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Friday, December 28, 2012

Growing Old

Friends of mine live on a farm not far from my home. They enjoy growing their own food so they know it is without pesticides and the land is kept free of harsh fertilizers. My friends spend their days deep in meditation even while working their fields.
I visit these friends as often as I might. Unlike most people I know they rarely speak even when spoken to; instead they nod their heads and smile as if they already know of which I speak. And of course they do.
In my youth I recall how there were a number of acres of bottom land on the farm, full of rich soil and blessed with abundant sunshine all day long, but it had a tendency to flood when the rain came. A creek running through the valley invariably overflowed allowing the water to collect in stagnant pools drowning any crops that had been planted. After losing their harvest several years in a row my friends thought it best to simply let the land lay fallow.
One sunny afternoon I took a walk through the hollow. I liked walking alone there. My friends seemed to sense this and so often left me to myself. Seeing hundreds of stones embedded in the creek bank I wondered if any of them contained fossils. I managed to dislodge several of them but they were merely round rocks devoid of any vestige of former life. By chance one of the stones rolled down into the creek; though it didn’t stop the water from flowing it triggered an idea.
Going into the forest I found a stout branch that I broke off a fallen tree. Coming back to the creek and using it as a pole I began dislodging and rolling more rocks into the creek one by one. Gradually as the day progressed into night I built up a small dam.
The following day when I came back to the creek I saw that a small pool water had begun to form behind the rocks. The water flowing over the rocks seemed to sing sweet melodies to me as I added more stones to the heap.
Stopping to wipe the sweat from my eyes and looking up from my labors I noticed one of my friends helping me stack the stones. I hadn’t seen him arrive nor had he announced himself. He must have seen me working and rather than asking me what I was doing he just started to assist me in my endeavor.
The next day when I arrived there were six people there before me, all of them toiling happily in the early morning sunshine as they worked silently at wedging stones from the ground and rolling them into place on the top and sides of the ever-growing dam.
The pool of water behind the pile of rocks had by now become a small pond. I had never before built a dam. I silently wondered how much force the mass of water would produce as it gathered behind the stones. But my friends seemed to have anticipated that eventuality as the higher the dam became they built it three times wider.
Now I have grown old. Fifty years later when I visit that farm my friends feed me fresh fish they have caught in what used to be useless bottom land. Only the elders recall a time when there was no lake. The younger ones speak seldom even when spoke to. When they gather around the campfire at night I tell them that the lake began with a single stone; they smile and nod their heads as if they already know of that which I speak. And of course they do.
My friends have no tractors on their farm. They have no machinery of any kind. When they are thirsty they pull their water from a hand-dug well. When they are cold in winter they chop wood to burn in their stove. When they harvest their food they do it all by hand. The food is plain and filling. Their clothes are well mended; their home is secure.
My friends never travel far. They take death seriously and use it to guide their lives. They have an old truck but it is kept in a garage; they never use it. They have canoes but they are stored in the barn loft. They have weapons but they keep them hidden away.
There is no television there, no Internet. They have no phones. There are no electric wires there to run any of it anyway. They light the wicks of their oil lamps at night. They have no books, only scrolls from the old days. They are happy to live their lives in this manner.
The neighbors are within sight of my friends’ farm and from time to time while visiting I will hear their dogs barking and cocks crowing. But they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Avoidance

I sit here alone in an empty house made for a family. It creaks and moans its displeasure so I keep music playing to pacify its incontinent mood. My loved ones have vanished; some have scattered to the four winds; others lie sleeping beneath the good earth. I sit here typing away night after night these words few people will ever understand, not caring whether anyone reads them or not.
When I sit here too long my legs begin to ache so on murky summer nights I arise to go out walking deserted streets past homes with windows featuring flickering television shows lighting up the darkness; I walk the walk of a forsaken man circling back on himself. People drive past me in shiny new cars. I wave and they wave back. But I don’t know these people. They are but slumbering phantoms floating through a life of desire while I am awake to harsh realities that sharpen my senses and deaden my yearnings.
I have heard it said that the world is made of suffering. It isn’t the kind of suffering one will notice right away; rather it is insidious in its relentlessness. Suffering is a tiny thorn wedged in the sole of my shoe. It doesn’t really hurt, not enough I should sit down to remove my shoe to pluck out the thorn. Still, it irritates each step I take until I can think of nothing else.
Though I seek to avoid suffering it has a way of finding me anyway. I make careful plans but before they can come to fruition my hopes are dashed on the rocks of how things really are.
I notice there is a limit to life but there seems no limit to knowledge. By pursuing what is unlimited with what is limited I put myself in peril; knowing this and still doing it I am sure to find danger. Rather than doing good in order to discover fame or shunning evil to avoid punishment I do what is natural to preserve my health.
There was a time when I journeyed deep into the mountains to forget myself and my troubles. All I found there turned out to be me, however, and my troubles followed along. There was a time when I attended month-long Buddhist retreats in an effort to discover my true nature. All I found, though, was me. There was a time when I read many books to gain the knowledge of others. All I found was a singular knowledge of me. I burned the books page by page to keep warm on snowy mountain nights.
Tired of the cold and privation I left the mountains behind. Coming home I discovered my dwelling vacant, my lover gone, my children grown. The chill of the high plateau had followed me home unseen; the loneliness I found on the rocky peaks seeped into my bones to become my nature.
Sitting here in the middle of all these shiny baubles I am a cheated man in the midst of plenty. I am a presumptuous pretender in the heart of knowing. I am a misfit in the center of conformance. Since I cannot alter the world I am myself and the world changes with me.
Complete enjoyment is found in attainment of one’s aim. This doesn’t mean accumulating wealth and fame; it simply means nothing more is needed for one’s contentment. These days most people desire riches and fame; if these things come they cannot be stopped and their going cannot be obstructed. Therefore it is best neither to indulge in the aim of these things nor to resort to vulgar acts to gain them.
If the departure of what is transient nullifies one’s enjoyment this merely shows what enjoyment they afforded was worthless. Those who lose themselves in the pursuit of their desires and put aside their true nature to the study of learning and thinking are people who have turned themselves upside down.
I avoid the desire to make a show of my knowledge; people seeing my simple lifestyle say they want to be more like me. They don’t understand. They can only be what they are. They are not ready to be like I am. So whenever someone asks my secret I simply shake my head as I walk away without a word.
When I stand upon my tiptoes seeking to grab that which is beyond my reach I am unsteady. When I walk with great strides I cannot maintain the pace. When I make a show of my knowledge I am not enlightened. In my self-righteousness I find no respect. My boasts achieve nothing. My bragging only serves to bring me down.
These are extra provisions and needless baggage. They never bring me happiness. Therefore I avoid them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Accepting Disgrace

