned and in shock, I stood there in disbelief, dizzy, finally turning, wandering the streets of Pondicherry, not eating, lost, angry, sad, confused, heart broken, sleeping in a cheap guesthouse for two weeks. Eventually, not knowing what else to do, I decided to return to the ashram, maybe just to be around where she was and the people who knew her, maybe find some solace.

A few weeks later of coming to grips with the realization of her death, some rest and a lot of comfort from the folks that knew her, I finally found enough courage and went to meet my son. I was so scared and anxious I could barely breath. Amisha’s parents lived on a tree lined street in a small house with flowers everywhere.  A woman who looked exactly like an older version of Amisha answered the door, looked at me and said, “Welcome Ray. We knew you were here. Please come in”.

The house was immaculate with flowers and the sweet smell of incense and tea. Her mother introduced herself as Amma.

She said, “He is outside in the yard”.

I felt weak, was trembling so bad I could hardly walk. I went outside and this beautiful little boy looked up at me with Amisha’s eyes, his skin like light brown, blond hair like mine. A smile lit his little face and he asked, “Are you my father?”

“Yes,” was all that could come out of my lump filled throat.

“I have been waiting for you,” he said and ran to me.

I picked him up in my arms and I broke into sobs and fell onto my knees clutching our son. Amma came out a moment later, helped me up toe a nearby bench and sat beside us, put her arm around me and whispered, “she loved you both so much.”

I met Amish’s father when he came home a while later, He shook my hand and welcomed me with great warmth. Her two brothers and their families joined us all for a mini celebration that night. I never felt more at home.

I stayed with these lovely people for two weeks, sleeping on a cot in Ravi’s room. I felt so happy and alive during the day, but the nightmares that had started a while back in Nam now started to be every night, each night with more intensity. Nightmares of wounded and dead bodies, fire, blood everywhere. I was waking up, shaking, in cold sweats, not knowing where I was. Then the insomnia, whether from fear of my dreams, from war fatigue, from lack of adrenaline, I didn’t know. I just could not sleep. Amma noticed something was wrong and aired her concern. I told her what was happening and she told me to go back to the ashram, to talk to the people there. They would help.

“Please stay as long as you need. Ravi will be here until you can return.”

I took her advice and left the next day and was welcomed into residency at the Ashram. The next day I met with a meditation instructor, Rakesh, to whom I spent the rest of the day unloading my life. The more I talked, the more questions he had. It went on until I was raw and empty and sobbing.

There was Tristan, Amisha, my love, my loss, my heartache, our son.

Then there was the  war. While I embraced it as a youthful adventure and served in, essentially, a noncombat role, I was there. I saw it. I felt it. I  heard it. I participated in it. I saw the horror: the blood, the torn shattered bloody bodies, the caskets piled on the tarmac waiting for their final ride, home to America. Constant noise from screams, curses, guns, exploding shells, bombs, choppers, jet aircraft; the stench of burnt gunpowder, raw sewage, latrines, diesel fuel, burning gas, marijuana, vomit, testosterone. The war was a sensual overload, a constant adrenaline rush. I had left, but the war was inside me like devouring dragon that never rested.


It all came rushing out like a spring flood. There was so much.

After the deluge, we sat in silence for, what seemed like a long time. Finally, Rakesh began to talk to me about meditation and gave me a specific practice for trauma and loss. He explained what a mantra is and how to use it in meditation. After this teaching, he reached over with his finger and touched me above and to the center of my eyes. It was like a bolt of white light passed through me and it was like everything inside my mind suddenly left. My mind was empty. He left me and I sat in a state of empty bliss, like I was stoned on the weed that was so plentiful in Nam. That evening, I ate a light dinner and slept a dreamless sleep.

I met with Rakesh every day for several weeks. We talked further about Amisha and my experience in the war. He always listened intently, smiling and nodding. He taught me several other meditation practices and mantras for healing. He also taught me yoga, specifically, restorative asanas (or poses). This went on for over two months. One day Rakesh took my hands in his, smiled his big smile and announced that he thought tat I was I was ready to be on my own.

