i got a message on Facebook today from my friend Sofia's daughter that my friend Sofia in Paris has just passed away.
i worked with Sofia in 2004 at the France Vipassana centre, and she generously invited me to stay with her husband and 2 (of 5) kids in the Paris suburbs. i lived with them for a full month during which time she and her husband repeatedly and emphatically insisted that i was not in any way imaginable overstaying my welcome.
Sofia was a truly unique person, born in Portugal of African descent. Reared 5 children from 4 (maybe 5) different fathers. All but 1 of whom loved her to bits as far as i could ascertain.
She was also tuned in to higher planes. Vipassana courses are a very logical and scientific form of inward exploration, but in these courses Sofia alone had the most interesting visions of and dialogues with enlightened beings (Buddha, Jesus). In one course i myself had a vision of Chinese faces which passed through my mind's eye in procession. Some old, some young, each one perfectly detailed. i wondered, "Wow, is my subconscious creating all these uniquely realistic faces?" Sofia later matter of factly commented, "No, those were angels." i never questioned how she knew.
She was somehow touched. Born in silence, not crying, she entered the world in refusal to demonstrate the suffering which Buddha uses to describe humanity's condition. In fact she was mute for 2 years or more, until her father finally used his belt to discover if she could cry out loud or not.
She suffered much violence from her father, yet also described fondly his hospitality at feeding any people and any number, friends or beggars, who happened to be near the house at a meal time.
Sofia had a touch of clairvoyance, and sometimes her desires were granted. She had wanted to independently give birth to a child, and did so once. Attempting to walk the miles to the hospital, she stopped at the side of the road and delivered her own child using her only her own hands.
There was in fact much suffering throughout her life. At the time when i met her, her marriage to Jack was starting to fall apart. i ended up acting as a buffer zone between them, even offering to act as a moderator to help them communicate. i wasn't surprised to hear later that Jack had left her, but it was a real blow to Sofia. She became reclusive.
Things for her became worse when one of her sons wound up dying destitute. i had met him a couple times and he was doing okay, but it was clear that he of all the siblings was unhappy. Sofia was devastated by his final downward spiral, but could only say that he had chosen his own path. Her love for her children was unrestrained.
She and i had discussed recording her memoirs, and it's a tragedy that this was never done. Her unembellished stories were amazing and touching.
i regret that i never really paid back her generosity. i regret that i let my fading skills in French prevent me from keeping contact with her. i regret that i started a letter to her just last week that was never sent.
Sofia, je t'embrasse trop fort. Je souhaite que tu as trouver ton paix.