When I first moved to this town on a sweet summer day now long forgotten a well-meaning neighbor knocked on my door. When I answered it she asked if I would be interested in attending the weekly bible study at the local community center. I told her no as I shut the door in her face. She has never spoken to me since.
These days I do not belong to any formal school of study. The priest at the church where I do the building maintenance wondered if I was a practicing Catholic. I didn’t see as if it was any of his business so I acted as if I didn’t hear his question as I went about my duties. He walked away. I could feel his sorrow radiating to heaven at not having saved my soul.
If I had the words I would have told him that of all causes of sorrow there are none as great as the death of the mind; the death of the body is next. People make small changes but they do not lose that which is natural to them. If I were to disgrace my freedom to settle on the smallness of one thought that would be a true cause for sorrow, not the fact that I ignored such an invitation.
If I had the words I would have told him that when I walk I do not know where it is I am going; when I stop to rest I do not know what to occupy myself with; when I eat I do not know the taste of the food; all this is accomplished by the influence of heaven and earth, not by my actions.
There was a time when I thought I might like to learn to quiet my mind, to still these rampant thoughts cascading one after the other in an endless stream of nonsense and bickering like marauding baboons chasing one another through the forests of my intellect. But when I tried to sit quietly in the way the books that I read suggested the chatter in my head grew ever louder until in desperation I gave up.
During the summer of my thirtieth year not knowing any better I attended a retreat at a Buddhist monastery. It was a sparse place under a high mountain that seemed to glower down on me. I felt like a white person sitting at an Indian pow wow, out of place and in foreign company. I didn’t understand their ceremonies full of meaning for them and yet bereft of significance for me.
Their beds were low to the ground which made rising at four o’clock in the morning even more of a chore. The food consisted of a tiny bowl of rice and a cup of weak tea which made my belly rumble. The mat on which I sat was stiff without any give to it which made my ass ache. No one was allowed to say a word to anyone else but for the head monk.
He took me aside one day to sit beside him in his chamber. The head monk wondered if I had any questions. I shook my head no. I didn’t. He said I should sit until questions arose but the longer I remained silent the greater the knowing became. The wind spoke my name; the trees sighed in unison, the mountain continued to glower.
Finally the retreat was over. All the other participants seemed happy to be able to talk amongst themselves once more. Their chatter erupted like the singing of birds welcoming the new day.
I sat apart, alone and silent. The words would not begin again.
He saw me sitting there. He waved at me with a movement of his chin to follow him into his chamber. The head monk said I should accept disgrace willingly. He said I should accept misfortune as a way of life. I thought he must be talking to someone else, not to me. I had always been taught to hold my head high at my position in society and to look on the bright side of life. His words could not have shocked me more had he hit me over the shoulders with his keisaku stick.
I was no longer sure of myself.
I crept off like a wounded animal. As I drove home I sought solace in the stillness of meditation. As my thoughts began to quiet I realized I was as unimportant in the madness of the universe swirling around me as a single grain of sand on an endless beach buffeted by the waves of infinity. And since I was unimportant I no longer found myself concerned with loss and gain.
As my thoughts became as nothing so did my body. I was a mote. I was the nothingness that overcame me. I knew viscerally that without my thoughts or my body I had no misfortune.
When I got home I accepted disgrace as I surrendered myself to the universe.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Magnify the Small

My great grandmother was a very old woman when we planted the apple tree. She softly sang a song filled with harmony while we worked, with the movement of her hands instructing me how deep and wide to dig the hole. I sometimes dream of the music but when I wake the melody has faded. The apple tree was but a sapling, a broken branch she had rooted in water. I remember how she gleefully rubbed her hands together after we planted it telling me with a twinkle in her eyes how good the apples would taste.
I remember it was late in the fall so she said we had to take care of the little tree; she showed me how to pack mulch around its tiny base after instructing me to drive a stake into the ground beside it so as to tie it lest the snows of winter break it off before it had time to strengthen itself against the rages of the world.
Though I was just a young boy I was old enough to know she would never live long enough to collect a harvest from that tree. Still, all things start small. The taste of the fruit is magnified with the years. This is what I have learned my great grandmother in her wisdom was attempting to share with me.
I remember how she always gave me a big glass bottle of soda pop—they didn’t have cans or plastic in those days—and how she got a stomach ache one day and it didn’t go away. When the family made her go to the hospital the doctor told her she only had a couple weeks to live; the cancer eating her from the inside was late stage; all they could do was to make her comfortable. The last thing she said to me before leaving the house for the final time was to take care of that apple tree. I promised her I would; it was one promise out of ten thousand I kept.
Writing is like planting trees. Starting with but an acorn a splendid oak unfurls its twisting boughs to the universe. Starting with but a single thought a magnificent book weaves its web of characters to the reader.
As a writer I tend to discount what a reader says about my creative work. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the readers of my work; I do! It just seems to me that a reader subordinates their own creativity; unless they are an author as well they will never understand what it means to sit in front of an empty monitor or an empty notebook to witness it filling with words of their own.
It is easy to teach the art of writing; there are rules of grammar, sentence construction, plot and theme, and many other aspects of writing that anyone can learn. It is impossible to teach the art of creativity. No one knows where it comes from.
Creativity arises from the mystery. By practicing non-doing my monitor overflows with words. By practicing non-action I tap into the mystery that is as boundless and vast as I am empty and small.
Despite my obstinance I was brought to her hospital deathbed, to say goodbye, I suppose. I must have been four years old. I wanted no part of approaching that sad sack of withered skin and bones who used to be my great grandmother. She didn’t know me any more than I knew her. I remember my mother softly saying: grandmother, your great grandson is here. But the old bald-headed woman only moaned in pain and rolled over to face the wall. Though they all thought they were doing me and my great grandmother a kindness the family should have left us to our memories of each other.
When I came into this life I let out with a single cry. When I began this sentence I started with a single letter. When I started this book I began with a single word. By increasing the few I magnify the small. By seeing the simple in the complex I achieve much through small things. By singing her simple song and planting apple trees my great grandmother left me with an enormous legacy.
All sound arises from the mind; music is the intercommunication between minds. Even animals know sounds but not its modulation. Most everyone knows the modulations but few hear the music. On this account I must discriminate the sounds to know the airs; I must know the airs to hear the music. By knowing the music I understand the character of others. Having attained this I set order to the world.
If another person doesn’t know the sound I cannot speak to them about the airs; hence, I cannot say a word of the music. Knowledge of music leads to the subtle springs that underlie the rules of ceremony like planting trees in the autumn of life. By possessing knowledge of both the music and the ceremonies I walk the path of virtue. By this I mean realization of self.
Music is the modulations of voice, the source of which is in the affectations of the mind as it is influenced by external things. When the mind is sorrowful the sound is sharp and fading; when the mind finds pleasure in things the sound is slow and gentle; when the mind is joyful the sound is exclamatory and soon disappears; when the mind is moved by anger the sound is coarse and fierce; when the mind is reverent the sound is humble and straightforward; when the mind is moved by love the sound is harmonious and soft.
When the feelings are moved within they are manifested in the sound of the voice. When those sounds are combined so as to form compositions, this is called airs. The greatest achievements in music are not in the perfection of airs but rather the teaching of people to regulate their likings and dislikings and bring them back to center. My great grandmother’s song was much more than a little ditty; it was her way of teaching me a lesson where words would never suffice.
The evolution of the universe is made up of small steps. Great performances are done as if they are easy. Working without doing is called practicing non-action. Like the apples on my great grandmother’s apple tree I know by tasting the tasteless I reward bitterness with care.
I never attempt anything big; taking things lightly in the beginning only results in immense difficulty later. Since I confront the difficulties from the beginning I never experience difficulties.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Death

