He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
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.
If you’ve been paying attention,
you already know that I
have always hated Latin, and not
merely because I never took it, but
because I grew tired of being told
to seize the day. It wasn’t like I
could put a leash on it – time tends
not to remain static, and since it
has no legs, it certainly doesn’t march.
Mostly, it’s all I can do to get through
a day, chasing after it as best I can,
and though I’ll never catch it, I
can follow in its wake, never looking
back or too far forward but never,
ever making haste quickly or otherwise.
Gather each single leaf
from the stones of the garden
and place it neatly in a bushel.
It will take weeks or months
to gather them all
even if you have windless days,
but this is important work.
When the last leaf is gathered
take up the bushel
and throw the leaves
into the garden,
this is important work.
If you tie a gold ribbon
carefully around your neck
it is nonetheless a leash.
A reflection on case 29 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki Tōsui)