THE FINAL KENSHO

What are you doing today, Eve?

I’m going to do some writing and plan for the winter intensive in the zendo, add some finishing touches to next week’s conference, plan who will be here in my absence, do a yoga class, a few Skypes, make dinner, and do our bookkeeping for December.

What about walking me? asks Stanley from the rug under the table.

We’re sitting at the table having breakfast. Bernie’s eating the hot cereal he makes himself, combined with milk, peanut butter and banana, I with my breakfast shake of all the healthy things in the universe.

And what are you doing today, Bernie?

I’m going to have a final kensho [an experience of awakening]. Or maybe not.

What’s a final kensho?

A final kensho is maybe to see that kensho is not important, that everything is just as it is. It’s exactly what is.

Is anybody walking me? Stanley wonders.

At the same time, Bernie continues, I guess kensho has some use. It gives you something to work towards. Only that’s a problem.

I could go to Leeann, suggests Stanley hopefully. I love Leeann. She gives the best outings.

Beside, continues Bernie, how can anything be final?

You’ve been saying that a lot lately, I tell him. Do you want coffee?

Did I tell you that I had a dream?

No, you did not.

I had a dream too, says Stanley. I dreamt you took me for a walk.

All my life I never remembered my dreams, says Bernie, but after the stroke I started remembering them. I dreamt I got a phone call, and somebody told me that UCLA is up for sale and we should buy it.

UCLA? Your alma mater?

So I said okay, and you and I went out there, looked at the entire campus, and I said we’d do it. So we all get together in this big room, their lawyers are all there, and I ask what’s the asking price for UCLA and they say $10,000. $10,000? That’s all? But they all agree, the price is $10,000.

Back in the old days in Yonkers, I tell him, every time you walked down Ashburton Street from the Greyston Foundation to the Bakery or to the Child Care Center, you’d come back all excited about another rundown house you saw for sale. “We have to get inside,” you’d say, “get an assessment, figure out how we could afford it.” “Who needs it?” we’d ask, and you’d say, “We could use it for more housing, more offices, maybe a zendo, maybe a new business.”

Too bad I wasn’t around then, says Stanley. I could have walked with you.

And did you buy it? I ask him. Did you buy UCLA?

I can’t remember that part, Bernie says, drinking his coffee. Back in Yonkers I used to tell people not to drive from the Bakery to the Child Care Center, always to walk. You have to walk to get to know the neighborhood.

A sigh from the rug. That’s what I always say, says Stanley.

 

 

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A NEW PRACTICE FOR THE NEW YEAR

Porcupine in winter

What’s out there, Stanley?

What do you mean?

You have that funny look on your face I know so well. Something’s out there.

We’re in the woods because we ain’t wimps. So what if it’s 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-14C) feels like -2 (-19C)? So what if Stanley’s whiskers have turned into icicles and his breathing sounds a little like a donkey’s bray?

When we first got here 16 years ago, a young landscape architect told me that here, when winter comes, you have a choice. You could dig in for about 5-6 months and not go out of the house, or you buy warm layers, the right kind of boots, hat and gloves, and go out in all weather. Over the years Bernie’s chosen the first and I’ve chosen the second.

Stanley’s still giving me that I see nothing look that he puts on when there’s something out there he doesn’t like. The bears have gone to sleep so I look out for hunters. It’s still shooting season, but no hunter is nuts enough to be out here now. And then I see the small creature scuttling ahead of us as fast as its small feet can take it.

Don’t you dare approach that porcupine, Stan!

What porcupine?

You know what porcupine, the one up ahead making for those big tree limbs that fell across the path.

What porcupine?

You know, Stanley, you have the funny habit of not seeing things you don’t want to see.

Of course I don’t see things I don’t want to see. You think I’m crazy?

It’s no different with the horses, Stan. You don’t want to see them, so they’re not there. When you were younger you saw and chased after lots of porcupines and horses.

