HOW CAN I BE A SHADOW IF I DON’T WEAR BLACK?

I was supposed to lead sesshin, a Zen meditation retreat, for 5 days, and never made it. The person who undertook to take care of Bernie was not well, and there wasn’t enough time to make other arrangements. The sesshin goes on without me, as it should. But last night, Norman came for another visit.

I’ve been blessed with many shadows in my life, but Norman has been so persistent that we’ve grown almost fond of each other.

Eve, he hums sibilantly in my ear at around 2 am, don’t you wish you weren’t here?

Long time no see, I say sleepily. You’re the one I wish weren’t here, Norman.

Miss anything? he croons.

Only some peace and quiet.

How about sitting? Don’t you miss sitting?

I’ll sit in the morning.

I mean really sitting, he warbles. Settling in for the long haul. Letting everything else drop—Bernie, dog, house, work, everything—and settling down.

It’s not that simple when you’re leading a retreat.

After the first couple of days the retreat runs itself, you’ve said so yourself many times,

I considered a minute. Okay, I feel sad about it.

Ha! he practically hoots in triumph. Now we’re getting somewhere!

I wish Stanley would chase him out of the house, but the dog’s asleep on the rug next to the bed. There’s nothing wrong with being sad, Norman.

Are you kidding me? Who chooses to be sad?

Sad isn’t terrible. Look at the trees outside, they know we’ve begun the end of summer, they know what’s around the corner. But see how beautiful they are.

So what are you saying, that sad is beautiful? Beside, how do you know that trees get sad?

How do you know they’re not? Why am I even wasting my time talking to you, Norman?

You tried to ignore me for many years, remember? I’d dance around the room silly, trying to get your attention, but you couldn’t give me the time of day—or night.

Now we call that spiritual bypassing. At least I didn’t drink or do drugs to avoid you.

No, you did worse. You meditated and studied.

That’s bad?

It is if you do them to keep me away.

Well, Norman, now we’re pals. I know I can expect you anytime I don’t feel so great, only I wish you wouldn’t always wear black. Can’t you change your get-up?

How could I be a shadow if I didn’t wear black?

At least put in an earring or two.

I don’t want to talk about me, I want to talk about you: about the retreat that’s going on without you, about the hours you don’t manage to write, about how old you’re getting—

I’m 67—

About how old Stanley’s getting. Speaking of the trees out there, you think your autumn hasn’t begun? Ha!

I’m planning on a rebirth starting tomorrow. You might consider same. And for your information, I love autumn. Did you ever hear Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York?” Gorgeous.

What about the retreat you’re not doing?

I’m getting sleepy. You know, Norman, you used to be one nasty hungry ghost. You’re not so nasty anymore, you’re even cute.

Move a little bit, make some room. Haunting you is hard work, I could use a nap.

Do you snore? Bernie says I snore softly.

Softly’s okay, but no louder.