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.
We assume our seats, listen for the bell and then do nothing. Doing nothing is far more difficult that doing something. Doing nothing is something that takes great practice. You can practice doing something, but eventually, with sufficient practice, you may master that something. You never master doing nothing, for nothing is infinitely broad, something definably narrow. When the bell next rings we arise slowly, bow one to all of the others, and try and figure out something to do. Nothing usually comes to mind.
In a small storefront, in an older neighborhood of the city, I found it. Sepia coated with a fine sheen of dust and neglect, it lay on the table amid a stack of others, as though a leaf of phyllo in a poorly made stack fresh from the oven. I knew it as I looked at it, touched it gently, that it had once held a magic incantation, that if you allowed it, could take you on a static journey where stillness was infinite. I read it though it was wordless, but clear, it was a map to the country of dreams. Not mine, I knew. Mine had the mundaneness of Chinese menu ordering, column A, column B, or sorting socks still hot from the dryer. I saw in it possibilities, where ties and restraints could have no meaning, where crawling and flying were coequal skills and walking was so evolutionarily regressive. I thought of purchasing it. The price was certainly reasonable. I thought of framing it with archival mats, and encasing it in museum glass, hanging it on a wall, or placing it behind the mattress where it might seep through like a ferryman plying the river of night, never quite touching opposing shores. I left it in the store that day. I haven’t gone back to see if its patina has grown. For me it could only be an artifact. A map is of so little use, if you have no destination.
At some level, he always knew. It was what he hoped, but he had given up hope. He was glad when he was Portuguese, imagined himself on the beach at Estoril or Cascais. Imagination was free and unfettered, and he was a bronze god in those dreams, chiseled of flesh, wanted by all. You don’t imagine yourself short, barrel-chested, hairy and aging, there is no romance in that. He was happily Portuguese. You are happily anything really, after years of being nothing. He knew there was no hope of meeting his father. He knew he saw his father every morning. It was the only reason he considered looking in the mirror. Otherwise he hated mirrors. They refused to lie to him, to bend to his will. Actually they lied all of the time, for he knew the old man he saw wasn’t him, couldn’t be. It didn’t matter, he was finally connected to the land, plucked from the ether of ignorance. He was, in a word, cognito, and this suited him. It was early evening when the word came. You are not what you think. Estoril is a place to go only if you want to feel alien. The streets of Lisbon deny you. Your imagination has betrayed you. But listen, carefully. Do you hear the highland pipes? Do you taste the Talisker, the Oban, do you see the sky from Skye? For this is who you are, the person you always wanted to be but could not. But were. Now about that kilt . . .
It is between the pushing away in the pulling back that it happens. It is there that the seasons progress, one to the next. Winter cedes to spring and is, ever reluctantly, replaced by summer. It is there, as well, that the leaf emerges from the bud and reaches into the sky. And feeling the taste of the sun, unfurls, welcoming rain, which it channels into the earth, the earth where it will, all too soon, fall, there to decompose, only to repeat the cycle at some unimaginable point in the future. We see none of this.
There is a man standing at a bus stop. He waits at this bus stop each day, regardless of the weather. He is waiting patiently for a bus that will not come, the bus line was discontinued many months ago. He has a cast on his leg, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. It is old looking and you suspect the break is healed, but he hasn’t gotten around to having the cast cut off. I consider for a moment at least stopping and offering him a ride. I know he will decline. He knows the bus will not come, but he is going nowhere, and here is where you catch the bus going there.
The gong reverberates, its depth hangs in the air, fades like a slowly retreating army.
The zafu is at once coarse and caressing, nestling me as I settle down into becoming one with the earth, the zabuton, a fluid translator. The mokugyo’s rhythm lies deep within my chest. The incense settles on my tongue, an acrid sweetness, and there is absolute silence where my breath is an onrushing freight, passing quickly and departing to clear the way for the next, and the next, until even that fades and there is nothing, and there is everything, and there is me and not me, you and not you, and here is no longer.
The gong reverberates like a single hand clapping.