My first inclination, in fact my strong desire, when he asks me what time it is, is not to consult my watch, but to say that we live in an age of unprecedented uncertainty, an era of division and incivility, and days fraught with risk that each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour and the minute, but if he is late, the moment wasted in knowing just how much so merely adds marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks that import to him, then time is no more than a human construct, malleable despite our demand of rigidity, and subject to the whims of Popes and politicians, and all the rest of nature can only marvel at our absurdity.
If someone has much, give him little, if someone has little, give him much. If you have much, give much, but if you have little, give only little. Little and much are both the same when given and received.
A reflection on Case 56 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)
The sun slowly climbs up onto the mountain’s minaret and announces the call to prayer. The waves in the quiet Lake dip their heads watching trees with the reverence reserved for morning. The loon sits on the altar and intones the sermon, the waves stilling for a moment, then ebbing into the day.
As winter closes in around us, even here, the Great Blue Herons go about building a nest, inviting us to watch as they make a home of gathered branches and twigs, oblivious to the state of our world, of the pandemic gripping us.
We watch respectfully, knowing that in this darkest of seasons, we are about to witness our own little miracle and will soon bear witness to the simple joy of birth.
I’ve been trying to discover how it is that those inside the beltway elected to office, or working for those who were elected, have all sense of irony (and in some cases. civility) erased.
How else to explain that for many there can be no climate change while the nation they serve is bearing its cost, climatologically and in discourse and diversity, and still they won’t see that baked Alaska is no longer just a dessert at a Party or PAC dinner.
Or to be blind to the fact that their parents or grandparents once stared up at the Lady in the Harbor, that they were the tired and the poor yearning for the freedom they would now so easily deny others, that they and theirs were the invading mob, nonetheless welcomed in the promise of an ever greater land.
Perhaps it is best I never learn for in this world a finely honed sense of irony may be our last, best hope for salvaging our sanity.
They arrive unannounced often not seen until they have been among us and won’t say how or when they arrived. Some claim to have seen their arrival as they have seen other visitors visible only to them, and predict their departure with a certainty born of a delusion or a sense beyond the understanding. Others say that the are merely us in masquerade, it is we who are deluded for there is no arrival by an ongoing presence. I say nothing, for I am one of them, just as I am one of us, I am recently arrived, while I have long been here and either you or I may or may not be deluded.
The perfect time of day occurs only as the dead of night approaches, that moment when the heart of the city falls almost silent.
In smaller cities this moment is protracted, arising as the moon reaches toward full expression and such as pass for tall buildings settle into sleep.
In the great cities, those that claim never to sleep, the city reverberates, echoing off the endless walls of glass, and silence never fully arrives, so we cling to moments that approximate what we imagine silence sounds like.
Of course, she’s sitting there, calmly, staring off onto space. She has to know something is amiss, no one has come to visit her in days, but she knows that whenever, if ever, whatever it is that is happening is finally over, that they will once again return, stare at her, wonder aloud and silently why she is smiling, and she will as always say nothing, for she was once told that it is better always to leave them wanting more.
Tomorrow Paris will count its newest dead, and the hospitals will pray the tide of bodies has been stemmed, or diminished and none of those in the battle will pause and consider DaVinci’s lady imprisoned forever in her sterile room, an eternal prisoner.
First published in Dreich, Issue 20, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)