Big cities are full of fear and larded with wonder. They exist as a confluence of ideas born from both the close terror of hate lurking like limed death in the dank alleyways and from the exhilaration of life flowering like unrequited wrong breeding in the light of steel and glass high overhead.
Though I am a creature of the night I am not without my vanity. Though I am on intimate terms with death I keep the company of life. Though I am a poor man in the midst of plenty I am at times granted a glimpse of the elegance I normally forego.
So it happened while visiting the big city I took a room high in a stylish hotel. Walking out on the balcony and looking down I could see taxis moving on the street below; they reminded me of yellow lady bugs crawling along the ground. People looked like ants.
I thought how much faster it would be to get down if I just leaped to the ground rather than taking the elevator. It seemed a lot easier to get to the ground from where I stood than it did to get to where I stood from way down there on the ground. I wondered if that was why so many people jump.
When heaven sends down calamities it is possible to escape them; when we create calamities for ourselves it is impossible to live. By being in harmony with the ordinances of God I find happiness in the midst of a suffering world.
These severe folk I meet here in the city are so busy, leaders and followers all. Their ways are different than mine. When it is proper to continue, I persist for a long time. When I am confused, I retire. When it is proper to withdraw, I depart quickly. By forcing others to follow me they do so without heart. They surrender because they lack the strength to fight. By subduing them with virtue I win their hearts as they sincerely submit.
Going back into my room I saw a newspaper lying on the table, perhaps compliments of the management. On the front page an article told of a man, a well-known and a wealthy man, who had leaped to his death from one of the high bridges that crossed the many rivers in this city of dreadful night.
I wondered why such a man would chose death over the richness that was his life. The article went on to say this man of fame and fortune had suffered from depression for many years. I thought how he might have tried living in the obscurity of poverty to see what depression really meant. He might have come to see death as a means and not as an end.
By using death as a guide I live each moment with full waking knowledge that it may well be my last. I know my death is stalking me; it sits here in this very room; if I glimpse ever so quickly to the left sometimes I catch it there shadowing me. At times it mocks me by winking.
Each moment is of utmost importance. To think that one moment is more important than the next is to misjudge death’s intentions. I know my end can come at any time and in any form so I am ever vigilant. Being here high in the sky is no different than the life I lead in the gutters of the world.
The feeling of commiseration for others is a principle of compassion. To feel shame and dislike is a principle of righteousness. Modesty and complaisance is a principle of propriety. Approving and disapproving is a principle of knowing. Everyone is endowed with these four principles yet many say they cannot develop them properly. They play the thief in the midst of plenty.
People are full of dreams. Their desire betrays them. By believing they are masters of their own fate they fail to take into account that death is always waiting for them, like a patient suitor who has been jilted too many times and yet is ever-ready to gather their lover into their arms when they are ready and take them home.
They all flock here to this metropolis looking to hit it big. They don’t realize that a giant lives here; it is waiting to eat them, to make them part of itself. They don’t see the giant; in fact, they run right into its waiting arms as invisible as the air we breathe yet as solid as the steel girders by which this building is able to stand tall and imposing in the sky.
By coming to the city these people believe they are full of courage. But most people live their lives on the gross level. They spend their days following the dictates of others. They spend their nights wishing for the work to end. They pass their time as quickly as they may so something else can happen.
But... it never does.
Is the maker of guns less benevolent than the maker of body armor? The gun maker’s only fear is that people will not be killed; the armor maker’s only fear is that people will be killed. So it is also with the priest and the coffin-maker. The choice of profession is therefore of utmost importance.
From the want of compassion and wisdom will ensue the absence of propriety and righteousness. Those who find themselves in such circumstances are followers of others and are not leaders, yet they are ashamed of their servitude like a coffin-maker being embarrassed by building coffins. Should I find myself ashamed I practice compassion like an archer who sets and shoots. If I miss my target I do not blame others but seek for the fault within myself.
To take example from others is to help them in their own practice. When I am straitened by poverty I do not grieve for what I have lost. When I am neglected and left alone I do not so much as murmur. I company with others indifferently while at the same time not losing myself. If I wish to leave but I am pressed to stay, I stay, not counting it as required by my purity to go.
I have a saying: you are you and I am I. Though others are mired in greed and desire for finery how does that defile me? By manifesting neither narrow-mindedness nor want of self-respect I follow the mystery leaving behind the lure of infatuation.
Courage is that by which intent is daring. Most people desire to be one of the fortunates that make it here in this city of awful darkness but they are not willing to be lucky. Since no one raises any objections to what they do not dare, they live a life of quiet fear while sequestered safely in lofty towers full of radiance shunning the dark places where the shadows of the mystery whisper and roam.
Those few who see the mystery may walk abroad at night without fear. They cannot be harmed for in them the knife can find no place to thrust its blade and the bullet can find no hole through which to enter.
Why is this so?
Because there is no place for death to enter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Straying

