Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to grow up in a Zen house. Wow, you’ve been living all your life with two—not one, but two—Zen teachers, what do they talk about? What’s it like?
Let me tell you, both of them are totally insane.
There’s the guy who sits there looking out into space, saying almost nothing. Nothing perturbs him, nothing bothers him, you could tell him a war just started over in Greenfield and he’ll say Is that so?
People come by. How’re you doing? they ask.
He says: Okay.
How is it after the stroke? Okay.
How’s the winter been? Okay.
How’s Donald Trump? Okay.
Everything’s okay no matter what.
I’m not saying he doesn’t have feelings, just that you don’t hear too much about them. Doesn’t complain, doesn’t explain, likes to look across the room for a long time. I look there, too, only I don’t see anything.
Then there’s the woman, and she’s something else entirely. Jumps up from bed before the sun, fills the birdfeeders, tells me it’s freezing outside, strokes me till I tell her to stop, opens windows to air out the house (you’d think there’s no air in the house), worries about icicles around the branches, gives apples to horses and leans so close the juices go all over her jacket and pants, constantly asks the guy how he feels, what he wants to eat, how’s his nose, how are his eyes, can’t stop noticing everything.
Stops in the middle of dinner and tells us to look out the window. Do you see the sunset? she asks excitedly.
Okay, says the guy.
What do you mean, okay? says she. It’s gorgeous.
I’m color-blind, says the guy.
I’m with him on this one. Why would anybody stop eating to look at a sunset? Why would anybody stop eating?
And who’s smack in the middle between these two? Moi. And when they can’t communicate, because they can’t be more different from each other if they tried, who translates? You got it.
The woman asks the guy, What do you want me to get you from the co-op?
Nothing, he says.
She looks at me and I translate: Diet Coke and Bart’s Malted Vanilla ice cream.
Later that day:
She: Bernie, do you want a second blanket? It’s chilly in the room.
He: I’m okay.
She looks at me. He needs another blanket, I tell her.
The other way, too.
She: OMG, my eyes are finally clearing up. For a week there I could hardly see anything, and now this medication is causing everything to clear and I can see the world and I can drive and look at faces and actually see you!
He: That’s nice.
Me: He couldn’t be more thrilled.
She: Bob Lee passed away. What a wonderful soul, what a bighearted man. Remember the couple’s counseling we did with him so many years ago? Always so ready to help and be there for people.
Me: He’s overcome with grief.
Finally, when I can’t stand to translate anymore, I pretend to be deaf and go off to the sofa for my nap. I know I know, without me they won’t understand each other, he’ll stare into space, she’ll bury herself in the office. But there’s only so much I can do. Imagine, a dog my age working so hard!