“What are you doing out there, Aussie?”
“Munching on a chipmunk.”
“I’m hungry! You don’t feed me enough. Besides, eating is my way of grieving.”
“Who are you grieving for, Auss?”
“Leeann isn’t dead, Aussie.”
“Then why don’t I see her and join her and the others every Wednesday and Thursday for an outing?”
“Because she flew to California to see her son, Aussie, that’s why. She’ll be back.”
“I don’t believe you. The person I love more than anybody else in the world—are you listening?—is gone from my life! No wonder I’m stuffing myself on chipmunks.”
“Aussie, this is called impermanence.”
“I don’t care what it’s called. All I know is that the thing I love most–are you still listening?–is one day here, one day gone. One day here, one day gone.”
Lately, members of our Zen group are challenging each other to be more real. We have Q&A after almost every talk, and an issue came up: Other than thanking folks for their talk, are we being real? What happens if our life experiences are very different or point us in a different direction? What are we ready to bring up and what not? Can we be vulnerable with each other? And on Zoom, in front of people who sometimes disappear from view if the video is turned off and you don’t know whether to take that personally?
I’m very glad for the inquiry.
At the same time, I’ve listened to and watched dynamics among meditation practitioners for a long time, and you know what? We’re not that different from most people. We would like to avoid pain and confusion. And probably what most of us avoid is the sense that things don’t make sense. That they don’t fit.
I wrote an entire screenplay that explored what it is to live with someone who’s very ill, someone not like the man I married. Where is love in those circumstances? Where is love in the face of growing older, rapid change, in the face of death? It’s not unusual for me to respond to heartbreak through the use of creativity and imagination, and I felt called to do this after Bernie died. The main characters make choices about leaving, loving and dying, some of the great shadows of our life.
When I finished the screennplay I wrote THE END, as if somehow I’d created some kind of fitting, satisfying ending. But true endings don’t fit. Days don’t fit, months don’t fit, lifetimes don’t fit except in our stories about them.
We want them to fit according to some incredibly narrow bandwidth called my sense of things. In order to do that they’d have to contract mightily and we’d have to let go of shock, terror, amazement, awe, and dazzlement. But sometimes I prefer that contraction to seeming anarchy.
I talked with a friend of mine about his long-term relationship recently. I reminded him that he is not his partner and his partner is not him, and he replied that that was not what he was looking for. He was looking to let go of his expectations that the two of them will fit. He was looking to expand his safety zone to accommodate how different his partner is from him, the inevitable realization that just when he feels they have it all worked out, they don’t. So they juggle things around again, turn this way and that, trying to make it all fit, but it will never fit within their expectations, it won’t work inside their engineering designs no matter how innovative or imaginative those are.
Life doesn’t fit. Or I like to say: It’s the fitting of the non-fitting.
What it teaches me again and again is how hard it is to be comfortable with people different from me.
I, too, want things to be real. I want folks to feel they can express their deepest truth of that moment (it’ll change) and give full expression to who and what they feel right then (it will change). But when we do that, we must be ready to end up with a sense that we don’t fit, that our sense of life doesn’t fit another’s, much like looking at a dress I’m wearing in the mirror and seeing threads hanging down from the seam, or at the upside-down rug after the dogs have played on it: This is not how it’s supposed to look and feel!
Am I really ready for that, or do I just want to make it another screenplay, with a beginning set-up, tension in the middle, and emotional catharsis in the end that will restore meaning to chaos. What am I really up for?
Meantime, the beavers have been hard at work gnawing down trees, only sometimes things don’t go according to plan and they fall on land rather than across the water (see above).
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