A good friend of mine went to college at Radcliff, Harvard University’s highly exclusive college before Harvard itself went co-ed. Some seven years after she graduated and joined the workforce, she called a headhunter for help getting a job. She reviewed her resume and was surprised when the headhunter told her she didn’t have the qualifications necessary for the job she wanted.
“But I have a Harvard degree,” she reminded the headhunter.
“Yes,” the headhunter said, “but then you had potential.”
I’ve remembered that story all these years, and especially now because I turned 71 on Saturday. I have no more potential, I thought to myself. Is that a relief?
Last week, for only the second time in over five years, I didn’t write three blog posts (excluding occasions when I had retreats and would write that ahead of time). As the weekend drew nigh, including a one-day retreat on Saturday, I realized I wouldn’t get to it and instantly felt bad, as though I’d failed the rules of the game.
There’s a lot of merit to walking away. I walked away for almost 24 hours this past weekend. After the meditation retreat on Saturday, I settled down with a novel and read for 5 hours till midnight—wow, what a treat! The next day I did basic housekeeping and dog-caring tasks, like taking Aussie to the local dog gathering, where she sat with her back turned to all the play and activity, along with her friend Misty the Great Pyrenee. I walked in three inches of snow in the back yard filling birdfeeders.
A beautiful poet called Kineret Yardena wrote, in The Call:
Is it possible that not every call
is a call to completion?
Is it possible to finish something
a prism of light
streaming behind you . . .
Like many writers, I have unpublished manuscripts in my office cabinet. I have unpublished poems and short stories. I would like to see Green River Zen Center continue to flourish in the Valley and to see the Zen Peacemaker Order re-energize and find its place in the world of presence and compassion.
I know writers who, at this time in their lives, do nothing but work to get everything they’ve written out of files and into publication. They’re answering a call for completion, but that’s not my way.
There is so much that is alive for me now. We are living in remarkable times and there is so much to uncover, so many new avenues: new books, new recipes, new songs, new games with at-home children, new footprints in the snow.
The coronavirus could be a big turn as we look at our lives and evaluate how we went through it, how we discovered what’s important and what isn’t. How we learned to respect again real connection and love, while at the same time appreciating the resilience there is in being on our own, albeit isolated at times, seeing the lights in the house up above and knowing they, too, are on their own, all of us apart, all of us together.
We need not just new vaccines but also new poetry, new songs, new dharma. At 71, I’m up for it (though I lack potential).
I called customer service the other day because I had to return a clothing item. The young man asked me for my email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org, and when I told him, he said: “Cool! Do you teach yoga?”
“No,” say I, “I teach Zen.”
“Cool!” says he. “How’s business?”
“Great,” I tell him.
“Must be pretty calming, right?”
“No,” I say. “It can be calming, but for me it’s a plunge into the ocean.”
“Cool!” says he. “Never learned anything about the way of Zen.”