They were there then; they ain’t here now.

Of course they’re here, Stanley. Who else is running up ahead to get away from us? And who come trotting to the fence when I bring them apples?

That’s because you want to see porcupines and horses, you love that stuff. Me, if I come across something I don’t want to deal with, I don’t see it. Clear as day.

That’s the silliest thing I ever heard, Stanley. If we ran into a bunch of coyotes licking their chops and you pretended not to see them, what do you think would happen? When we deny the existence of things we get into trouble.

I don’t deny anything, I just can’t see it. As someone older and wiser than you, with cataracts covering much of my eyes, I can tell you that you lose nothing by not seeing horses, porcupines, bears, moose, and anything else threatening mischief.

And if thieves or killers came into the house to rob or kill us, you wouldn’t protect us, Stan?

What thieves? What killers?

You realize that this is how Hitler came into power, Stanley.

Who’s Hitler?

And what about old age, illness, and loss? You can’t just look away and not see them, Stanley.

Why not? Nothing easier. This year, practice not seeing any of that stuff and you’ll feel great! You’ll be a lot happier, and a lot more fun to be with. You think it’s easy for me to hang with you when you’re seeing all that stuff? It’s like a funeral.

Practice not seeing old age, illness, and loss? How, Stanley?

It’s the easiest practice you’ve ever done. You don’t have to get up early, you don’t have to light that stinky incense. Just pretend you see nothing.

How do I do that?

See not-seeing.

I never thought of that, Stanley. Does it get harder and harder to do over the years?

I’m a lot older than you and I’m still doing it.

You are so advanced, Stan.

I’m a master.

Happy new year, Stanley.

Happy new year, Eve.

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REAL DOGS

You know, Stan, I was gone all day yesterday. I went down to New York and spent time with my good friend and her two delightful little dogs, Moon and Arlo. They’re Bichon Frises.

 

You betrayed me. I smelled it as soon as you came in the door. Their smell was all over your body, it’s disgusting.

It couldn’t be all over my body, Stanley, they’re too small. They can only reach up to my knees, and that’s only when they get up on their hind legs.

You could have taken a shower before you came home. How do you think I feel when I see you’ve been with Bichon Frises? By the way, is that a dog?

Of course it’s a dog.

Small purebreds! Uggh.

I don’t know why you dislike them, they’re actually very cute, Stanley.

Cute! Is that a word you’d use for me?

Never, Stan.

That’s right. Big dogs ain’t cute. Big dogs are dogs. I hate cute. I hate sweet.

You’ve been sweet, Stan.

Name one time I’ve been sweet!

Stan, you’re being silly. Those little dogs are fluffy—

Fluffy—feh!

They’re clean and beautifully groomed.

Don’t even think about grooming me.

They’re beautiful creatures. And you know what they eat, Stanley?

Not Purina Dog Chow, I bet.

Right on, Stan. They had roast chicken last night. Sometimes they get salmon, sometimes even filet mignon. Yesterday morning my friend fed them this premium dog food which they wouldn’t touch.

I guess they’re not all that stupid after all.

And she lets them stand on their hind legs and beg at the table, Stanley.

You’d yell at me if I even tried.

She doesn’t let them out in the cold, Stan.

That’s because they’re not real dogs. Real dogs go out in any weather!

Really? What else do real dogs do, Stanley?

Real dogs never jump up on their hind legs.

You used to do that, Stanley, till you got too old.

Real dogs don’t have a wardrobe, they don’t have a bath every month, they don’t wear bows on their ears and bandannas around their necks. When are you going to see your friend next?

Why, Stan?

Can I come?

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A SANTA CLAUS FOR ALL AGES

Early this morning our friend, Eve Ilsen, sent me a post about how she and her husband, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, used to celebrate Christmas. There was the usual Chinese food, but also a Christmas Seder with the Jesuit Edward Zogby, where participants were invited to set out on the table foods and items relating to the story of Christmas and what it evoked for them.

