Sometimes, like the wizard revealed behind the curtain in Oz, the keenly relational genius of the universe shows itself plain. For that to happen, some perceptual routine of mine must fall away, disclosing the world’s natural and infinitely moving glance of inclusion, enfoldment, embrace. When it does, I may see the gaps, the glue, may see the concealing curtain – but will feel, especially feel the whoosh of that curtain suddenly gone.
A Troublesome Koan: Extinguish a Star
Extinguish a star? Why would I put out a star’s light? I love the stars. I love certain stars more than some people. It was stars that guided me to my home. Irritated by the koan’s invitation, I built up a delicious field of resistance: No, I won’t!
But that’s when Antares, a star I’ve always loved to pick out in the southern sky, began to pursue and confront me. I saw this star in the corner of my eye while meditating and tried not to. A pest, it got bigger and brighter instead, standing in the way, insisting on itself when I was looking for something else. One afternoon as I drove into town it stood point-blank in a daytime sky and provoked me to stop the car, look at it, finally whole – and suddenly, tenderly give up.
The day after that I attended the funeral of my son-in-law’s mother, Minda. Before the service I stood with family members near the open casket, holding my two-month-old granddaughter in my arms. While guests took their seats we spoke together quietly of Minda’s long illness and terminal liver failure; of her pain, and the absurdity of medical routines even as one dies; of the strange things that sometimes get said. Light extinguished, body shrunken, Minda’s beautiful little hands were slightly contracted, resting uneasily on her richly embroidered jacket. She was so still I wondered how long she could keep it up. Howie, Minda’s husband of 45 years, offered that she would have approved the bright yellow complement of her skin to the dark purple of her outfit. Color was always a consideration for her, he said. Funeral jokes are only ever funny in that moment.
Just before the service began, my baby granddaughter started to fuss. Despite the Rabbi’s encouragement, I carried Tula outside into the green silence of the new cemetery, felt her taut little body relax in the fresh spring air, the sparkle of sunlight on new grasses, the woolly huddle of grazing sheep bumping along a fence. I moved toward the shade of a huge Live Oak – judging by its girth, perhaps 500 years old – and set my feet with deliberate gentleness on the perimeter of its great circular root-span. Except for a faint breeze moving its upper limbs, that giant grandmother was seemingly still, but the field of her interactivity, the lively synergy of her extended being, was palpable. She simply and completely enfolded us.
It was easy, then, to feel Minda’s soul presence at hand. Tired, and done with life, but also with pain, she seemed to hover naturally and unresentfully in her new circumstances, enfolded too in the big tree’s expansive genius. At the same time, my unshakable star reappeared, twilight-bright in the clear blue midday sky.
And so there we were: Tula, myself, the giant oak, the sheep, Minda’s spirit, the star…plus all we could not see to count or name, paths taken and not…all touched and tugged in a perfect spiral of inter-cycling relatedness. For me, the moment was almost too much, and maybe I would have buckled and turned and missed it all if not for Tula, that humming bundle of continuum in my arms. So instead I held on, tingling, while something not exactly dangerous, but also not harmless, held us. Like clouds wound to a tornado’s spindle, or water molecules arced to a wave – Tula’s glance arcing to mine – we were not separate enough to resist.
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