A storm hit us last night. Not like the big snowstorms I remember from other years, in fact, we haven’t had a big snowstorm yet this winter. This one left us with several inches of snow and a coating of ice, and by mid-morning temperatures began climbing till they reached 40 degrees by early afternoon—Miami Beach!
When the rain stopped (a rise in temperature here in winter always seems to be accompanied by rain) I took Aussie for a walk. She’s so undeterred by cold and snow that she waited for our walk while lying belly-down on a snowy mat on the top step outside my office.
We went to a nearby park leading into the woods. Big mistake. The snow here was wet and full of puddles, and as we sloshed down the path my boots filled up with water and my feet got wet and cold. I trudged down the path like this for some 50 minutes till I decided enough was enough and turned Aussie back.
Didn’t bother her any, but I came home and immediately warmed up some minestrone. I think it will take about a week till those boots dry out.
At the beginning of the walk, I faced a conundrum. Turn left and climb up in snow that looked firm and more solidly packed, which we could do with more ease, or go down the path to the right marred by footsteps filled with water (see above photo). I took the latter path, not realizing how wet I was going to get.
Ten minutes later, I said to Aussie: “What a mess! We shouldn’t have gone this way.”
“You always pick the messy ones,” she answered.
“Part of your messy nature,” she grumbled.
It’s not my nature. I like things in order. Our house isn’t terribly clean, but it’s usually in order. Most things are where I left them and where I expect to find them.
It’s not how I lived with Bernie, who brought a whole lot of mess into my life. The woman who insisted on paying her bills on time often found herself without the money to do that. The woman who wanted to see something get born, grow, and mature saw projects fail before they took shape, or else grow all kinds of limbs that led them sideways rather than straight up. The woman who liked clear-cut roles and definitions saw those things change overnight.
Most difficult of all, relationships—with staff, fellow students, fellow teachers, him and me—got messy.
Living and working with Bernie meant messes. Not in the rooms we lived in—he was one of the neatest people I knew—but in terms of plans gone awry. He couldn’t stop creating things: new companies, new organizations, new sanghas. He was like the woman who gave birth all the time but didn’t stick around to raise all the kids. To me, our workspace seemed full of unruly children who cried for attention, love, and support while we ran around from one to the other doing the best we could. Usually, it wasn’t enough.
At times, I called it a lack of integrity. Why bring anything into the world if you can’t take care of it, I’d challenge him. Why promise something if you’re not sure you can deliver?
You can’t be sure of anything, he’d say back. There are no guarantees. If only 10% of what we do bears fruit, I’m satisfied.
I wasn’t. I was more fundamentalist in nature. No messes on my watch, no unfulfilled promises, no word unkept. Which usually meant fewer words and fewer promises.
I’m a little more comfortable with messes now. By human standards, life is a mess; it’s way too wild to conform to plans or ideas. Bernie was ready to go wild, live with things as they were rather than make things neat and complete. Greyston didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. Zen Peacemakers wouldn’t follow some clean arc of growth, it would dawdle, meander, and squiggle its way, obeying the reckless laws of life rather than calmer, more controlled laws of humans.
Finally, he stopped. The 2008 recession hit us hard, we lost the Farm, and he gave his word to the Zen Peacemakers board that he wouldn’t start new things. He was happy then. He flew out to teach and at home seemed more relaxed, driving out with a cigar several times a day, watching TV in the evening.
It was I then who would come over and say: “Don’t you want to do things anymore?”
And he would say: “I did enough.”
People seeing him then would never have guessed the good havoc he’d caused in the world, the flames he’d ignited in many, many places. I’m reminded of what Van Gogh wrote his brother: “Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul… and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.”
He left more than a little smoke.
Tomorrow would have been his 83rd birthday..
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