I am writing this on a new red/gold MacAir computer that I picked up last night.

My last one, many years old, conked out last Wednesday night. It took a long weekend to ascertain that it was indeed dead, no possibility of resurrection, at which point I went to the Apple store in Holyoke—always an amazing experience—and bought a new one, much in the same way that Bernie and I liked to get Toyotas, new or used. If something serves you well, get it again. They transferred the files, scanned for malware, and voila!

Thursday, one of my students lent me her computer for a couple of days. Hers was also a MacAir, some 8 years newer than my old one, and at first, I couldn’t open up any application; a strange message appeared on the screen instead. Finally, I texted her and told her the problem. She texted back: “You’re pressing too hard on the keys. They’re meant to be touched gently, not pressed. Glide your fingers across them.”

That’s ridiculous, I thought, but I did as she suggested, the message didn’t come on again and all the apps opened. Ten years on an old computer had accustomed me to pressing hard, but this was no longer necessary.

For some reason, I thought of my mother. We began a winter intensive in Green River Zen Center about Women in Zen. In one of the early sessions, everyone was invited to evoke women they’d known who had a big impact on them. I noticed that I was one of only two people who didn’t mention her mother.

Why not?

My mother was one of the strongest people I knew; whatever strength and resilience I possess, I ascribe to her. She encouraged me to write when I was young and if ever I got into trouble, needed help, needed money, I knew she’d be there for me (though I usually preferred to take care of it on my own). There were other things—there always are. She wasn’t open, usually playing a role, but I don’t give these things much attention anymore. We all have our trips; it’s hard to be a human being in all our fullness; it’s hard to be a mensch.

But why didn’t I evoke her? I inquired inside. Thoughts went nowhere. Instead, what appeared was hardness, a strong sensation of a dual-purpose wall connected with her: keep things in, and keep things out.

Her photo is on my altar, will be at least till her first memorial in May. I found this one among her things after she died. See how young she looks, the bouffant hairdo, the heavy eye lids. She’s probably in a family celebration of some kind—a wedding? She loved getting together with family, but it was also a big stage for the role she acted out.

I’ve looked at this photo again and again, tried to pour myself into it. What a pretty woman, I think to myself, the prettiest woman in our family. And still, what stays inside is hardness. Severity. The wall doesn’t melt.

As I write this, I’m remembering another wall, the wall dividing the lovers Pyramus and Thisby in a play within a play called The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby, produced by a small group of unlettered peasants for aristocrats who have their own love troubles in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw this play for the first time when I was 16 in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the actors who did the play within the play hammed it up so much that I fell from my seat from laughing so hard. I’ve loved Shakespeare ever since.

A peasant called Snout plays Wall, and starts the presentation by saying:

In this same interlude it doth befall

That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;

And such a wall, as I would have you think,

That had in it a crannied hole or chink,

Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisby,

Did whisper often, very secretly.

The lovers invoke the Wall—O wall! O wall!—numerous times, bewailing its existence, wishing it wasn’t there to separate them, but Snout holds up his arms, pretending to be Wall, till the end of the scene, while the aristocrats laugh and laugh: “It is the wittiest partition that ever I heard discourse, my lord,” says Demetrius to the Duke.

There are walls, and there are walls. Walls with chinks, walls with no chinks, walls that separate, walls that make others laugh.

“Don’t press the keys so hard,” she wrote me, “just touch them gently. Let your fingers glide across them.”

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