I dreamed of my son last night. I found myself straying in the dark under dimming streetlamps yet walking a familiar path with autumn leaves crackling under my feet. Looking up I found myself in front of his house. The door was open so I walked in as I always did, unannounced and without knocking.
He greeted me warmly as was his wont. We talked of things of no real import. When we tired of talking we sat silent reveling in each others’ company; looking into his glowing face I thought how fine it was to see him again.
When I woke it took me a moment to recall just where I was. It took me a few blinks of my eyes to remember my son has been in his grave for many years now. Though I knew my mind was but straying in dreams I thought how excellent it had been to see him once again. As my tears flowed I knew they were tears of joy and not of loss.
As I lay there coming more fully to myself I recalled one day in the mutedly remembered past how I woke in much the same way early one morning in a public park in western Wyoming as the clouds on the horizon were just twisting pink. I had left the dusty Pine Ridge Indian reservation a few days previously after quarreling bitterly with my lover over some perceived slight that didn’t amount to anything.
I couldn’t remember going to sleep there the night before; I must have imbibed a bit too much. My head pounding, my mouth tasting of dirt, I looked up to see a torch burning on top of a column high over my head, its flame fluttering in the chill of the early autumn morning breeze refusing to go out.
There was an iron plaque affixed to the white stone holding up the torch. Reading it the words proclaimed this was an eternal flame dedicated to the men and women who had lost their lives in all the wars ever fought. I wondered if it counted the millions of Indians who had been sickened and slaughtered and driven off their lands but somehow I didn’t think so.
I thought how that torch was like all the ideas passed down from one generation to the next in an eternal dance through time and space... ideas meant to illuminate those who were worthy enough to receive that knowledge. I pondered what would happen if that torch ever went out; I wondered if it would be like the day they came to tell me that my son had died.
If so the world might return to the mystery from which it sprang.
I can be imposed upon by what seems to be what it ought to be but I cannot be entrapped by what is contrary to virtue. The commencing of harmony is the work of wisdom; terminating it is the work of enlightenment. Wisdom can be likened to skill; enlightenment can be likened to strength, as in the case of throwing a stone at a target a hundred paces away. That I reach it is owing to my strength; that I hit my mark is not owing to my strength.
When I array myself in dreams and fine clothes and indulge in too much food and drink, my yard is full of weeds and my cupboards are bare. If I had just a little sense I would walk the main road and my only fear would be straying from it. But I become sidetracked easily.
This path I walk is never-ending; it goes on and on; often times it seems all uphill. When I stray, when I grow tired, when I feel so weary I fear I cannot go on, when all I want is to lay down and sleep, I let my desires slip back into that place from where they arise so they trouble me no longer. I go on.
My son taught me many things. As he grew into a man I learned to be a child again. When he passed away I died along with him until I learned of the mystery. By giving in to his memory I find he will never die. By letting go of that which I have no use for I give in to the mystery.
My son was my closest friend. On account of our virtue righteousness was our way and propriety was the door through which we walked together. The tendency of our mutual respect was like the tendency of water finding its own level.
Though I loved my father we were never friends. I always sensed I disappointed him in ways we were never able to discuss. Just before he died I remember him telling me I could have been someone if I hadn’t wasted my talents on dreams. I always thought I was someone: a writer, a son, a father, a husband, a business owner; but since my accomplishments were meager in his view I guess I wasn’t anyone to him.
As a boy I used to catch my father at times standing very still while staring out at the land that he owned; we lived on top of a high mountain and his land went on as far as the eye could see. I had no desires to work myself into an early grave in order to acquire that which I had no reason to own. I wanted only for the days to move easy. My father always told me the world was a hard and a mean place—that I should grab everything I could—but I suppose I never saw it the way he did.
Though I always loved them my father had all the trees on his mountain cut down so he could grow crops; the land was too poor, so what he planted did not grow. In time the rains fell and small tree sprouts appeared. But my father bought cows, pigs, and goats to put inside his fenced fields and they ate the sprouts. Years later no one remembered how that mountain was once treed. I thought how our love for one another was much like that sad denuded mountainside.
By hoarding more than I can use I forget the mystery and wallow in the world. By losing myself in desire I begin engaging in action rather than non-action; I begin to do rather than not-do.
This is not the way of the mystery.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Returning

My grandfather lived in a run-down shotgun shack. He wasn’t my real grandfather but that’s what I called him. He was my mother’s step-father. He lived far away from us in the Deep South where life was very difficult, where the ground wasn’t dirt at all but just hard-packed red clay and nothing grew but tall thistles, poverty, and weeds.
My father bought an old run-down farm for next to nothing. Even though there wasn’t anything there to steal he worried someone might break in to the tiny cabin perched precariously on a hilltop so together he and my mother talked the old man into coming there to live and to watch over the place.
I was a less than ideal child. I could never get along with my mother; my father was always gone working. But when we visited her step-father way down there in Alabama I got along splendidly with the old man. So one day my father decided in order to ameliorate peace in the household that I should go and live with grandfather. I jumped at the chance.
The old man didn’t much care whether I went to school or not, so most days I didn’t bother going. We spent our time together smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking moonshine whiskey he bought at the local pool hall and cutting posts to sell at the lumber yard. Each post had to be a certain length; each post had to be de-barked with a sharp blade, otherwise we wouldn’t get full price, which didn’t amount to much more than a few pennies each anyhow.
The lumberyard where we sold our posts sat just outside of a little town no one ever heard of called Finger. The town had one store, a general store, where all the old men gathered around the wood stove in both summer and winter. The cans lining the shelves were dusty as were the dry goods. The proprietor always watched me when we stopped there as if he was sure I had come there to shoplift what I could. While he watched me, grandfather filled his bib overall pockets with tins of beans and sardines and sacks of tobacco and packets of rolling papers.
Returning home in his rickety pickup truck that he let me drive the old man would laugh a toothless cackle as he pulled out the loot he had garnered while I distracted the store owner. Looking back I suppose it wasn’t right us doing what we did but we did it to survive. Cutting posts was a poor day’s pay. It barely kept us in gas and whiskey. And I suppose you could say the old man was half-loony by that time anyway. He probably belonged in a home but that would have killed him quicker than the whiskey and the cold.
The old man liked to tell stories of the days when he had been young and I liked to listen. I suppose all old people enjoy remembering the exploits of their youth. I often wondered if the fact of their memories was different than the memories themselves. Though I would never accuse the old man of lying it seemed as if he was apt to embellish the good while neglecting the terrible.
I remember that even though it was in the deep south of Alabama the winters were very cold at times. The shack where we lived had no furnace; we had an old rusted-iron wood stove in the living room that served to warm the house as well as to cook our food and boil up water for us to get up to our necks in when we had a mind to.
The front door consisted of an aluminum screen tacked onto a wooden frame. In an effort to keep the cold winter winds at bay we’d tape cardboard over the screen but it only served to lessen the freezing grip that the cold took on that old house.
Just as the cold began fading during my second winter there the old man began coughing up gray goop that he spit into a spittoon that he kept in the living room. From the rattling sounds of his breathing I knew he wasn’t feeling well but when I walked to the nearest neighbor to call my folks my father said the old man would be fine, not to worry about him.
A couple mornings later my grandfather didn’t come out of his bedroom. He always went to bed when the sun went down and rose when it came up. So by noon when he still hadn’t emerged I peeked into his room. I could tell by the lack of movement under the covers that the old man had passed on during the night.
I walked across the hollow on a dirt road to call my folks again. At that time there was only forest and grasslands; the people who lived thereabouts were very poor. They looked out for one another though in a way that was foreign to me being raised in the north. When I got to the door of the neighbor’s house to use their phone I broke down crying. I had loved the old man in my own way. I knew I would have to go back north to live in a place for which I had no love.
It was in the returning that I came to know myself better, however. I went back to my lessons. I graduated from high school with honors. I had grown determined not to end up the same way as my folks; though I loved my grandfather I had no inclination to become like him either. I entered a university out east; later I went to law school; I became a busy attorney working out of New York City with clients who trusted me with their livelihoods as well as their lives.
I grew wealthy beyond measure—counted upon for advice by both politicians in high places and judges sitting in high courts—yet something nagged at the edges of my psyche, like an itch that try as I might I couldn’t quite seem to reach to scratch. I thought about what bothered me and then I thought about it some more. The more I thought about it the farther away a solution seemed.
Finally after many years had passed I gave up the thinking, left my law practice, and buying an old pick up truck I set out for destinations unknown in an effort to capture the freedom of my youth. I thought if I left all my certainties behind I could find the answers that had so far eluded all my efforts at uncovering.
At first I though I was too late. I’d grown fat and full of knowing. I had waited too long to act. The tentacles of the city of dreadful night had wormed their way into my very being. As I headed west into high mountain places I felt like a man returning to the place of his birth. I missed many meals wandering the mountain trails. As my mind stilled the troubles ebbed along with my weight. I became light upon my feet once again; my mind became as clear as the cold streams from which I drank.
I found myself returning to the mystery.
Years later I returned to Alabama passing through on my way somewhere else. I saw how the old shack had been torn down. An immaculate brick home stood there instead. The old hollow once full of trees was now full of new homes. The dirt road was a highway. The old town that once sported a single general store now had a dozen fast food restaurants and a big hotel and neon-lighted casinos dotting its edges.
I thought how all the glitter of the money rolling into the old town had covered up something important, something no one else seemed to notice but me. It was all a lie intended to make the people happy. The real truth of living is in the suffering and in the poverty of pain.
I thought how it is better to live with a sad truth than to live with a happy lie. That which holds a person together is the values in their life. When a person desires happiness they overlook the sorrow that makes up the world. No one desires sorrow but it is the way of things to lose that which we love.
The mystery comes before happiness and sorrow, good and evil; the mystery has never been born; it waits neither patiently nor impatiently for everything to return to it. The wise seek out higher knowing but the mystery is unknown and unborn. The fool seeks to take what is not theirs but the mystery gives freely and asks nothing in return.
Returning is the motion of the mystery. I know by letting go of this, it will return. By curbing my desires and stilling my mind I know all I need will be provided.
Yielding is the way of the mystery. Rather than forcing my way through life I yield to the mystery. Taking and never giving is the way of the fool. Giving and never taking is the way of the wise. The mystery comes before it all.
The names of all things are born of being. Being is born of not-being. Returning to the mystery is the way of the universe.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yin and Yang

