In an hour I’m leaving to West Springfield for cataract surgery. My friend and contact with the immigrant community, Jimena Pareja, and her versatile husband, Byron, are picking me up, waiting things out in Springfield, and bringing me home in the late afternoon.
I have confidence that the procedure will give me better eyesight, clearer and more precise, so that I could read road signs before I pass them, so that I could see colors brighter than I have, so that I could see people’s faces in the airport with faster recognition. So that I could drive and look towards sunset without feeling that a flashlight has suddenly been turned on right in front of my pupils and blinded me.
I wish the rest of me could undergo a similar procedure, so that my mind could get clearer, so that I am better able to read personal and relational signs, better decipher their subtle messages. So that I could better look at faces and see, in the Jewish way of saying it, God’s image on each, and that the regular phenomena of nature—including the phenomena of humans, ask Aussie refers to us—no longer appear as insurmountable obstructions.
The surgeon, the wonderful and handsome Dr. John Frangie (can hardly wait to see him with a new eye), will remove a shaded lens (something my teachers have tried to do with my brain for quite a while) and insert a clear one. Zen practice is a little like cataract surgery only its consciousness surgery, removing the cloudy, thin, blind lens to reveal a clearer, brighter world.
Some 20 of us had a Zoom meeting yesterday to talk about Israel and Gaza. The term not-knowing came up; it often does. It’s one of Three Tenets Bernie repeated again and again in our large Zen Peacemakers family, letting go of fixed ideas, bearing witness, taking action, and all these take place simultaneously.
Over the years I notice how many people bring up that term in the vein of This has happened to my life and I don’t know what to do or Now I really don’t know what’s ahead so I’m in not-knowing.While they don’t explicitly say this is bad–they even smile when they say it–the words carry a negative nuance, a wish-it-didn’t-have-to-happen nuance.
That’s not how Bernie saw not-knowing. He wasn’t happy when things fell apart, as they often seemed to do in his neighborhood, but he was also intrigued when this happened. When so much is dismantled, so many assumptions collapsed like rows of dominoes, anything is possible. That’s when we don’t stand in the way of the dynamic currents of life with our identities and attachments, we don’t obstruct reality. And the reality is that we’re all one thing.
So even as people grieve over the collapse of an army, an intelligence bureau, of deeply-held beliefs and confidences, the taking of hostages and the senseless murders, even when people can’t see the way ahead, that’s precisely when powerful things can happen. When infinite potential not only manifests (it always manifests in some way), but we become conscious of something other than our ideas and help to actualize it.
Is it a way forward? Backward? Up or down? I Have no idea. Words fail me.
I remember Roshi Sr. Pia Gyger talking to me long ago. She was a Zen teacher, and towards the end of her training she left Switzerland to stay with her teacher, Robert Aitken, in Hawaii and do final studies with him. But the war in Kuwait broke out, and instead of working on final koans she settled in front of a television screen and watched and watched as fighter jets pummeled the ground and the ground exploded underneath all that ordnance.
“I did nothing but watch for several days,” she said. “I felt I needed to make a big turn.” She did just that, with a vision she said she received from Mary on what is possible in that part of the world, and for the rest of her life she worked towards fulfilling that vision.
I don’t watch TV, but I monitor the news on my computer endlessly. I feel like I do what Pia did back then.
I don’t entertain a single great vision, but already there are small, important lessons:
Yesterday I called my niece in Israel, an accomplished woman nearing 40, with five children, a Ph.D., and beginning to study towards a new degree in family therapy (at least till the war began), and a husband in one of Israel’s units who has often gone into Gaza. I asked her how she was, and she couldn’t speak. I thought the tension she was carrying was going to explode the digital universe.
After just a few minutes, I mumbled that I didn’t want to trespass too much on her respite time (her father, my brother, had fetched her children to give her a rest), and hung up.
As soon as I did so, I felt bad. So, this morning I tried her again, and when she didn’t answer, I wrote her a text. I apologized for my quick hang-up. I admitted it had little to do with trespassing on her limited attention and everything to do with my inability to contain her silence, her tension and fear. I promised her that next time I will hold whatever she generously offers. She didn’t have to be silent alone, she could be silent with me. We could both be silent, in company, together. Nobody was going to hang up anymore.
I wish I could do that with mothers in Gaza worried sick over a coming invasion as they watch their children.
My niece said one thing that stayed with me. Feeling helpless in all that silence, I mumbled my regret at not being there to help out more. She said: “We do whatever we can wherever we are.”
Those words echo inside right now. Jan, a gardener who comes in several times over the summer season to help out, is now here for the last time this season. Through the windows I watch her pruning the lilac bushes outside my office, taking down and away the detritus of a season in preparation for next spring. We do whatever we can wherever we are, keeping life and love going.
I will hold another Zoom gathering on Friday afternoon (tomorrow is post-operative procedures) to bear witness to Israel and Gaza, at 3 pm US Eastern time, or 15:00. If you want to join, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send a link tomorrow. If you know of others who might benefit, feel free to share with them. My apologies to those of you in Europe and the Middle East for which this is very late, I scheduled these without adequate consideration. If these gatherings continue next week, I will be more attentive to time zones.