“Hey Aussie, can you smell the deer?”
“You bet, Harry.”
“Then where are you going?”
“The Boss wants me back.”
“What’s happened to you, Aussie? We used to disappear for hours together.”
“You didn’t think it was that much fun the one time we ran off and stayed out all night. Did you ever complain!”
“After sleeping for two days everything was fine, Aussie. Anyway, I can feel the end of winter and the animals are calling, so let’s go!”
“Why don’t you go by yourself, Harry?”
“It’s not that much fun without you, Aussie. You’re the leader of the pack.”
“I think the Boss is the leader of the pack, Harry.”
“Boy, have you changed.”
Aussie has changed. In fact, change is in the air. It’s close to 50 degrees today, and while some areas, shrouded by trees, continue to be snowy and icy (like our back yard), others show brown earth covered by brown leaves. Who would have thought we’d welcome so much brown!
Maple leaf buckets have been dangling from the trees for over a week, but even before that the sun returned to New England; I greet it as I would a friend who left to the other side of the country and is now back.
And of course, Aussie doesn’t change alone; the whole pack changes with her. Without his elder sister leading the way, Harry, too, comes back quicker and doesn’t wander very far. I’m more relaxed and happier. There’s no changing alone; the minute you change, the world changes.
I’ve been thinking about love.
When Bernie had his disabling stroke, I often wondered about love and what happens to it when relationship changes from one of equally abled people to one where one of the couple is disabled, both in body and mind. An idea for a film came to me, a story of a couple who’ve worked together for many years, and he’s struck. She continues the work while taking care of him and ends up falling in love with another man. What does she choose? Where does she go?
More general questions came up, too: Where is love in an era of illness and old age? It’s different from when we’re younger, but our culture rarely shows us or promotes examples. What happens to sex? What happens to our self-image? When does one stop being a woman and starts becoming a nurse? How do you reconcile the two?
The lover in question is himself in a relationship with a much younger woman. How necessary is that for men as they grow older? I know what the biologists say, but in my vision the lover actually turns away from his much younger wife and falls in love with a woman his age. How plausible is that?
This idea never appeared to me as a book, always as a movie. So last spring I called an actor friend of mine and suggested that he make a movie about this:
“I know they say that it’s the much younger crowd that makes up the majority of movie theater audiences,” I told him, “but I think there’s an audience for such a movie. I think its explorations of love could be relevant to many people.”
He heard me out and said: “I agree with you. Write the screenplay.”
“I don’t write screenplays,” I told him.
“Write this one,” he said.
I thought about it. I was still very raw from Bernie’s death, unable to pick up other creative projects I’d been working on before he died, but this felt different. It would be my way of working out the many rich challenges we’d faced as a couple.
Adrienne Rich wrote: “An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”
Bernie wasn’t one of the few people ready to go that hard way, but the process didn’t die just because he died; in some ways it’s still left to me. And the only way I know to do that on my own is through story, invention, fantasy.
I’ve been working on this screenplay—something I’ve never written before—since then, returning to it now after a hiatus of some 2-3 months. I’ve made the couple radio astronomers, and the lover a high-tech computer guy. For me, the creative world is no less real than the melting snow outside and chipmunks feeding under birdfeeders. No less real than Harry’s conversation with Aussie:
“Do I have to change just because you’re changing, Aussie?”
“I’m afraid so, Harry.”
“You were once so crazy, so restless, so wild!”
“I changed, Harry.”
“I’m leaving home. Somebody has to.”
On another note, Buddhadharma, the Buddhist magazine, said this about The Book of Householder Koans: At every turn, the authors warmly urge us to reengage with our ordinary circumstances through an extra-ordinary lens. The book provides no pedantic solutions, instead offering itself as an open workbook with which to navigate the problems that come with being human.
I’m so glad they said there were no pedantic solutions. Amazon sends out its orders tomorrow, as do independent bookstores. I deeply encourage you to buy the book, preferably from your neighborhood bookstore so that it survives and thrives.
For those of you living near Chicago, I’ll be doing a workshop based on householder koans with Sensei June Tanoue from March 5 to 8 at Zen Life and Meditation Center.
I keep busy because it’s my nature, and also to provide myself with an income. I don’t have a vision for my blog, other than an effort to peel away veil after veil, come closer and deeper to what’s inside. If I find nothing that’ll be more than fine. If you enjoy reading these posts, please consider making a donation. Any amount is welcome, monthly or one-time. You can do this using the bottom below, or else, if you prefer not to use PayPal, you can send checks or correspondence to:
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