How the petals on the flowers of the plum trees fluttered and turned in the breeze! I cannot help but think of you and the distance that separates us now. We loved the springtime; autumn now has hold of my heart.
She had black hair that shined like spun silk and onyx green eyes and when she spoke her voice was like the music of many waters to my ears. She told me our time together would be too short so I knew from the start that nothing I could do would keep her by my side.
I had yet to learn of not-doing. Being a man I thought I had to bully my way through life; I believed I had to make everyone and everything bend to my will. In time and through the course of knowing many women I gradually learned how wrong I was in my actions.
She wore a tiny smile and nothing I could do or say would ever change it. It was all part of the sadness of the world, like the rattle of skeleton leaves still clinging to the pin-oak trees outside our window in the dead of winter or the bitter smell of pine tree tea boiling deep in the mountains.
I gave her gifts each day thinking I might woo her in that way into staying with me. She accepted each of them with the same sad smile she wore when our lovemaking ended as if she knew she had no choice but to take what I offered.
She made me promise that when she had to go I wouldn’t stop her. I wondered why she would have to leave but she wouldn’t say. I caught the darkness from her words. I thought the worst; I accused her of having another lover. Rather than dignifying my accusations with denial promise me is all that she said. So despite myself I promised.
On the day she left I could have followed but I didn’t. I had always been aggressive but instead I embraced the receptive. It was the first time I'd ever been passive like that; it opened something up that I'd been missing.
I dream of you still; though I've taken other lovers since I've never been quite able to shake the glassy shards of your love from my heart. Sometimes during the quiet of that space in between waking and sleep I think I hear you calling my name. When I listen more closely all I hear is my own sighs.
I understand this is an indulgence, an unnecessary profligacy. Such extravagances lead to insubordination while parsimony leads to meanness. It is better to be mean yet it would have been better still to achieve an accord with my lover. By coming to a concurrence she might never have left me to the poverty of my tears.
These days I am satisfied and composed in my life while I notice those who are mean seem always full of distress. I achieve harmony when I gain by losing for I know I lose by gaining. I combine the forces of yin and yang by carrying yin and embracing yang. I keep the strength of a man and cherish the caring of a woman. In this way I achieve balance.
A man with whom I used to work came to me when his wife left him. I suppose he considered us friends or perhaps he didn't regard us as such; rather he needed someone to talk to and I'd always been a good listener.
I remember how he cursed her; he told me how she had been unfaithful to him; he said that she told him how she wanted to make the marriage work but each time he looked at her he could see the other man reflected in her gaze. I suggested that he close his eyes and talk to her then. I reminded him how empty his bed would feel without her there by his side.
Later I heard they had reconciled though he never spoke to me again except in passing. I imagined that he felt he had shamed himself in front of me by opening up or perhaps he simply had nothing left to say.
Those who are fond of daring and unhappy in their poverty of love will seek to usurp those whom they perceive have more than they do. So will such people should I carry my dislike of them to extremes. Though a person might be possessed of many admirable qualities if they are niggardly and proud those other things are not worth mentioning.
I learn knowing I can never reach my objective. I can find no name for it. Those who are fervid without being righteous, simple but not sincere, stupid and yet never attentive, these people I cannot understand.
No one likes to be orphaned, worthless, or widowed. Yet this is how I describe myself. I came into this world naked, scared, and crying; I will leave it fulfilled, confident, and laughing.
The mystery became one. One became two. Two became three. And three became the world. Becoming one with the mystery these four things I abjure: I draw no foregone conclusions; I form no arbitrary predeterminations, I embrace no obstinacy, and I cultivate no egotism.
I am without knowing; I am possessed of no knowledge. Yet should someone who is empty of answers question me I exhaust my response from the beginning to the end. Having no official employment I have acquired many arts. Though I exert all my ability I cannot follow that which is nameless; though the mystery stands right before me when I seek to grasp it I find no way of holding on.
When the year became cold I finally understood why the cypress and the pine were the last to lose their leaves. Do I not think of you in your distant house? It is the want of the thought of you that is distant; how far away is that?
By embracing strength I sit quietly and unmoving. By embracing compassion I nurture all things. By embracing laughter I will die laughing. This is my only lesson.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stopping Short

