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?”
He strains mightily to hear the sound of a wolf. He knows the voice of coyote well, and here they are ever-present. But wolf is a different creature. He knows coyote will try to take the shape and voice of wolf. But an elder such as he can tell the difference. Wolf is his totem, and each day the man knows he grows closer to death. He wants to speak with wolf one last time, out here, among the sage and jackrabbits. He wants to sit with wolf and stare at the thickening moon and leave the wolf his story to impart to another generation.
I never expected this, he said. It came from out of nowhere. None of us predicted it. It’s a sort of thing that happens elsewhere, but not here, at least that was our assumption. We certainly never wanted it to come to this. But come it did, and so we accepted it. We learned to like the placidity of its face. We were lost for a while but our lives returned to their normal pace, the rhythms of the day overwhelmed us, and our lives went on. We never bothered to fashion a new year. We were satisfied with perfection twice each day.
They appear at the margins, peeking out. They are teasing, revealing just a bit, alluring, but we know they are holding back. It is a delicacy at which we marvel for we know it is a matter of days before they end this dance, drop their veils. Even the faintest hint of their perfume is intended to entrap us, to draw us closer, certain that once their hook is set, our addiction will overwhelm us and we will return again and again, unable to say to ourselves “it is this they count on, and year after year we do not fail them.” In days this burlesque will end, they will show all, and we, drunk with lust, will give into our baser passions and pledge ourselves to their soon fading beauty.
He is looking for words. There are no words. He feels he needs to say something. There are no words. He feels deep pain. There are no words for his deep pain. Many are speaking. There are no words to speak. Everyone is looking for words. There are no words. Everyone wants to say something. There are no words to say. Everyone fears the silence. There are no words in silence. He accepts the silence. He stops looking for words.
The dog wandered up to me. Dogs often did that. This time he dragged his person along, none too pleased at the extension of what the person hoped was a short walk. Both dog and person smiled, the dog meaning it, the person likely out of habit. The dog confirmed the person was impatient. The dog said the only way to teach patience was to wander about, have discussions with friends, old and new, and slowly, over time, the person will learn why the dog has him or her on the leash in the first place. The dog saw a squirrel at the base of a nearby tree, and with a quick “farewell, I see an old friend,” dragged the person down the sidewalk. I waved goodbye, said “come by any time, but leave the grump at home.” The dog smiled and nodded in agreement.
Pangu* came by for a visit the other night. He tends to drop by uninvited.
“Hate to call ahead,” he says, “it ruins the surprise.” He’s aged a bit
since the last visit, and I told him he looked different.
“It’s just a look. It’s the same old me, but I tend to scare people. So I’m
traveling under the name of Adam now,” and showed me a drivers license
to confirm it.
I asked what he was doing for a last name, how he got the license without one.
“They tried to force it,” he said, “but when I told them you get that from your
father, and I had none, they let it go.” He headed for the door.
I told him to take care of himself because we both knew that when he dies, a new
universe will be born and it’s crowded enough around here already.
* Pangu is the first living being and the creator of all in Chinese mythology.