Birth, he said, is the first and only real terminal disease. You only realize that, of course, when it is far too late and there is nothing at all you can do about it. Cancer and all manner of diseases merely shift the timeline, but once you’re on the path, there is only one way off, and that is a step few are willing to take. For some, this is a source of terror, for others it is no more than a slow walk around the block, with the promise you’ll eventually arrive back at the place you began, although it is no longer the place you began but one from which you begin, not again but anew. Again. This is what the Buddha said 3000 years ago, more or less. He confirmed that the just the other day, outside the soup kitchen. “Hey,” Buddha said, “even the once or twice enlightened need to eat from time to time. Join me?”
It’s all a question of knowing where to look for one, but ask what would you do if you stumbled across it. It’s not a simple decision, nor should it be. The better question still is how you will know when you finally find it, for it is marked only deep within your heart.
Then, in a moment, it stopped without warning or obvious cause and it was suddenly dark. I thought of prying open the doors, stepping out into the tunnel, proceeding slowly down the narrow walkway eventually into morning. In the dark, the few bulbs remaining cast a faint glow. It was easy, I knew, to slip from the path onto the rails where a misstep is fatal. When I told her all of this she clucked and said I have these problems because I dreamed only in English with its minefield grammar, where a misstep would blow up the ghosts of the day which had waited so patiently for the exorcism of sleep. She said she could dream in five languages, but to avoid confusion limited herself to English and Mandarin so when she sensed she was drifting toward the dam, she could take up pictograms and ride them across the river of night.
The empty wine bottle nestling the foot of the postal box wants nothing more that to speak its mind but it is forsworn to silence, and stares into the old Maytag box tucked in the alley next to the dumpster. The bedraggled man sits against the wall and debates the meaning of knowledge with the Buddha lying in a fetal ball on the soggy asphalt.