Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shanti Ananda

This morning I looked for the faded scar between two fingers on my left hand, and was troubled to not be able to see it. If I pull the skin on the back of my hand tautly, I can at least imagine that it's still there, barely, a centimeter of white to remind me of being 12 or 13, a Plaza Rat hanging around daily on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Shanti Ananda, a sweet boy who I looked up to in an indescribable way when I was between 12 and 16 years old, passed away on December 31st after a sudden brain aneurysm, I learned through old friends on Facebook. That afternoon so many years ago, we'd played a game called bloody knuckles. We each held our hands out, while the other tried to swipe their opponent's hand with a metal comb, right in between their knuckles. I was on the losing end of that particular battle.

I can only speak of knowing Shanti for a small group of clustered (and very intense, formative) years in the early to mid 1980s, years that I believe launched us Plaza Rats into our true selves. His blonde mohawk and Ank necklace would appear on the Plaza every day after school, and everyone would light up. Despite the fact that we were all committing daily, crazy shenanigans together, I always felt safe when he was around. He gave the best hugs; this I remember after 25 years, and let me tell you, I'm sure I needed each and every one of them.

The image that I have seared into my mind that I can contribute to what will surely be a long littany of first and last impressions, is of Shanti strolling down one of the paths that lead to the center monument of the Plaza. There he is, adorned with his exterior palette of teen angst, with one exception; he also exudes a protective light, and his loyalty knows no bounds. If we're scaling the walls of the post office after school, we'll be safe because he's with us. If we're climbing through the tunnels of Heaven and Hell after school, we'll be safe, because Shanti's with us. If I'm sneaking into the Lensic up the fire escape, I'm safe because he's around somewhere; he always was. If Catherine and I are getting picked up from Crapshaw Junior High by older  kids, and Shanti's among them, we're safe because he's there. Thinking back, I think he had a gift for soaking up the burden of others' insecurities with a kind of precious and unconditional love. He listened, and he was a wise counselor.  The cast of characters that surrounded us in that time have left the long lasting memories of a beautiful and struggling lot.

Today is New Year's Day, and I took my son hiking down the Appalachian Trail at the Delaware Water Gap. The scene reminded me intensely of growing up in Santa Fe and taking drives up the mountain to hike at Big and and Little Tesuque. As Jamie and I scaled jagged, mossy rocks, appreciating the sounds of the rushing water and the sun shining, I thought of Shanti. I kept imagining him in his youth, because that's all I knew. He was beautiful and smiling, and his arms were outstretched in the way that I remember them. May you find peace, my old friend, and may your family find comfort in those  in-between spaces that loved ones leave behind when they leave too soon.


  1. Thanks Rachel... I knew Shanti in his early years. He was part of our lives in the kids' play group that Chela and I were in, and all of our children thought of him as a brother, not just Sattva. As single parents we depended on one another to take care of our children evenings when we needed a break, and I always looked forward to having Shanti at our home. On my daughter's last trip to Santa Fe for a mutual friend's memorial she had some of those hugs you speak of and yes! he was the BEST hugger, put his whole trustworthy being into that hug and whomever he hugged felt secure. He was a genuinely beautiful human being. He will be missed. Thank you for celebrating his life this way ♥

  2. To Rachel,
    A FaceBook message from my cousin Gail in Florida popped up: 'Urgent, a miracle is needed in Arizona. Jesse's love and fiance' is hospitalized and in grave condition. Brain stem bleeding and not breathing on his own. Please pray'.
    So, I did. At that moment and dinner time and every other time the thought came to my mind.
    Another FB message popped up from my cousin Donna here in Connecticut. 'Please pray for Jesse's fiance' in Arizona. He needs a miracle.'
    Once again a FB reminder from Gail in Fla. 'Jesse is Don's daughter and he and Mona left for Arizona this morning'.
    So, I kept praying hoping and believing something good would come out of their pain.
    All of this activity and praying for someone I don't even know. But Don and Mona are my neighbors. Don is my cousin and friend. Jesse is their only little girl and she is suffering. So, on a New Year's eve weekend they headed for Arizona to be with her.
    Yesterday, New Years day brought another FB message from Florida. 'RIP Shanty'. Tears welled up in my eyes as I reached for my hanky to blow my nose and wipe the emotions running down my cheeks. Compassion for my cousins little girl and tears for someone I don't even know. I thought to myself, 'Is this what being Christlike is about? If it is,I'm OK with it'.
    I just read the commentary about your childhood memories of Shanty in Santa Fe.
    After reading your description of the person known as Shanty Ananda, I think I have gotten to know him a little as well. Thank you.
    Gail, Donna and Don's cousin, Chaplain Den

  3. Beautiful words, from a beautiful lady, for an incredibly beautiful man. Tank you Rachel. I love you and you will be there, with me, as we say thank you and goodbye to such an incredible man!I love you, Catherine

  4. I love you too, Catherine. Thank you for bringing my spirit along with you. I will certainly be there in my heart.

  5. Hi Rachel, I read your comments and they brought a smile to my face. I met Shanti about 15 years ago when we made jewlery together and although we saw each other infrequently, when we touched bases again, he always had a hug at the ready. He always made me feel like I just saw him yesterday.

    I will never forget the day that I introduced my very proper Mom and Dad to Shanti... he immediately hugged them both and the startled look on their faces was priceless.

    You said something about feeling safe with Shanti. I never really felt that from him but I always felt a sense of... oh, I don't know... Calm? Rightness? It is hard to put into words. I just always felt good around Shanti. He had a way of putting people at ease with that huge smile of his; with Shanti I always felt like there was laughter waiting right below the surface.

    My wife and I were at the memorial on Saturday and though I knew Shanti, I didn't know him at all. The sheer number of people that came to say goodbye was astounding. I cannot help but be in awe of this guy who touched so many people. But that was not even the best part. The most wonderful thing was the diversity of the crowd. Bikers, hippies, punks, plaza rats, school board members, cops, lawyers... you name it, they were there and they all had a story.

    Thank you for your words Rachel, they kind of made me feel like I got to know this great guy, this gentle giant, just a little better.