Suddenly I was thrown back to the past, and to how my family celebrated Christmas. Or to how they not only never ever celebrated Christmas, but practically denied its existence.

In our house nobody ever mentioned the word Christmas. Yes, Donald, you are right, there are households that don’t mention the word, but not for the reasons you think. Nobody meant to be irreverent or insensitive, nobody dreamt of belittling Jesus. It was simply a matter of fear.

If you grew up as I did, you knew all about the pogroms in which Jews were killed across Europe over many centuries. You knew how apprehensive everyone got before Christmas and Easter in particular, because that was when local priests would denounce the killing of Jesus by Jews, or else they’d suddenly be sure that a local child had been murdered by Jews, and off everyone would run straight from homily to the killing fields.

Those events have preyed on Jewish collective memory for centuries. Something that powerful doesn’t die just because we’ve enjoyed several decades of safety and security in the US. Many Jews don’t celebrate Christmas not just because it’s not their observance, but because their ancestors were killed Christmas time; for them it was a season of terror, not joy.

I had that drilled into me for years, and I went through many Christmas seasons purposely and stubbornly oblivious to the wreaths, decorations, gifts, lights, and greetings everywhere.

Easter began to change that for me. I loved to watch the women emerge from church wearing splashy hats after Easter service, I loved even more the new leaves that began to splash all across New York City’s Central Park.

Then I began to do street retreats with Bernie. Some of those early retreats took place on Holy Weed, the week of Passover and Easter, and culminated at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine with the Easter vigil service on Saturday night. The play of sorrow and joy, darkness and light, stirred me deeply, especially after living on the streets for a week, and I finally gave myself permission to—as we say in Zen Peacemakers as part of our precepts training—be touched by the joys and pains of the universe. Feel them tangibly, palpably, now.

Easter continues to be my favorite Christian holiday. I have been at Tenebrae, Easter vigil service, and Easter dawn service. I’m a sucker for rebirth and renewal.

And Christmas?

Back in the late 80s and early 90s I worked in Yonkers as part of the Zen Community of New York building homes for families with no homes. The Christmas after we opened the first building of apartments, an assistant bookkeeper by the name of Hermina came into the child care center dresssed as Santa Claus and bringing gifts to mothers and children (the residents were mostly single mothers with children). Hermina was a sassy, chunky Santa, full of cheer. Her boss was Florence, who drove every day from Brooklyn to help us in our work.

Where did Hermina get that terrific Santa Claus outfit, I wondered aloud to Florence.

I gave it to her, said Florence.

You? Florence was a Jewish Communist, the last person on earth I’d have imagined with a Santa Claus outfit.

She nodded. It belonged to somebody I knew years ago, a Hasid.

Now I really couldn’t believe my ears. Hasidim are very orthodox Jews, wearing black suits, long black coats and wide hats all year round, living together with similar families and rarely emerging from their religious enclave.

He was like all the other Hasidim, said Florence, except for one thing. He loved Christmas! He thought it was the most wonderful thing ever invented. So what he did was he’d save money all year round, and come Christmas he’d put on this Santa Claus outfit and go into hospitals and community centers with large bags full of gifts that he bought with the money he’d saved. He did that year after year, till he died of liver cancer at a young age. The Santa Claus outfit Hermina wore was the one he wore for many years. He was tall and thin, and she’s short and on the heavy side, but it fitted just fine.

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THE LONELINESS OF THE WRITER

It’s snowing strongly now, a complete whiteout this Christmas morning. I tremble to think of what would have happened had Mary tried to give birth in New England rather than Bethlehem. No manger or barn would have been adequate on a day like this morning, with the winds gaining, raising the chill.