When my children were small they loved to be a part of creating something, anything really. Early one autumn we built a tree house... well, I should say they built it. I was there to supervise but I allowed them to do all the work. They were very slow and meticulous, measuring each board to be cut and then taking forever to cut it. I had a power saw available but power saws cut off fingers very quickly whereas a hand saw if it slips might cause a scratch or abrasion but nothing more serious.
But more than that, I enjoyed seeing the rapt look of attention on their faces as the labor proceeded; I relished seeing the way they worked together as a team... the oldest one doing the measuring, the middle ones doing the cutting, and the youngest toting the materials from the sawhorse to the tree. They worked until they grew tired and then quit to start again the next day. As they walked away I could overhear them planning amongst themselves what to do next.
Once they had assembled enough wood to build the platform that would serve as a foundation they began securing the boards to the tree, again being very deliberate and laborious. The nails they used were long so it took them what seemed like an hour to drive each one. I wanted to take the hammer from their hands to show them the proper way of driving a nail but I told myself the only way they would learn was to do it themselves.
Sitting there watching them I began thinking of all the things I could be doing, more important things. I thought how I could have jumped in with my power tools and done the work in half the time... even a quarter of the time. I was sorely tempted more than once to do just that. But I stopped short, keeping myself apart from them, only offering instruction when they asked for it and making sure no one attempted anything dangerous.
This all happened many years ago and if memory still serves it took several weeks to complete the project. Each afternoon when I arrived home from work the kids would all be waiting for me in the garage, tools in hand and eager to get started on the next phase. Sometimes their mother would hear my car pull into the driveway. She would come out of the house to say leave your father alone for a few minutes; he just got home. But I would see the disappointment begin to blossom in their eyes so I would tell her thanks but we have a job to do, which of course was the only answer she expected.
I'll admit there were some days when I just didn't feel like sitting there watching. I felt as if everything was taking far too long to complete. Couldn't they nail those nails faster? Couldn't they position those boards more quickly? I wanted to brush them aside and say no, this how you do it, and proceed do the work myself with my big bad power tools in order to get it done more efficiently and quickly.
Despite myself I stayed my desires. I literally forced myself to allow them to complete that project on their own. And complete it they did. Though there wasn't a square corner to be found in that tree house by god it was a thing of beauty. They spent many happy years playing in it and now when the grand kids come to visit they play in it. Their parents tell them proudly how they built it all by themselves. I can still see the light of accomplishment shining in their eyes when they tell the story.
Now that I find myself alone again these memories invade my waking moments and lull me into dreams at night, good recollections and bad. My wife along with my love has gone back to that mystery from which we all spring forth. The children live far away and of course they visit when they can and call on the phone but I know they have their own lives.
These days I am a writer. It isn’t something I choose to do; rather I am compelled to it. I'd rather be sitting in front of a television set. I'd rather be making love with a beautiful woman. I'd rather be drinking and gambling at the casino. I stop short of all that.
Instead I write. I witness how others understand only the trifles of the world and nothing of importance. I see how the clever deceive the innocent. Those who are honored with wealth despise those who live in poverty. The strong take advantage of the weak. This is not the way of the mystery.
One day I decided to write a book, a magnificent book, one that encompassed the whole universe. But my ideas were so grandiose I had no idea where to start. The ideas themselves kept coming and coming until they snowed me under. So I kept putting off writing that book until the day everything became clear.
I saw that I did not have the right to decide to write such a book. The book had to write me. What do I mean by a book writing me? I sit here quietly letting the words fill this page of their own accord. I know if I try and force them into being the words will be all wrong.
When I am troubled the words do not come. My mind must be clear like ice. The world is full of trouble so how do I stop being troubled? I stop short. By not allowing the troubles of the world to pollute my heart it is clear like glass.
One day I poured a cup of coffee. I like coffee so being greedy I filled my cup all the way up. Looking out the window at the tree house built so long ago by my children I raised the cup to my lips. When I took a drink, though, the coffee dribbled all over me. I stopped short. I had a realization that led to the clarity I needed to begin writing that book.
If I fill my cup to the brim, look, I spill when I try and drink. If I stop short I do not leave a stain on my shirt. If I sharpen my knife too long on the whetting wheel it grows hot and loses its temper. Therefore the sooner it will blunt. If I do the work intended for others they will never know the joy of completion.
If I seek to gather a great store of silver and gold I will lay awake at night fearful of thieves. If I lock the doors of the fortress inside my heart I kindle a fire of desire that burns unquenched.
If I seek to climb high up the social ladder I have much farther to fall. Those who I have trampled on the way up will rejoice to see my descent.
Therefore I am content to stop before I am filled. I fade back to nothing when my purpose is achieved. I do nothing and yet nothing is left undone.
This is the way of the universe.
So this is what I write.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Water

As a boy I lived close to a raging river. If I kept my bedroom window open at night I could hear the waters tumbling over and over as they roared and rumbled into infinity, for not a half mile from my home an enormous waterfall thundered over a high cliff forming a deep swirling pool of dark water on the rocks below. This river was said to be the king of a hundred streams.
Each spring when the river swelled from the melting snow high in the mountains people who tried to wade or to swim in the treacherous river lost their lives by coming too close to those falls, and being swept over, drowning in the swirling undercurrents in the waters below. If they were lucky they wouldn’t drown; rather they would die brutal deaths by bashing their brains out on the jagged rocks lurking unseen below the surface of the water below the falls. Many times their corpses were never recovered.
But I took great delight in allowing myself to be swept over that waterfall. I would go into a whirl above and come out in a twirl below. The rocks were my companions. I knew them all and they all knew me. The waters called my name and whispered its secrets to me. I could feel the twisting undercurrents and follow their lead so as to make my escape from their grip whereas others only rolled back into the twirl, trapped until they perished. The jagged rocks were soft as feather pillows to my head.
Fearful others would see me hurtling over the falls and think me mad I made it a habit to rise from bed when the sky was just turning pink to go to the river. Early one spring morning while swimming to the shore below the raging waterfall I saw a man with a shaved head and wearing an orange robe standing there by the riverside. When I had pulled myself from the water he approached me speaking words in a strange accent. I thought he came to question me as to why I allowed myself to be swept over the falls but he surprised me by speaking of things I did not know.
He told me how he was but a small stone on a great hill; he said his path was plain and quiet; he was neither overjoyed to be alive nor did he count it a calamity to die. The man told me that what we reckon we know is not so much as what we do not know, that the time since we were born is nothing compared to the time before we were born. He said what can be spoken of in words is the form of things; what can be thought of as ideas is the subtilty of things.
He asked if I had learned the secrets of the water. I nodded. Tell me, he said. But when I opened my mouth to explain the secrets I had learned I discovered I knew nothing. He smiled and said we put into motion the nature set for us by heaven without ever knowing why or how we do it. He asked me if I thought it would be better to die going over the falls or to live while dragging myself through the mud. I said it would be better to die. He laughed again saying that he preferred dragging himself through the mud.
As he walked away he seemed to evaporate into the early morning mist. I wondered who he was, for I had never seen this man before. When I woke still in my bed I realized I'd been but dreaming but I couldn't seem to shake off the man's words. I thought about him for many years after.
In time my courage increased until I used to show off each spring when the river turned into a raging maniac; I believed how others witnessing my feats must have thought I was full of courage and daring. Sometimes a pretty girl would approach me as I emerged from the river dripping wet and touch me on the arm as if making sure what they had seen was real and not an illusion.
Each day more people gathered to watch my performances. I felt small and ashamed at first though as time passed my confidence grew as the people cheered when I succeeded in taming that waterfall. My pride grew until it knew no bounds. Nothing and no one could do what I did—not tadpoles nor frogs, not fish nor humans, not dogs nor lizards—and survive the plunge, and what's more, everyone knew it.
But perhaps it might have hit closer to the truth to say that the people watching me go over that waterfall must have thought I was a bit daft to attempt such reckless acts in the first place; more likely they knew with a certainty that I was as dim-witted as the water itself. They were all just waiting for the day I didn’t come out of the water so they could nod their 'I told you so's' to one another.
One day when I emerged from the twirl below the falls a crowd of people who had watched me go over in a whirl gathered around me. I anticipated their congratulations but instead all of them began haranguing for me to stop. They said their children were talking of emulating me. They were worried for them. But I wouldn’t listen. When I didn’t stop they talked to my parents. They called the police. They alerted prominent government officials. All these authorities berated me over my antics; they ganged up to forbid me to go back into the water above the waterfall.
Finally I promised them all I wouldn't return to wading in the river above the falls. I would no longer allow myself to be swept over. But the pull of the current proved too strong for me to resist. It was all I dreamed of at night. By day I drew pictures of the waterfall filling countless notebooks with my scrawls. Though I knew everyone was right—that going into that river might well one day cost me my life—I couldn’t stay away.
So I waited until the dark of night. I climbed out my bedroom window and going to the river above the falls I would allow myself to be taken away in the swirl. They didn’t understand. I had to be part of that raging river. I had to be swept over the falls; nothing else in life mattered to me but living like I was meant to live... or perhaps like I was meant to die should one precious night I might not emerge in the twirl below.
No one understood.
I moved away from that river years ago yet it is still part of me. That river taught me many lessons I could not have learned anywhere else. Though I haven’t seen that waterfall in many decades it is still my mentor and it remains my strength.
I have become the man of my long-ago dream. I am a small stone on a high hill. I am like water. I live in the world and yet I do not strive to be part of it. Like water I inhabit low places that others reject. I live close to the earth so that my toes might feel the soil under them and I might suffer the sun warming my back. By stilling my thoughts I go deep into my heart leaving desire by the creek side.
I take no initiative to produce either happiness or calamity. I respond to the influences acting upon me and move as I feel the pressure. I act only when obliged to do so. I have discarded wisdom and the memories of the past. By being placid and indifferent I follow the virtue of water.
I deal with others by donning a gentle smile and issuing forth with a pleasant hello. I am a blessing to everyone I meet. My speech is sparse and yet to the point. I treat everyone with equanimity. I do what I say I will do yet I do not act until I know the time is ripe. Like the four seasons I understand by acting at the right time not a single thing is injured.
To sow seeds in autumn is to starve in the spring; to laugh during a dirge is to bring shame on the family. Since I have no quarrel with anyone there is no one to blame.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rhythm

