One Into Two

With Sami Awad in Palestine

We had our first snow of the season, and I bet it was Dixie Aussie’s first snow of her life, coming as she has from somewhere south of Houston, Texas. She peered out at it, baffled, but after I called to her she charged out, running while looking down at her paws in surprise. I shoveled and sprayed her with snow, tossed snowballs at her till her black back turned white, and voila! Transformation complete. She became a New England dog.

I wish it were this easy with humans.

Countless times Bernie told me that his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, said that the strongest, greatest teachings are the last ones, those given in death.

Right now I am so full of the man it’s hard to explain. He’s everywhere.

I don’t mean in the house, surrounded by photos of wearing a red nose and blowing bubbles at refugee children in Chiapas, or sitting in a large circle on the steps of the Capitol in the deep snow of January 1994 to clarify his next, post-Greyston steps (create the Zen Peacemaker Order!), or even the magnificent photo of him in black-and-ochre robes in a Japanese cemetery, following the Kurodas down the path alongside Peter Matthiessen.

The photographer Peter Cunningham took all those photos over a period of close to 40 years. “I told Bernie, ‘One more adventure,’” Peter said in the crematorium. “’We have to have one more adventure.’ So he gave me one more adventure.”

But no, it’s not those photos or the gorgeous Buddhist art he received as gifts over the years that fill me. It’s the sensation of him inside that’s so strong, that we’re both eating hot soup or petting Aussie and even breathing. I’m gone and it’s just us. It’s hard for me to even experience him as the man who died while I stayed behind and am now in grief. There is that part, too, but what I’m much more aware of is how much he fills me.

A friend who lost his wife over four years ago told me: “Your koan is, how does the one become two?”

The two were one for a long time. Did they fight? Sure. Did they argue? Naturally. Did they see eye-to-eye? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But they were one. They did the getting-up dance day after day, the breakfast dance, the you-want-coffee? dance. Even the you-do-this-I-do-that times, the you-travel-here-I-stay-home occasions, those were the one dancing. Yes, even the Why-do-you-always-talk-about-that? times and the You-never-really-listen-to-me times, those were all dances, too, danced by a couple, danced by one.

Only now the one becomes two, and I can’t fathom it.

People call and talk of the freedom that’s promised now. The freedom to travel, to go out whenever I feel like, eat what I want, see whom I want, not have to coordinate anything or wait for the right time when he’s tired and up in bed, not have to nail down coverage. The freedom to be me.

That ain’t now. Now is when I walk heavily around the empty house, feeling like I copy Bernie’s ponderous walk after his stroke. Now is when I eat tentatively, as Bernie had after his stroke, and get tired after 3, just like him.

The one resists breaking down with all its might.