I’m worried about the heavy tree limbs sagging behind the house, encased in ice from the ice storm 2 days ago. I tried to shake them loose yesterday, and quite a lot of ice came down, but much has remained, and they are laden down even before adding another 8 inches of snow to their burden. When the snow stops I will go out, shovel the front path and steps, and try to shake the branches loose again, help them not break.

For some, Christmas is family, which may be a good thing or not. For some it’s an alone holiday, and that may be a good thing and maybe not, or probably a mix of both. For me it’s still sitting at my computer and writing (after some study), and keeping an eye on the birds outside stuffing themselves at bird feeders.

Who are they blessing for having filled their feeders yesterday morning? Rae buys the large bags of birdfeed and usually fills them, but yesterday morning I filled them early, knowing what was coming. But who or what is the true source of this miraculous nutrition on this wintry morning?

We may be alone, but not lonely. Lately I’m getting the most wonderful emails from readers of this blog. They say thank you, but more than that, some of you share a depth of heart that is in no ways different from what I try to share here (only yours is a little shorter). And this Christmas day it’s hard for me to express to you all that means.

Writing is a solitary occupation. Many of us do it in the same way we meditate or brush our teeth, just because we have to. But there’s solitude there, and at times the question: Is anybody listening?

When emails come from readers telling me of their impressions, I not only get an answer, I’m getting a connection. For this blog is a one-way deal, not two. The only way real connection can happen is when someone writes back, may start off by saying: You don’t know me but . . ., and then there’s a name, words, presence.

Those are great gifts for me.

So this Christmas Day, which my husband, Bernie, and I don’t celebrate with a tree or exchange of gifts but just a small hello, kiss, and how’re you doing?, let me tell you how grateful I am for your reading, your thoughtful responses, and the connection we have created this past year. May we take care of each other and help each other move forward, and keep all beings in our hearts.

 

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WE’RE ALL BEING ROBBED TOGETHER

It’s easy for me to get dismayed at this photo of the rich and powerful white men congratulating themselves for giving the wealthy their biggest tax break in close to 50 years and lowering corporate taxes, at a time when income inequality is the biggest it’s ever been here.

It’s a snowy, icy day just before Christmas, a time to think of those who lack heat and food, but don’t tell that to Paul Ryan. After letting the deficit go through the roof, he knows how to make it up: cut down on social security, Medicare and Medicaid. Get that money back from the elderly, the sick, and the poor.

But this is not the point. The rich usually like to keep what they have and preferably get more. They have always bought our government leaders to some extent; now, after the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United, more than ever.

The big question continues to be why so many people go along. Why Donald Trump will go to some rally and men and women will yell loud and shake their arms up in the air in support, 99% of whom will enjoy very little of that tax cut and will see other benefits they count on go down the tubes if he and Ryan have their way. Why?

If this were any other Western country, wouldn’t those people be on the streets protesting? Wouldn’t they threaten revolt at the pie getting cut up to give so much to so few? Wouldn’t they march on Washington, shut down highways and city intersections, make the Women’s March of last year look like a kindergarten romp?

Why aren’t young people protesting college tuitions that only make sense for millionaires? Why aren’t employees protesting wages gone stagnant for close to 40 years at the same time that corporate profits have gone up and up? Why are regular Americans going along?

After all, the wealthy are simply not enough to put this President and Republican Congress in office, they need a lot more votes out there. They have them, and the question is why.

Vanessa Williamson, of the Brookings Institute, wrote about it in an article in The Washington Post. She reminded us that white-supremacist governments in the South after the Civil War invoked the rule of the taxpayer, which was nothing but a return to rule by wealthy white plantation owners. And later, “Anti-tax” activism in the Reagan era was stoked by long-standing white resentment to the extension of benefits to people of color, a political dynamic with a very long history in the United States.

Why does Black Lives Matter matter? Why does the discrimination apparent in aid to devastated Puerto Rico matter? Or the bans on Muslim refugees and constant threats at immigrant families? Because we are all natural allies in the struggle for economic and social justice. We’re not taking from each other, as Trump yells all the time; truth is, we’re all being robbed together.

