Thursday, April 30, 2009


Today, I woke up scared. In that just-awakened state that maintains the undefended clarity of a dreaming sleep, it was as if some longtime assumptions were shattering or shattered and the remaining shards were somehow closing in, sucking from things the safety once provided, weakening what was once 'strong,' and stifling the moment in some mortal way. It was, and to a certain extent remains, frightening.

At the nearest point to sleep, there was a piece of a dream to remember. In the dream, Bruce, a guy I roomed with at the monastery I flunked out of, was lying on the floor in his robes and talking about Zen with a third unrecognized person off to my right. Bruce was a guy I knew as very strong in his determination in practice. If he was slightly dotty in my mind, still I knew him to be kind. Bruce once memorized the entire Diamond Sutra -- a thing that few if any monks in Japan had accomplished. The whole damned thing! Wow! Useful or useless, it was a hell of an effort.

Anyway, Bruce lay on the floor, saying something about Zen practice to the third person in the scene. He broke into a chant -- something we both knew in easy memory, maybe the Heart Sutra or maybe the Kanzeon ten-clause sutra ... easy stuff -- and part way through the chant, he lost his way. He had recited part of it, but then, with a mock-sheepish humor, segued into something akin to "yadda, yadda, yadda..." And as he said this, he looked up at me, knowing I would know he had forgotten ... and, with a challenging smile, he winked. He really had forgotten and, like it or lump it, wasn't that the way of things? the honest way? the way we had both, in our own ways, worked so hard on in the past? the way that, if it were any good, was bound to go poof?

It was all as easy as pie on the one hand. And, on the other, it was scary.

The proximate cause of waking up afraid, I imagine, is the fact that today I will sign the papers that will assure my retirement from the newspaper. That signature will seal my fate. And in a lousy economy with a family I would like to defend and support, the pay cut will mean a large shift in how things work ... how the house runs, how I run. My investigations into health care insurance and other issues connected to a 'life without work' have been exhausting and frustrating and somehow guiltifying ... how come I can't just keep going, keep on keepin' on, keep up the efforts that provided for myself and others ... it all seems simultaneously imperative (the newspaper is dying and I am tired) and somehow insane. How can I lay claim to control when there is so much evidence that I am not in control? What was once an easy, complain-about-it habit is now falling to bits and those bits surround and smother and mock me.

But another slightly-strange aspect of the situation is this: I am not afraid at all. It all feels appropriate and relieving in some sense, as if I had been carrying a suitcase and it had been heavy and now I got to put it down. So ... on the one hand is the whine-festival of fear and on the other is some relieving exhalation that whispers, "There. Isn't that better? Stick with the facts."

Yesterday, my older son took part in a track competition. For reasons that escape me, he throws the discus. If, he told me before the competition, he threw the discus 118 feet, he would be eligible to join a statewide competition. He really wanted to join that group -- that wider, more accomplished group -- and yet had never thrown 118 feet.

Yesterday, he did it. And as he came towards me after that accomplished throw, I congratulated him with an ironic, "Too bad, Angus." And he smiled. Like Bruce, he knew the meaning of a wink.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats to Angus and congrats to you for living through an entire career with some small amount of sanity still intact!