Come Bernie, Anthony sent you an email with the download of Pavarotti’s arias, let’s listen to them.
I don’t know how to make them play, slowly says the man who once prided himself on all things computer. He lies down in bed, eyes closed. He can’t open them because of tears coming down, blurring his vision. He can’t open them because of pain. So he just keeps them shut, and still tears come.
You’re crying for the universe? I tease, watching him blindly stretch out for tissues. Come, let’s get happy.
I was at the dentist’s chair, of all things, when I heard Pavarotti sing. Luckily the assistant hadn’t yet begun her cleaning because I shot up in the chair. Had his voice always been so powerful, the words so clear and flowing? The whole world was in that voice, life was in that voice! Another aria proceeded that one, and then another, so I knew this wasn’t office music piped in by the Gods of Musak.
What is this? I asked the dental assistant.
I don’t know, I’ll ask Dr. Kim, she said. It’s one of his CDs.
Instantly I thought a whole lot better of Dr. Kim. And when he came in to check my teeth he told me it was one of his favorites and wrote the name of the album down for me: Ti adoro.
Now it’s evening. Ti adoro is on Bernie’s iPad, somewhere in Google universe, and I struggle with the ID and password. I get lost in folders of Excel sheets of conference attendance and financials, notes upon notes of 21 years of Auschwitz retreats and dharma talks and bios of senseis and roshis and plans and mandalas, ah, the rich, rich crazy world of Bernie Glassman, who now can’t find an album of Pavarotti’s arias.
I do. The first aria is Il Canto, and since Bernie is turned away from me, eyes shut, I lean down against the edge of his turned-away body and we listen together. Sometime, around Come aquile, he turns to me blindly and reaches for my shoulder, as far as he could reach lying down, and we listen to 8 more arias of Pavarotti.
The bridge of his nose doesn’t heal. New skin cells aren’t forming correctly to finally close the incision. There’s white stuff there instead, stuff I’m supposed to clean out only I can’t because it hurts him too much. Me, too. Can’t inflict such direct hurt. Indirect hurt, lots. Direct, not so much.
On Monday the surgeon was surprised the incision wasn’t healing. Yesterday his general physician was also surprised. She’s practical and positive. Fifteen years practicing medicine on us don’t seem to have changed her temperament. It’s not coming together, she said. But you know, she added brightly, radiation discourages the healing of the skin.
Discourages the healing of the skin? And what had the surgeon said a month ago? Cancel berates the body. Berates! I’m back to my usual indignation about words. It’s a bridge, I feel like telling them, the bridge of the nose. Bridges come together, otherwise they’re not bridges.
In 2+ years of this I’ve gotten good at affirming life. I mean the life of life, not the other component. Great at listening for birds first thing, great at noting when the sun comes up, still loving the white snow on the slope lingering at end of March.
I’m also good about doing the things I love, won’t let go of writing word after word long after I stopped knowing why. God gave each person only a certain number of words and when you reach your quota you’ll go mute, the old grandfather warned me, wagging his finger. Saba, I tell him quietly now (that means grandfather in Hebrew), I’ve reached my end of words years ago, what’s coming out now isn’t words, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s Bernie’s tears only in me they come out as words.
Doggedly (sorry, Stanley!), I sit at my desk and think: I’m not going there (meaning the bedroom), I’m staying here and working. Preparing for Saturday’s intensive. Reviewing householder koans for next week when I’m supposed to go to ZCLA to work together with Egyoku Nakao. Supposed to, I say, because right now I don’t know what I’ll be doing the next minute, but I’m trying to live my life, do my things, do my things, the mantra that has pushed and prodded me, that I take out like a winter coat when the weather gets rough.
Only this week something broke. It happens once in a long while. The wind gets too much and tears that coat to smithereens. Koans go out the window, notes and ideas go out the window. I stare out there at birds feeding desperately at our feeders and nothing comes up. The sky lowers and I feel the heaviness of billions of stars and planets right on my shoulders. Everything gets really, really small.
So last night I got up on my feet and went to the other room: Shall we listen to Pavarotti?
I can’t get it, he muttered weakly.
Let me, I said, picked up his iPad from the small adjustable table we have by the bed. And finally, after finagling here and there, we listened to the first, Il canto. He cried because his eyes hurt, I cried I don’t know why.
Deep, deep in my heart I know why I hide out in the office, staring at two screens, and even at the third screen of the window showing a snowy slope peopled by squirrels. Because here, lying against the edge of his body as he weakly strokes my shoulder, lies brokenness. For me. For Bernie, I don’t know, he’s not the one writing this blog, nor is he the drama queen in the house, as Stanley puts it. Only for me. His body is thin and the edge is narrow. I lie in a place that’s deeper than hope or faith or anything, it just is. I lie there as long as I can, till sometime, around Stella, I have to turn and change position because it’s too painful for the joints.
It’s a goddamn bridge, I tell myself in between arias. Bridges come together. By definition.