I went to New York for two days. Spent one day and night with an old friend, friendship close to 40 years old. We did what we always do—ate well, compared notes about our lives, spoiled dogs, went out for a reflexology session, ate well again, rested.
The next morning, after picking up Roshi Genro Gauntt, we proceeded to Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City where Roshi Fr. Robert Kennedy gave dharma transmission to John Kealy, a man who has practiced Zen meditation for almost 50 years and embodies dharma practice in his regular work life as a doctor. I know both Bob and John, as well as John’s wife, Sensei Sally Kealy, since 1985, old dharma mates.
It’s hard for younger people, who now see Buddhist centers all around them, to comprehend how new the dharma felt even back in 1985 (when it was already 20 years old in the US), how fresh and rare it seemed, with the sense that if we didn’t give it our all it might disappear, or not take root.
We needn’t have worried, but we all shared a passion and love for it from the get-go. We met Bernie in that love, we met each other, and almost 40 years later, at the sight of each other’s grayer hair or more wrinkled cheeks and brow, we connect with that love all over again. For the dharma, and for each other.
Last night I had dinner with Jeff Bridges. I met him over 20 years ago but really connected when we worked together on his book with Bernie, The Dude and the Zen Master. After Bernie’s death we continue to hang out by Facetime, only this time he was in New York promoting his new Hulu series, The Old Man, and we could meet face-to-face.
We met at the lobby of the Mandarin Hotel in the city. The lobby is on the 35th floor (only in NY) and looks down over Central Park and the tall buildings surrounding it. I wish I’d remembered to take a photo, but frankly, we were having such a good time that I forgot. Jeff had gone through cancer and a bad bout with coronavirus since we last met, and I was very happy to see him look so well.
Monday morning, I’m out the door by 6:30 to drive home, feeling warm all over. It’s important to me to see old friends. Once we lived and worked together; now, as everyone’s life proceeds in its own direction, we’re far and it takes special effort to travel and come together. I want to make that effort more often, I promise myself as I drive north to Massachusetts.
As I reach our driveway I pause carefully by the mailbox. Not to check the mail, Lori would have done that, but the bird nest in the newspaper mailbox. In the previous week I hadn’t caught either of the parents brooding on the 4 eggs and I was worried, but as I looked out the window there the bird was, sitting very still, not showing much alarm at the car that stopped alongside. I imagine a number of cars have stopped to check out the mailbox, alerted by the sign I posted.
I watch the phoebe deep inside the white mailbox, sitting so still on the eggs (both parents take turns doing this, it’s not like the male goes out hunting and the female stays home). Here it is, able to fly in blue, sun-dappled skies, hunt for worms, go out on dates with the boy/girlfriend buddy, and now, for several weeks, it just sits there incubating eggs. It does this knowing the entire enterprise is at risk, that one of these thoughtless humans could throw something inside or stretch an arm in to grab something. And still it sits there, quiet, still.
I do that, too, each morning (this morning with Henry on my lap, a rarity; we both didn’t move). You can say that I don’t produce new life, not busy incubating eggs so that life could eventually hatch and take off. (On the other hand, my sitting doesn’t require giving up the newspaper mailbox.)
But when I get up at the end, while there’s no new life, there may be a transmuted life, a new day that no longer arouses dread or anxiety, that doesn’t seem full of “homework” or an exhausting to-do list. A day that folds me gently into itself and reminds me: Yes, there are the routines. Light incense, feed the dog, make coffee, check emails, get ready for the 8 am meeting. But today someone will say something you hadn’t heard or thought of before. Today you may sink into a story you’ve wanted to tell and haven’t found your way to do yet. Today you’ll laugh out loud while on the phone. Today you’ll also cry, or save a chipmunk from Aussie’s jaws, or not.
Jeff reminded me that Einstein said that the most important question we could ask of ourselves is: Is the universe a friendly place? At the end of each sitting, I find myself breathing gratefully yes.
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