We can’t get money for children’s medical insurance authorized by Congress even though the amount it costs is pitiful in comparison to the giveaways just authorized, but very soon Paul Ryan will invoke the specter of the old, sick and poor robbing this country—yes, robbing this country—of its wealth. And Donald Trump will remind us that if only we didn’t have refugees or illegal immigrants or, perhaps, anyone of color in this country, things would be fine, we’d all be rich as Croesus.

If you want to know why this is the time to concentrate on Black Lives Matter, the treatment of Native Americans, illegal immigrants, and the ban on Muslim refugees—it’s because how else do you fight a vision of this country that is white Christian entitled? In truth, we’re all being robbed together: Black, white, men, women, immigrants, Native Americans, refugees, children, the elderly.

Looking at that, you might say: Hey, there are a lot of us there! Surely enough to make some big changes.

As what’s-her-name used to say, you-betcha. Things will change when the white family that knows only Walmart-scale wages and never, ever to get sick sees that its natural partner in the struggle for prosperity is the people from the other side of town, families from different races, cultures, and histories. When we all see that a multi-society does not endanger our basic identity as human beings, which is the identity that counts, we’ll naturally turn to one another for support–and more important:–action.

What this tax bill shows is that trying to defend narrow rights and entitlement is a sure-fire way of losing the little you still have. When we start working together to take care of the whole, that’s when we’ll see a very different White House and Congress.

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LET’S GO SCARE SOME PEOPLE

As I write this, Bernie’s going through his second surgical procedure on his nose in Mercy Hospital (I love that name). It shouldn’t be complicated or long, but there is general anesthesia involved. By the end he won’t look like a miniature Elephant Man but should just have a circular flap or seal to cover up the hole made on top of his nose. Once that heals, he may even be able to put his red nose on again, or at least color the flap red.

Not like the last time, when I almost died at first sight, what with an enormous yellow bandage over half his face oozing discharge and blood in all directions. After discharge, as I started wheeling him out I said, Should we go scare some people? No, not this time.

Nevertheless, at our most vulnerable, what comes up is thank you. Thank you to everyone who has sent wishes, prayers, meditation, emails, cards, letters, and gifts to us. Thank you to all of you who wrote such heartful messages on Bernie’s memory quilt, and especially to June Tanoue, who not only initiated the project but then put it all together into one beautiful whole.

Thank you to those of you who come to the house, bringing food, conversation, cheer, and sparkle, reminding us of the riches of connection.

Thank you to those of you who call in for Bernie’s conversations with teachers and to all those who came in for our monthly dharma schmoozes. We hope to restart those in March, after radiation treatments are done. Thank you to Bernie’s daughter, Alisa, who has offered and came up with very little notice to help and support his recovery.

Thank you to Rae, his caregiver, who does so much for him and for me. To the surgeon Brian Pryor, who told us he’d love all his patients to be like us, to which I almost said that I’d like all our surgeons to be like him only I don’t want any more surgeons. And to—

What about me?

What about you, Stanley?

I’m Bernie’s dishwasher. I lick all his plates and don’t get paid one bit.

True, true, Stan.

And when he eats I gaze at him soulfully with my cataract eyes (making sure I’m on the other side of you because all you do is yell at me not to beg), reminding him of the ancient tie between human and dog and his responsibility to keep me well-fed and happy, which is redundant come to think of it.

I’m tearing up, Stanley.

Some Sundays I even lie down by his bed and keep him company with New England Patriot football games. It’s easier now because though he keeps the TV on loud I can’t hear a thing. You don’t sit with him like that.

I wait for the playoffs. Your loyalty is unquestionable, Stan, thank you.

Everyone should be like me.

