It’s a busy morning.
Starts out as usual: shower, meditation, brief service to Kwan-Yin, feed Aussie, look at news and answer emails with first coffee of the day, yoga sun salutations. It’s already hot and muggy, I want to take the dogs out as early as possible because a good friend is coming for lunch, only first there are important phone calls from my brother, followed by the plumber who replaces an old, leaky toilet.
I take the dogs up the slope—”Aussie, where are you?”—in a hurry to leave the hot sun behind and enter the forest, and run into someone I haven’t seen since before covid. We exchange pleasantries—”How are you? Fine, how are you?”—and I’m in a hurry to get into the shade when he says to my retreating back: “Eve, do you know anything about love?”
I stand still. Then I turn around slowly, say the first thing that comes to my mind: “Not much.”
He tells me a story; I can’t share it here because it’s not my story to tell. He’s younger than I am, which makes a difference. Love changes as we go from one period of life to another.
Do you know anything about love?
Before going up that slope I’d paused for a moment at a small, pretty meadow, a mound of green. The dogs cavort there now, but there was a farmhouse there till about a month ago, an 18th century farmhouse where a dozen of us lived communally for a couple of years. Bernie and I lived in the oldest part of the house, two rooms with walls, floor, and no insulation. We froze in winter and perspired miserably in summer. I had an old, full-size electric blanket with me from years ago. Bernie had pooh-pooed it at first, no electric blankets for him. Came winter and I draped it over my half of the bed, only to notice that less and less of it was covering me as the night hours passed, the rest pulled over towards the left.
Muji the dog had shivered in that room in mid-August, Bernie put on an electric heater for him, but he died shortly afterwards.
To go to the bathroom, you walked out the door and down a ramp into a freezing pantry, then through a thick wooden door to a dining room, then the kitchen, and hoped to God nobody was taking a bath.
“I’ve done enough communal living in my life,” Bernie growled, but he stuck with it for two years.
“It’s as if nothing had ever been there,” a friend said the first time she saw the mound of grass. Not a log or a piece of lumber, not a single trace of history.
No problem, we’re Buddhists. We believe in change.
A blog reader wrote me: “Up to now, I can’t wrap around my head the fact that he hasn’t contacted you in any way just to let you know how he is. A very simple thing to do.”
Truth is he’s contacting me all the time. He was in that farmhouse and now he’s in the absence of the farmhouse. He’s in the converted barn that once hosted the best conference of Western teachers of Engaged Buddhism and that now hosts weddings every weekend.
He’s in the left-hand side of the bed whether it holds his body or not.
Over many years and in many interviews he said that he first met up with Zen in Huston Smith’s Religions of Man. Smith only had a page or two on Zen, he said, but when he read that brief chapter as a teenager he felt like he’d reached home. Some years later he began to sit, and then met Maezumi Roshi, his teacher.
Walking in the woods so many years later, I remembered that in the 1970s, during my first marriage, I watched a PBS documentary series based on Smith’s book. It was almost 50 years ago, yet I remember that the hour on Buddhism began with a Zen monk in black robes hitting the suspended wooden board called han with a mallet in a cadence that started slow and got faster and faster, finally ending with 3 beats: medium, soft, LOUD!
“It measures how our time passes,” someone said there. That’s all I remember about that hour, only a feeling I couldn’t put into words, bare, abrupt, slashed down to the core. A dozen years later I began to sit.
I wished I’d remembered that earlier and told him. He would have gotten a kick out of it, he loved coincidences only he didn’t believe in coincidences.
This morning, as I walked up that slope under the burning sun, my mind was one big list of reminders: Don’t forget to take the bread out of the freezer—Do you have enough cheese?—Where did Aussie go?—Are we going back to sitting in person at the zendo?—Can I finish Jimena’s grant application this weekend (it pays part of her salary)?—What am I going to do about the cracks in the roof gutters?—Where are you, Aussie?—My sneakers aren’t drying out from all that rain!—and in the middle of all that, someone asked my back: “Eve, do you know anything about love?”
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