“Why is today different from all other days?” asks my friend, Peter KuKu Cunningham.
“It’s St. Stupid Day,” responds the director of the Order of Disorder, Michel No-Can-Do Dobbs.
As this dialogue unfolds by text, I decide to light incense to honor April Fool’s Day. I plant a stick in each of three holders for three altars, as I usually do for special days. They catch fire, then die out. I repeat this twice, and each time all three incense sticks go out. After that, the glass oil candle that’s always lit also goes out. Damn! I say to myself.
An hour earlier we finished a module for the Zen Peacemaker Order cohort entitled DON’T BURN OUT: Lightness, Laughter, and Self Care. Instead of starting with a couple of minutes of silence, as we usually do, Michel leads us in a couple of minutes of laughter. “And let me know if you have nothing to laugh about, and I’ll give you something to laugh about,” he warns us. He reminds us of Bernie’s advice to start every day by looking at the mirror in the morning and laughing at yourself.
Bernie did more than that. Even as he was balding on top of his head, his hair grew stringier on the sides. Every morning he’d get out of bed and look at his messed-up hair in the mirror. He’d muss it up even more, looking more and more like a hirsute alien with curled lips and crazy eyes, and laugh out loud. Then he’d mess it up even more and laugh even harder at himself.
Finally, he’d come over to the bed. “Eve,” he’d say excitedly, “look at my hair.”
“Not again, Bernie,” I’d mumble, keeping my eyes shut.
“Come on, Eve, what do you think of my hair?”
I’d open my eyes and scream. He’d break into a loud guffaw, then walk over to the mirror on top of his dresser and peer once again at his image, laughing delightedly.
You know how some women worry about what their hair looks like in the morning, anticipating a “bad hair day?” Every day for Bernie was a bad hair day, and he loved every minute of it. He started his day this way—and mine—daily for a couple of years. I forgot all about it till this morning.
There’s a famous Zen koan about Master Zuigan who would call out to himself every day: “Oh, Master!” and would answer: “Yes?”
“Are you awake?” he’d ask himself, and would answer: “Yes, I am.”
“Never be deceived by others, any day, any time.” “No, I will not.”
I think this was Bernie’s presentation of that koan every single morning with his hair.
The stroke finally put an end to that particular play, but not to all, as you can see above.
Often, his partner was our dog, Stanley. Bernie walked precariously with a cane. His right foot couldn’t feel the heavy shoe that enveloped it nor the ground holding him up. As he slowly, after mucho physical therapy, started walking on the floor and even up and down stairs, Stanley would lie down smack in front of him, obstructing his progress. We called Stanley the Obstructer, and Bernie would have to finagle his way around the big dog.
Today, April Fool’s Day, is Bernie’s day and I am missing him very much.
Thomas Merton wrote: “What is serious to men is often very trivial in the eyes of the universe. What might appear to us as ‘play’ is perhaps what is most serious.”
In that spirit, I call my mother every day, and every day it goes like this:
Mother picks up phone, hangs up.
I call again. She picks up phone.
“Chavale, where are you?”
“I’m in my house, mom.”
“Really? Since when?”
“A long time, mom.”
“Oh.” She thinks it over for a minute. “Well, one day we will meet, and that will be a great day.”
“Yes, mom,” I say, “that will be a great day.”
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“I hate it when you write about me,” says Aussie.
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