November 3, 2014 § 2 Comments
I read something about this, somewhere.
Thinking it was Jonathan Miller,
Did you ever read a book,
Entranced by the protagonist,
Then go to the movie,
And feel, well, disappointed?
Tracing the territory of his face.
Not quite right.
Not right at all, actually.
Miscast, you think.
Seen through those gauzy appraising eyes.
The actor is too old,
Can’t put your finger on it, exactly.
Men can get by with all that.
What’s happening isn’t about putting
Pierce Brosnan in a Steve McQueen role.
No, it’s something else.
But how are we to see as seen?
We are entranced by the idea
Of that man in the book.
Not some pinned down image,
Or some actor we cast in that role.
It’s the very idea of him.
Step out of the skin box,
look back at Him.
Seeing that idea embodied is the problem.
Always too confined, too small,
Doesn’t matter who they cast.
Not the gravitational center,
Not larger than this so called life.
When you invest a character with all that,
You are bound to be disappointed when
He actually shows up.
Your martini shot coming.
I just thought
That an interesting idea
To throw out.
December 23, 2012 § 15 Comments
I step out into the early morning chill. Air crisp and pure. First snow of winter. Fields of scattered sparkling diamonds.
These moments. What words could really capture them?
Someday I will die and these moments will end. But now and here, I am present, aware, alive in the fullest sense. Here there is no ticking clock. No plans. No regrets.
Nothing but a communion with the cold air and the sparkling snow.
Immortal in the moment.
November 20, 2012 § 42 Comments
“To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment.”
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
As the cancer consumed my father, he disappeared a bit at a time. First he lost the capacity to walk, then to read, to eat, to speak, and finally a coma-like existence. And then the shell that remained ended too.
This all happened many years ago. Yet in my memory, it is as fresh as yesterday.
In his final months a peace came upon my father. I do not know where it came from. He practiced no religion, held no faith in the transcendent. Most of his life he seemed at war with his very existence, deeply unhappy with himself and the life he felt trapped within.
But as he wasted away, my father changed. His resistance melted, acceptance emerged. Not just acceptance of his coming death- acceptance of the people around him and of life itself. He projected a warm and natural love. My father seemed ready to die, unafraid and open.
I cannot know the source of my father’s peace. But I now believe that somehow, some way, my father understood at the end what I know now.
We each die a little at a time, moment to moment.
I am not thinking here about the simple awareness of mortality. Something else.
The peace my father embodied comes to us only when we exist in the fullest sense. “No illusions in our mind, no resistances in our body,” as the Tao teaches. But this way of being cannot be separated from non-being. This communion with life itself is to embrace death itself. To understand finally that life and death are one.
Those final months my father gave me a great gift- a model of how life might be lived- and death embraced. A gift that took years for me to unwrap but which is mine now.
September 28, 2012 § 25 Comments
I sit in the diner waiting for my good friend, Dan. I look down at my wrist and see the watch. It’s a vintage Omega, from the 1960’s. Susan, my treasured friend, gave it to me. It was her father’s watch.
I look at the watch and think of Susan, and her father. I think of my children, imagining that someday one of them will wear the watch. I recall my father who, like the man who wore this watch before me, was a fisherman. I imagine the early mornings on the water with my father, picturing the way his wrist snapped as he cast his line. And my imagining just spins out from there.
In Buddhism we say that we die, and we don’t die. That which exists cannot become non-existent, we are taught.
Like all great wisdom, it’s simple, enduring, and true. In the things that we do, in the way that we exist in the world, we set in motion ripples of feeling and thought that collide and connect with other ripples and become part of the same cosmic field that Buddha walked.
We change the world, each of us, by our presence. And when we die, when our bodies return to dust, even that dust may enrich the soil, feed a living thing.
On and on.
We cannot possibly trace all the interconnected ripples that bring us to where we are. But we surely feel the presence of those who are with us now- and those who came before.
A half century ago a man walked into a store and bought himself a brand new Omega. And here I am, in this diner, waiting for my friend.
The magic of life.
August 15, 2012 § 55 Comments
“You may think that when you die, you disappear, you no longer exist. But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent. That is the magic.”
My mother does not know who I am. She lives in a locked down wing of a facility that she will never leave. She cannot hold anything in her mind for more than a few seconds. She will die there. I often hope it’s soon.
My mother is gone.
Before she was gone, my mother would often say to me, “You’re such a good writer.” She meant it as a compliment I know but there was something else. It was as though she thought that I didn’t understand, or wasn’t using, my talent.
But all those years my mother kept saying this to me, I was writing. Along the way I published dozens of articles, several book chapters, even a book. And still, I would hear from my mother that same admonishing compliment- “You’re such a good writer.”
What I now understand is that amidst all those pages of published work was hardly a single page that really meant something to me. Mostly cold, academic stuff. Hundreds of pages where I was not to be found.
That’s changed. Now I write what I feel- not what’s expected, not out of any ambition. Writing now because I can’t see any other choice. Drawn to the work with all my heart.
My mother patiently waited all those years for me to believe in myself. By the time I did, it was too late for her. Now she’ll never read anything I write- ever again.
But she’s here, right now, in my work.
Gone- but not gone. Never gone.
June 1, 2012 § 4 Comments
When I was young, I conjured a lot of foolish thinking- some of it about death and my mortality. I was a wreck on my 30th birthday, thinking that death was coming according to some actuarial table and that somehow this was the beginning of the downhill slide. So stupid.
I now understand that death does not come to us on any schedule, actuarial or otherwise. It may take us at any moment, young or old. We may be given some sense of its arrival or it may just swoop us up one day.
I no longer fear death. Nor do I harbor any illusions about its schedule. I know I have this moment, that’s all.
But it’s not enough to lose one’s fear of death. We should be ready for death.
We become ready for death in the way that we live in each moment. The Tao tells us how.
The Master gives himself up
To whatever the moment brings…
He doesn’t think about his actions;
They flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
Therefore he is ready for death,
As a man is ready for sleep
After a good day’s work.
Tao te Ching, Chap. 50 (Stephen Mitchell translation)