A friend of mine commented yesterday on how long the dusk is getting now. Direct sunlight is getting shorter, but the dusks seem to stretch on and on.
“It’s a time of transition,” he said, “something I’m not crazy about.”
Who is crazy about transitions, with their accompanying sense of fuzziness and not knowing what’s going on? But perhaps the length of dusk at this time of year is an invitation to stay with it. A distant sun lingering at the horizon invites us to straddle the edge of light and darkness and accept how little we really understand, how little we know.
My Finnish friend, Mikko, who leads a Zen Peacemakers group in Finland, ordained to become a Zen priest last summer, and in the winter he asked me for a piece of fabric that he could include in his kesa. Kesas are robes sewn and worn by Zen priests or monks, based on the robes worn by Buddhist monks from time immemorial. In the Zen Peacemaker family, rather than making black kesas as is done in Japan, aspirants ask family, friends, teachers, and others with whom they have close relationships to give them a piece of fabric that they could sew as part of their kesa. It’s a way of honoring the big mandala of our practice, encompassing all relations.
The fabrics must be something we don’t use any longer, something we might throw away, much in the spirit of the old monks who, when they decided to follow the Buddha, went to the local dump in search of cloths that had been tossed away due to impurity.
People have asked me over the years for fabric belonging to Bernie as well as fabric belonging to me. I found a cotton duvet cover that didn’t fit any blanket here and that I had already cut up, so I cut a piece of that and sent it to Mikko.
He never got it. Months passed by, he emailed me, I emailed back and went to the post office with the tracking number, but the mail clerk couldn’t locate it. Mikko gave up and sewed his kesa without my fabric, telling me it’s probably on its way back to me.
He was right; I finally did get it back, but not till a few weeks ago. There was the familiar manila envelope in the mailbox, only completely taped across the surface, top to bottom, which certainly wasn’t how I sent it. It had all kinds of country stamps, too, including a Japanese customs stamp. It looked like it had gone everywhere in the world except Finland, and maybe off-planet as well. I didn’t open it—I usually don’t open mail till the weekend. After all, I recognized it, knew what it was, knew it was too late, there was no hurry.
In the weekend I finally opened the envelope. Out came the fabric I’d sent Mikko in its thin plastic bag, along with the card that accompanied it. But something else fell out, too, a small, light blue, velvet bag with drawstrings. I opened it up and out tumbled a gold wedding ring.
I stared at it, went upstairs. “Lori,” I said to my housemate, “Is this gold? It sure is heavy.”
Lori looked it over, weighed it in the palm of her hand. “Looks like gold to me,” she said.
But it wasn’t gold, the words tungsten carbide were scratched on the inside. Wiki immediately informed me that tungsten wedding rings, cheaper than gold, are very heavy.
I emailed Mikko. “Did we get married and I forgot?”
Mikko, who has a wife and son, emailed back: “Maybe the fabric you sent got married.”
Over the next few days, I stared at the wedding ring and the blue velvet bag. It certainly wasn’t my wedding ring, Bernie and I both wore double rings made of two linked stainless-steel circles that cost $25 per ring. What was this wedding ring doing in the manila envelope? Who put it there and then taped it all up?
I mused about the Japanese customs stamp affixed to the envelope. Bernie often told me that when he had trained in Zen in its early years in this country, his teacher had ambivalence towards marriage. His students wanted to ordain but they weren’t celibate, they weren’t monks. He wanted them to dedicate themselves to the dharma, but they were still getting married.
Here I’d sent fabric for someone’s ordination robe in Finland, which never arrived at its destination, seemed to go all over the world including Japan, and returned to my hands nine months later with a wedding ring inside a small velvet jewelry bag.
This happened close to Bernie’s 4th memorial, and I told his daughter what happened. “Maybe it’s from Dad,” she said on the phone. Then she added brightly: “Or maybe it means you’re going to get married again.”
So, what is it? Is it from the past? Is Bernie sending me jewelry, which he never did during his lifetime? But he might have changed, given that he’s currently in a different realm of existence.
Or is it from the future?
Slowly, slowly the sun sinks over the horizon. Long, long dusk connecting today with tomorrow.