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A MOUSE IN THE WALL

A mouse in the bird feed

Cotton Mather died when I was a boy. The books

He read, all day, all night and all the nights,

Had got him nowhere. There was always the doubt,

That made him preach the louder, long for a church

In which his voice would roll its cadences,

After the sermon, to quiet that mouse in the wall.

Oh, that mouse in the wall, so familiar to Wallace Stevens, who wrote about it in his poem The Blue Buildings In the Summer Air. We talk and talk, we plan, theorize, and pontificate, but we can’t silence the mouse scratching in the wall.

Nights is when I hear them. At the end of the day I lie in bed, tired, and it’s as if the rodents up in the roof are waiting just for that moment to start scraping and scampering, and setting up their nightly parties. As if they’ve checked their watches and consulted: Is she finally falling asleep? Her day full of ideas and goals finally done and she’s letting down her guard? THEN LET’S ROCK!

They seem to scamper from one corner of the roof to the other, maybe doing their own version of three-legged races to keep warm before they huddle together in their own peaceable kingdom, and after another hour or two the house finally settles down to sleep.

It took me many years to respect the mouse in the wall. Not to accept it—long ago I decided that, in these long, cold New England winters, mice had as much of a right as anyone to find warmth and food where they could. Just stay in the basement or up in the roof, I tell them. Avoid the dog food bags and large canister of bird feed in the laundry room, and please stay out of the cars. But they do get into the bird feed, and every winter/spring Toyota’s repairmen inform us of another nest they had to clean out of our cars, notwithstanding my valiant weekly sprays of peppermint into glove compartments.

Acceptance has nothing to do with it. What I am learning to listen to is the scratching on the walls of my narrow, stale consciousness, the lifeless bars I build with my own hands day after day. Endless to-dos, the discipline of sitting and writing, organizing house, teaching, schedules—just watch the bars get narrower and narrower.

And then, as a gift from heaven, the mouse scratches in the wall. The dog comes over and whimpers though it’s not walk or food-time. A bottle of ice tea appears on the kitchen counter—how did it get here? The shadow of a hawk in the snow. A package fallen on the road, slipped off a delivery truck. A horse nibbling the apple in my hand, always reminding me of a giraffe in a Texas preserve many years ago that lowered its long, long neck and gave my palm the softest kiss I ever received, though my palm was empty for I had brought it nothing.

Intimations of another world, of the invisible reaching out to me. No, not reaching out to me at all—that’s my usual self-centered way of seeing things—just manifesting in so many ways only a few of which I recognize. And I can teach and plan and theorize, resolve to be good, resolve to listen better and love more, but the real teaching is in the mouse scratching in the wall.

And in that vein, a stranger entered the luncheonette where I write this and announced the following jokes:

Why should’t you get into a relationship with a tennis player? Because love means nothing.

Why does Santa’s helper have such trouble? Because he has low shelf esteem.

No better teachings than this.

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MUCH SMARTER THAN HORSES

Stanley, if I didn’t feed you, walk you, or take you on car rides, would you still love me?

Probably not.

Let’s say something happened to me, Stanley, and I couldn’t do those things for you because I was sick or hurt, would you love me then?

I doubt it.

I think people want to be loved deeply for who they are, not for what they do. I don’t want to be loved just because I get up early to feed you and take you on walks even in freezing weather. I don’t want to be loved just because of how I function, but because I am. Get it, Stan?

No.

I think that’s part of the MeToo phenomenon, when women talk about a man fondling them without permission. When someone puts their hands on us or exhibits himself, he’s reminding us that for him we’re objects, things that function to give him pleasure rather than full human beings. He wants us because of what we do for him, not because of what we are. We want to be acknowledged and recognized as people, Stanley, not based on What-have-you-done-for-me-lately?

So tell me, what would happen if I wasn’t always the happy-go-lucky, sweet mutt you’ve adored all these years?

You mean, Stan, like in the old days when you just stared out at the back slope waiting for something to bark at and ignored me completely?

