Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mrs Waveney Miller


I've been to see Waveney Miller who I traced to a Nursing Home in a village near Sandwich, Kent after almost eighteen months of vainly trying to find her. Waveney has been a Trustee of the Buddhist Hospice Trust for twenty years and is a dear friend to so many. It was a very moving experience to find Waveney and see her. I felt floods of happiness and I broke down in tears, weeping through my laughter and joy.

From the last time I saw her she is totally changed physically following a series of incapacitating strokes. Only her eyes and her spirit remain the same. She is terribly frail, bedbound, almost emaciated, with contractures of her arms so she holds them over her chest. She can only move her shoulders in a kind of shrug, and she can move her head from side to side with difficulty. She can't speak and can swallow only with help.

I gave her a few teaspoons of a drink and had to hold her mouth closed so she could swallow it, but most came out again. Her beautiful hair is gone and most of her teeth. Waveney who was always so immaculate about her appearance and so vivid in her attire had a tuft of white bristle on her chin. But she gave a little chuckle when I told her through my tears that I was her "naughty boy" (she gave me this label because I was rather cavalier with Tibetan Buddhist niceties), and she was my Dancing Dakini (because of her girlish tendency to dance at any invitation), and she chuckled when I kissed and nuzzled her cheek.

We spent an hour together and most of the time I just gazed at her, but I told her a few stories and reminisced a bit about the IWS. We spent a few minutes in shared quietness of the heart. On her locker I left a little vajrasattva statue with a sweet face that sometimes came to our London meetings. It has a dancing mien and he holds the vajra of compassion to his heart and the bell of wisdom in his lap. I keep seeing her in my mind's eye and feel her holding me in her heart as I write.

She is truly a great and inspiring bodhisattva, little West Indian immigrant nurse, "three parts Tibetan, two parts Scottish Presbyterian, with a twist of Japanese from a former life". How wonderful to know her, and to have found her again. I shall hope to go again soon, but I said Goodbye as well as Farewell. She is on Morphine patches for pain (probably muscle-contractures, but who knows?). I don't know if she really recognised me, but it doesn't matter does it? The moment we spent together, and all we have shared over the years, is a blessed gift of dharma, and I am so grateful.

Waveney Miller is a long-standing supporter of the Buddhist Hospice Trust and she has been a Trustee for about twenty years. She and I met at the Inner Work School meetings hosted by Ray Wills from 1990 onwards. She attended very regularly, travelling up from Ashford in Kent where she had her home. Over the years we became close friends and, not infrequently, conversational sparring partners at meetings. We used to clash about everything! Waveney is a disciple of Rigdzin Shikpo Longchen Foundation) and follows the Tibetan Maha-Ati/Dzogchen tradition; I often chided her that she was three parts Tibetan Buddhist and two parts Scottish Presbyterian, as she had very pronounced evangelising and missionary tendencies with most people she met: once cornered by Waveney with a discourse on karma few escaped with their scepticism intact about rebirth in the hell realm.

Waveney was born and raised in the West Indies of Afro-Caribbean parentage, although she knew that she had in a former life lived in Japan, and has strong Scottish ancestry. Waveney trained as a State Registered Nurse in her home country, following the noblest traditions of Nightingale Nursing that had been carried there by the Scottish Presbyterian missionary doctors and nurses who colonised that land. In the late 1950s/early 1960s she travelled to England to work as a nurse in London.

At some point her feet carried her, unaccountably, to the steps of the Buddhist Society premises at 50 Ecclestone Square near Victoria station (see image above). She faltered for a moment, she says, at the threshold, but eventually overcame her shyness, rang the doorbell and was met by Christmas Humphreys, who invited her in. In this manner was Waveney Miller, a young Afro-Caribbean immigrant nurse newly arrived in a strange land and with firmly entenched Christian beliefs, set upon the Noble Eight-Limbed Path, of her own volition. She has never deviated from the Path in fifty years. I owe her so much, but Waveney would never see what she gave so freely as incurring any kind of indebtedness.

4 comments:

s.hodge said...

Dear Peter,

Somewhat belatedly, I have just come across your nice piece about our dear friend Waveney. But I couldn't help but notice a few errors of hich you may be unaware.

First, Waveney would have been a bit peeved to be labelled as West Indian -- she was born in Guyana and proud of that. And Guyana as you may know is in South America, not the Caribbean.

She first visited the Buddhist Society in 1982, when she was in her late 40s-- hardly newly arrived as you put it. After a few months dabbling in other classes there, she then joined my Tibetan Buddhism class and I was her first teacher (in conjunction with Ato Rinpoche) for over five years. I also taught every month at the small group she had organized at her house in Ashford during the early 80s. So she had not actually been involved in Buddhism for 50 years as you suggest -- but 28 years. Still a long time, though, during which time she made rapid progress, so I am sure she must have had contact with Buddhism in previous lives -- her "Japanese" period, perhaps ?

I hope you do not find these few corrections irksome, but I am sure we both will agree that she was all-in-all an extremely remarkable person who will be missed by all who knew her over the years.

Best wishes,
Stephen Hodge

PS: You needn't post this message -- you could just make a few alterations to your piece.

Peter Goble said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephen, and I stand corrected. As you say, Waveney would surely have put me right about her provenance in Guyana, and I overlaid her narrative about visiting the Buddhist Society with memories of my own teenage experiences of going to London to train as a nurse, as Waveney and I were more or less contemporaries, and I met a lot of young West Indian nurses around that time (1956-59).

She often spoke of you, and your influence on her reached me indirectly, and positively I feel, as she no doubt intended it should! And Waveney didn't give up easily. As you say, an extremely remarkable person.

I hope you don't mind my publishing your comments; by their nature blogs are, in my view, best left as they were written, 'warts and all', but I will refer to your comments in an upcoming blog, so your additional information can be taken on board.

Peter Goble said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephen, and I stand corrected. As you say, Waveney would surely have put me right about her provenance in Guyana, and I overlaid her narrative about visiting the Buddhist Society with memories of my own teenage experiences of going to London to train as a nurse, as Waveney and I were more or less contemporaries, and I met a lot of young West Indian nurses around that time (1956-59).

She often spoke of you, and your influence on her reached me indirectly, and positively I feel, as she no doubt intended it should! And Waveney didn't give up easily. As you say, an extremely remarkable person.

I hope you don't mind my publishing your comments; by their nature blogs are, in my view, best left as they were written, 'warts and all', but I will refer to your comments in an upcoming blog, so your additional information can be taken on board.

Peter Goble said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephen, and I stand corrected. As you say, Waveney would surely have put me right about her provenance in Guyana, and I overlaid her narrative about visiting the Buddhist Society with memories of my own teenage experiences of going to London to train as a nurse, as Waveney and I were more or less contemporaries, and I met a lot of young West Indian nurses around that time (1956-59).

She often spoke of you, and your influence on her reached me indirectly, and positively I feel, as she no doubt intended it should! And Waveney didn't give up easily. As you say, an extremely remarkable person.

I hope you don't mind my publishing your comments; by their nature blogs are, in my view, best left as they were written, 'warts and all', but I will refer to your comments in an upcoming blog, so your additional information can be taken on board.