Black Marie, cont’d

A few months before the end of my last tour in Nam, I received a brown envelope from my parents. In it I found their letter along with an unopened letter from Amisha. My heart leaped in hungry anticipation as well as fear of what she might have written. And a reminiscent lump formed in my throat, I felt dizzy and my heart was pounding like a trip hammer.

The letter was written three months ago.

Dear Ray,

I am so sorry for the way I left you. You did not deserve that. I was so afraid for myself and for you and what was happening. The fire was so awful. I left immediately after talking to the policeman and drove nonstop to Boulder, Colorado. All I wanted to do was get away from Tristan,  Johnny Cray, the drunks, the smells.

I found a cheap place to stay with the little cash I had grabbed when I escaped the fire and found a job in a nice bookstore.

I received the insurance settlement fairly quickly. It was very good. It gave me more than enough money that I needed to get back to India. I left shortly to go back to my family. It was so wonderful to see my mother and father and my two brothers. I gave them what insurance money that I had left to help raise our son. 

Yes, I was pregnant with our child. I found out about a month after I left Tristan. I am so sorry that I waited so long to tell you. I was afraid you would hate me. He is beautiful. I named him Ray, but we call him Ravi. He is three now and I tell him all about you. I so want you to meet him. I so want to see you. My parents love him as their own. He is a happy and healthy little boy.

A year after Ray was born I went on a yearlong meditation retreat at an ashram and with the guidance of a teacher, I began to get over my time in America and the events of that summer. I was finally able to release all that negative emotion. But I have never gotten over you. I realized how much I loved you. After my retreat, I began living and working at the ashram, teaching meditation and yoga, mainly to the more and more westerners who are visiting. This was due to my English speaking skills. I love it and am so very happy. I visit Ray and my parents every few days and miss him so when I can’t be there.

I am so very sorry that it has taken me this long to write this letter you. It took me a very long time to recover from that night and all the years I was exiled to Tristan. But missing you and our time together was the hardest part. It still is.

I miss you. I love you. It broke my heart to leave you. I think of you and pray for you every day. Please forgive me. Please write me and let me know of your life. I so want to hear from you. I need to hear from you. If possible, if you can forgive me,  I want to see you and be with you. I love you.

I am well and at peace,


I held her letter to my chest. I sat there in silent  shock. A son. We had a son that I had never met. Emotions rushed into my whole being like a raging flood. I sat and sobbed until I couldn’t any more. It was like I might sink into the earth with the weight I felt. I sat on my bunk for a long, staring into space, trying to process the letter and my feelings. All that love, hurt, and sadness were resurrected from wherever they had been residing. At first there was anger, but then all the feelings I had for her welled up, then more tears. We had a son. I never knew how much pain love can cause.

Some time later, recovered from the shock, I went to the enlisted men’s club and had a few shots and beers to settle my nerves, trying to collect my thoughts. My good friend Larry was there and came and sat down. He saw that something was wrong and asked, so I unloaded…. the whole thing from day one, concluding with the letter I had just received. Larry, the brilliant psychiatrist and mechanic that he was, said, “So what the hell are you thinking? You’re a short timer. Get your ass out of this hell hole and get to Pondicherry. Go see her, you dumb shit.” Larry’s sage advice hit home and I realized that was exactly what I would do. I could have kissed him.

I was due to muster out in two months at the end of this tour and, conveniently, had exactly two months accrued leave. I went to my commanding officer and asked for my two months leave time with discharge after. He readily agreed to my request and signed orders for me. I went to the battalion office where the Chief Yeoman got all the necessary papers together and filled out which I signed without hesitation. Now there was only a week left in Viet Nam. I booked a flight out of Saigon to Tokyo and then on to New Delhi with a train to Pondicherry. I was gone. Nervous and anxious, I  couldn’t wait to see her. I wanted to hold her, feel her heart beating next to mine, to tell her how happy she made me, how I missed her, and that I loved her. I wanted to hear her sing-song voice again. I wanted to meet our son.

A week later I was out of Nam and the Navy. It was good to be done and I was happy and relieved to be so. It was a great adventure for sure, but the war was out of hand and on a slippery slope to an unhappy ending, which came to pass a few years later when the U. S. bailed out of Viet Nam with their tail between its legs and 50,000 dead plus so many physically and mentally wounded. The cost . . . the incredible stupid waste of lives and money.