I am returning home, the dawn of Memorial Day, flying from Jerusalem, Israel into the eastern coast of North America, which right now appears as a pink horizon. There’s still a long way to go. Another flight from New York to Boston, the Silver Line city bus from Logan Airport to Boston South Station, then a longer bus ride to Springfield, and finally a pick-up by my friend and home-sharer Tim, and a car ride home.
Tim has thankfully refrained from sending me emails about the antics of Aussie the Delinquent and Harry the Bandit, but I have a sense the 45-minute car ride will provide some crucial detail. He will start off by saying, “Everything was fine, they’re good dogs—but” and I will hear of the number of accidents Harry had on the spot of green rug behind the dining table, the herb plants someone ate up, a snake or two they’d throttled to death, and another fabric throw Harry had chewed big holes into and destroyed.
But before that my brother will have driven me down from Jerusalem (you always go down from Jerusalem, never up, unless it’s to heaven) and across the central plains towards Ben-Gurion Airport, as has happened more times than I can count. We don’t talk much because we’re talked out. Instead, I look up at the stars and wonder, for the millionth time, how my life has taken me such distances from my family of origin. There was a time when I racked my brain around that, but not for years now; still, it always merits a moment of wonder.
I have been reading First Light, a classic book on modern astronomy, and seeing the light of the stars that has traveled millions of years, even from stars that have exploded and are long gone, I am aware that every time I look up I am actually looking back at the past. There’s a phrase for it, I learned: look-back time.
We don’t actually know what happened in the past. We have our stories and memories of it, or as Bernie would say, we have our opinions about it. But we can’t escape the illumination of the past, like we can’t escape primeval starlight.
The Dreamliner I am flying on doesn’t find its direction through starlight like the old ships used to do, and in the day we can’t see the starlight since we’re busy busy busy. But then comes nighttime!
So tonight I will go out with the dogs into the back yard. I will have to use a flashlight to avoid the holes in the ground that they have so helpfully dug up in their search for inner-terrestrial life, but I will try to keep my head up towards starlight, which is look-back time.
An astronomer in First Light says that if we could imagine our galaxy, the Milky Way, as the size of a dime, then the entire knowable universe, up to its farthest reaches, is only 4 miles long. “A small watering hole,” is how he put it, describing what’s inside the outermost edges of creation, beyond which there’s nothing we can see.
But the Zen teacher John Tarrant recently wrote: “Beauty announces that you have come to the end of the known universe.” Implying, to my mind at least, that beauty points to the known, but also to the unknown.
Which reminds me, for no logical reason at all, that Roshi Fleet Maull and I will be teaching at a summer retreat from August 21 to August 25 in Windhorse Hill in neighboring South Deerfield, which not only has a beautiful meditation hall but also looks down on the Connecticut River. Both our communities will sit together. Fleet will take time off from his wide-reaching prison work training prison staff in mindfulness throughout the province of Ontario. And I? Perhaps, after quitting zazen for the evening, I’ll take folks outdoors to look up at the stars.
For more information on the retreat, see: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/summer-sesshin-with-roshis-eve-marko-and-fleet-maull-tickets-61892930421