And do you remember what you did back then? One night you locked me out of the house. I almost froze to death.

It was June, Stanley. I had to shut the dog door for some reason, and every night I’d check to make sure everyone was in. I thought you were in, and you weren’t. At 4 am I heard you whimper outside and I jumped up and ran downstairs to let you in.

I’m posting it on MeToo. I was abused and almost died from exposure.

It was 75 degrees, Stan, and I was sorry.

You did it because I was not who I am today. I didn’t come to greet you in the mornings, I didn’t wag my tail, I didn’t lick your face, I didn’t do any of those silly things.

Stanley, whatever you do or don’t do, I’d still love you.

Then you’re a fool.

I loved Bubale the Pit Bull all those months before she died, when she’d lie there on my bed barely moving and I would cook special meals for her, Stan.

Those were some of the best months of my life! I ate everything she left behind, and she left plenty. It was almost worth her living a little longer just for the food, and that’s a fact.

Right now you’re being pretty snarky, Stanley.

And you know what? I don’t feel much lovin’ comin’ my way. You think those horses you’re feeding would greet you the way they do, hurrying to the fence and stretching out their heads, if they didn’t know you had apples in your pockets?

You’re a cynic, Stan.

And we dogs have had the upper hand with you humans for a long, long time. Much smarter than horses.

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LINCOLN IN THE BARDO

Last night I finished George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the Man Booker Prize for literature this year. I can’t remember when I’ve felt so moved by a novel. First, by Saunders’ daring to bring so many different elements into the book, but more deeply by the struggle and generosity of his characters.

The story takes place right after Abraham Lincoln loses his 12 year-old son Willie, in the middle of the American Civil War. The nation is already reeling from countless deaths (with many more to come) and its leader, the President, is full of doubts and misgivings. Is it right to fight on? Is he a peacemaker or a warmonger? What must he do? What does he call on? And in the middle of all that, his own little boy dies. He’s interred in a crypt close to Washington but his father can’t let go, so he visits the crypt at night to hold his son close one more time.

That’s the historic framework. Saunders has peopled that one-night scene with long-time inhabitants of the Bardo, people who died but don’t know they’re dead. Stuck between life and death, they’re no longer flesh-and-blood but are still attached to the things of flesh-and-blood, the lives they left, the men and women they loved, the violence they endured, the things they never had but wanted passionately, craftsmen, business owners, soldiers, slaves, mothers, fathers, housewives, unable to let go or move on, stuck for eternity in the web of desires and regrets.

Onto that stage enters the 12 year-old Willie, followed by his father the President. Lincoln has his grief and despair, the father who loses his second child, the leader who can barely face himself in the abyss of uncertainty, even as so many depend on him.

Everyone is hooked, everyone is stuck. And still there is movement; there is courage and friendship, surprise, a call and response, stirrings of deep generosity that brought tears into my eyes. How is all this goodness possible from beings whose time here is finished, who’ve reached a dead end, and who can never return to reap the blessings or results of what they did? And still, though they can’t touch, they are touched. Feelings are still there (for some), a humaneness that seems to have nothing to do with flesh-and-blood.

Buddhism is rife with names of spirits or supernatural beings that attend the Buddha, invisible to our own eye. I’ve never taken that very seriously, only now I wonder how else can I explain a sudden burst of clarity, love, or generosity when just 10 minutes ago all I wanted to do was go to bed? What possessed me? What goes on right here in my room, spirit and energies coalescing or coming apart, following their own threads of karma and evolution?

Even the worst of times have mercy and small acts of transformation. Saunders wrote a novel about a time of terrible brutality, when we encountered the worse wounds in this country’s history, and how beings both white and black, caught in the web of their own desires and unfinished lives, could somehow give courage and renewed determination to a man drowning in sorrow and help him fulfill his destiny. The goodness comes invisibly out of the page and nestles in my own heart now, towards the end of 2017, reminding me that one is never alone. Never.

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