Yesterday a friend of ours sent me this photo from Santa Barbara.

How long was that? At least 16 years. Bernie’s sitting on the porch of the house we lived in then. It was called the Love house, because the Beach Boys’ Mike Love had lived there years ago. You sit and look over the Pacific Ocean, often at whales and dolphins leaping and disporting from the joy of being alive.

And Bernie, too, shows confidence and even exuberance as he sits there with his beloved computer, iPhone in the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt probably concealing a cigar, his eternal jeans. When you wear the same general clothes day in day out, you get pretty comfortable.

It’s a good time, a good moment, and our friend passed by and clicked a photo I knew nothing about till he sent it to me earlier today. Was he cleaning house? Opened an old file and this photo fell out?

And like two arrows meeting in mid-air, yesterday too someone posted a photo of Bernie just a few years ago with Krishna Das. How strong he looked, how ruddy, how full of health! I inhaled sharply, as though I’d been slapped. As though the koan of my life had just hit my head with the weight of 10,000 earths and sent me flying through space as I yelled at the top of my lungs:

What is this? What is this?

I’m returning from a conference of lay Zen teachers. Sounds dull, right? But do you know what we talked about? Do you know what was our koan this long weekend?

Why can’t the Bodhisattva sever the red thread?

Why can’t a person dedicated to the complete awakening of the entire world, each and every inhabitant, vowing to return lifetime after lifetime to accomplish this impossible task, why can’t that person drop love and sex? Why can’t s/he just let go of all that nonsense, the confusion, the regrets, the desires, the silly posturing and postures, the messy, deluded, insane energy of it all? Forget about it finally, give it up, sit in some grass-roof hermitage among the coals and ashes of advancing age and encroaching loneliness, and do some serious work. Never again make a fool of yourself, never again laugh and cry, never again obsess about the love you want and the love you get. Give up frenzy, give up tears, give up the maddest madness of them all, the madness of love.

Why do this again, and break your heart? And again, and break your heart? And again, and again?

I’ll arrive home in the very early hours of Tuesday morning and he’ll be asleep, as the past is asleep. And I’ll tiptoe quietly so that neither he nor Stanley wakes up, and slide into bed. But when he turns over and says sleepily—You’re home!—I’ll say Yes, I’m home, and give him a strangled kiss in that swiftly passing darkness.