Growing up in a small town the next door neighbors consisted of a family of three boys being raised by a single woman. Her husband had crashed his car into a tree on his way home from work late one night. The rumor was that he did it on purpose but of course I never spoke of that to the boys or to anyone for that matter.
I remember them mostly on account of the dancing. When she got home from working the woman and her three sons would spend the evenings in their garage dancing together to old-time 40s big-band music. Though they didn’t play the music very loudly their garage faced our house so I could hear the rhythm quite well.
Watching from our front porch I often yearned to join them but they seemed so happy together I was loath to disturb them. Each evening their dancing seemed to improve to the point that their rhythm was a joy to watch. Sometimes I thought I saw them looking my way but they never motioned for me to come over so I just sat there and watched.
I wondered if my mother would have taught me to dance should she have lived, like my neighbor woman taught her sons. I never really got to know my mother. She passed away when I was but a baby; I was too young to remember her though at times I have a passing vision of her laughing at something that no one else finds funny. I've been told by those who did know my mother that she loved mirth, music, and dancing so I like to think she might have showed me that affection should she have lived long enough to do so.
These days I love the music still but I have never learned to dance. Long ago I learned if I sat silently no one noticed me; no one noticed I was alone. I sat there too long reveling in the music never learning to dance.
Sadness and pleasure indicate a degenerate ingredient in the virtue of those who experience them. Joy and anger show a going astray in direction. Love and hatred demonstrate a collapse of quality. For the mind to be free of sadness and sorrow is the perfection of virtue. To be of one mind that does not change is the perfection of quietude. To be conscious of no conflict is the perfection of vacancy.
If I toil too long without rest my body becomes worn out. If I trouble myself with desires and anxious thoughts without rest my spirit becomes worn out. Like water when I am free of admixture my thoughts are clear; when my thoughts are not agitated like water I am level and calm. This is known as the rhythm of heaven.
Sometimes I stay too long. Sometimes I don’t stay long enough. I forget the rhythm of the mystery to dwell in the tempo of the earth. Though these two might be mistaken as the same one comes before the other. One cannot be seen while the other is all that is seen.
Being motherless I looked to the forest for solace and for solitude. Wandering alone on lost paths deep in the mountains I could find no water to drink. Listening with parched throat as I walked through the rock-strewn valleys I could hear the rhythm of water dancing under the stones. I knew the water had to be there. By keeping my eyes on the valley I ignored the source.
Following the rock-covered stream down into the valley I hoped to find a pool of standing water. But I was met with disappointment. I began moving rocks aside hoping to find water underneath. The water seemed so close and yet no matter how many stones I rolled away I couldn’t seem to get to the source.
When I looked up from my task wiping away sweat from my brow I saw the snow glittering on the mountain top. I realized the water I heard under the stones was melting on high. To get to the source I had to forego the valley. By climbing away from what I knew I came closer to the source.
As I lay in slumbers my brain starved for oxygen high in those mountains one bitter and cold January night I dreamed how I danced with a beautiful lady who might well have been my daughter. Our rhythm and our timing were perfect. As the dance ended and she walked away she turned her head just so waving a happy goodbye over her shoulder. I recognized her from her striking the same pose as in an old picture I'd once been given of my mother.
Waking I thought how miraculous it was to see and to dance with my mother who was still a young woman when I had grown so old. I thought of the rhythm of life and the rhythm of death and how the two danced with the mystery, eternally renewing each other along with the world.
Action without thought is a rhythm I feel with my heart and not with my feet. While thinking takes me away from experience action without thought brings me closer to it. When experience comes as a surprise I know I am closer to the mystery. When experience is always new I am the mystery.
The mystery formed before heaven and earth. It is alone and unchanging. It is ever-present and yet always in motion. The mystery is the mother of all things. I do not know its name. I call it the source of experience. For lack of a better word I call it the mystery.
Since the source of experience is mysterious it flows far away and having gone far it returns. I follow the rhythm of the earth. The earth follows the rhythm of heaven. Heaven follows the rhythm of the mystery. The mystery follows what is natural.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Loss

Chapter 1: Loss



On the day my son was born he was so tiny and alive! I marveled at the softness of his skin, his tiny fingers and miniature toes, and the brightness of his eyes. He grew too quickly. I often wonder where all the time went; life is like a river flowing past; no one can keep their eyes trained upon it since it is always moving. It flows away to nowhere never to return.
My son came to me one day. He was still a boy but fast becoming a man. I could tell by the look on his face that he had something on his mind. What happens to those we love when they die, he asked. Do they go to heaven?
I knew why he wondered. A boy in his class at school—his name was Eric—had been killed in a horrific accident while playing in a Little League baseball game. Another boy threw a ball to him when he wasn't ready. The ball struck Eric in the neck. He collapsed. Despite frenetic efforts to revive him the young boy died right there on the field.
I wanted to tell my son that I did not know what happened when we die; I wanted to tell him that I was not dead and only the dead knew the answer to that question. But when I opened my mouth different words emerged.
I said to him that when we die we return to the mystery from which we all come. I explained to him everything dies except that which has never been born. I told him since the earth is alive it too had once been born and one day it too would die.
I told him that though everything passes away there is that which remains. It cannot be named nor can anyone see it. It cannot be touched. It has no taste, no smell. The mystery has never been born and so it will never pass away. We are part of the mystery; nay, we are the mystery.
But I do not understand, father. Doesn't everyone die?
Come for a walk with me, my son. So he did. We walked through the apple orchard and into the forest that grew behind our farm. We spotted a pheasant making its way through the undergrowth, its mottled coloring making it difficult to spot.
I noted to my son how that pheasant had to amble along all day to find nourishment; I said how it must make its way to the creek each morning to drink, putting itself in danger of other predators that might be there as well. If it were in a coop all the pheasant's nourishment would be provided for. It would not be in any danger. Yet were we to make a trap to catch it and carry it home that pheasant would spend the rest of its days trying to escape confinement in order to regain its independence.
I explained that this is the way of the mystery.
My son's face shined as he listened to my words. I thought how precious this small insignificant moment we share is. I imagined him an old man one day explaining the mystery to his son and to his grandson. Looking into his eyes I saw all the generations looking back at me, all those who lived before us and all those who would come after. I thought how important it was that we get it right this time.
I explained to my son that what happened to our loved ones when they passed back to that mystery where we all come from did not matter as much as what happened to those left behind. Those who die had finished with their struggles. Their pain had come to an end. It was the living who had to go on even when it seemed all but impossible.
On the day my son passed away he was so broken and so still. I mourned how I would never again see his fine strong body walking the earth. At his funeral I wanted to get up to tell everyone about the wonderful times we had together. When I stood I could not speak for the lump arising in my throat choking me. Blinking through my tears I gazed out at the gathering of lovers who assembled there to see him off yet I could not see anyone. While they celebrated his life I died along with my son.
Yet I go on.
The earth will one day be a dead empty husk rolling through the darkness of heaven. The sun will no longer shine. The stars will blink out. The rains will stop, the fires will fade, and the winds will cease to blow. None of these things are eternal. How is it possible for me?
What we can point to are but logs consumed by fire but that fire has moved on; we cannot know that it is over or ended.
I follow the mystery. I am at one with the source of experience. I am virtuous and so I experience virtue. But those who lose the way to the source and instead cling to what they know are lost.
When I am at one with the mystery, experience welcomes me. When I am at one with virtue, the virtue is always there. When I am at one with loss, the loss is experienced willingly.
To talk little is natural. If I do not trust enough I will not be trusted.
This is the way of the universe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Starving

There was a time when I thought I had lost everything that ever meant anything. In my distress I left my home behind in hopes of discovering that which had vanished from my life.
I wandered west until I came to the sea; I could go no farther. Being cold I turned left; I walked south until I reached the lean land of Mexico. In those days it wasn't anything to cross over the border. I walked a good long ways under a warm Mexican sun until I gave in to the call of forgetfulness.
The booze was cheap and strong. I drank too much at a little cantina just outside of Magdalena. I woke the next morning not knowing where I was or how I had come to be there. My pockets were empty. My throat was dry. I was too proud to beg.
Finding myself alone in a strange city and hungry I walked into a Catholic church hoping to find solace and a friend. The building felt familiar; door was unlocked; the custodian greeted me warmly. He spoke in Spanish telling me the executioner was out but he would be back shortly. In the mean time he wondered if I was hungry.
I was starving. The old man went to a stained and wheezing refrigerator and taking out a brown paper sack he handed me a tortilla and a bowl of re-fried beans. I knew it was his lunch but I ate it anyway scooping the beans into the tortilla with my fingers. I was never partial to Mexican food but that lunch was one of the best I'd ever eaten in my life. When I finished I licked my fingers clean while thanking the old man profusely.
A few minutes later the executioner arrived. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was angry with the custodian for having allowed me entry into the church. The padre sent the custodian out of the room and then he threw me out of the building with a stern lecture not to return lest he call la mantenimiento del orden. I left the town behind to its dust.
Instead of becoming an executioner I was influenced into becoming a custodian.
From the loving example of one man a whole state becomes loving; from one man's courtesies a whole state becomes courteous. At the same time from one man's ambitions and perverseness a whole state may be led to rebellious disorder. Such is the nature of influence.
If the household is rightly ordered then the people of the state may be taught. When a leader loves what the people love and hates what the people hate then they are called a parent to the people. Leaders of families, churches, and states may not neglect compassion or care. If they deviate to mean selfishness they will disgrace not only themselves but those they serve and their house will not stand for long.
If people are under the influence of passion their conduct will be incorrect; they will be the same if they are under the influence of hunger, or under the influence of fond regard, or under the influence of sorrow and distress. When the mind is not present people look but do not see; they hear but do not understand. To cultivate a person depends upon rectifying the mind.
Rome fell because the people were starving. Why were the people starving? The people were starving because the rulers ate up the money in taxes to fund never-ending wars. So the people lost their land and the farmers could no longer grow crops. Therefore the people were starving.
In a household, a church, or a state, pecuniary gain should not be considered to be prosperity but its prosperity should be found in righteousness. When those who preside over households, churches, and states make revenues their chief business they are under the influence of small, mean people. They may consider these people to be good but when such a person is employed by a family, a church, or a state, calamities from heaven and injuries from men will befall it.
Rome fell because the people became rebellious. Why did the people become rebellious? The people became rebellious because the leaders interfered with them too much. The ritual of taxation demanded too great a sacrifice so the people became rebellious.
By gaining the people, the household, the church, and the state are gained. By losing the people, the household, the church, and the state are lost. On this account the leader will first take pains about their own virtue. Possessing virtue will give them the people. Possessing the territory will give them its wealth. Virtue is the root; wealth is the result. If the leader makes the root a secondary object and its result primary they will only wrangle with the people and teach them rapine.
The accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the people while letting wealth scatter among them is a way of collecting the people. Wealth gotten by improper ways will take its departure by the same. Goodness obtains the decree; the want of it loses it.
Rome fell because the people thought so little of death. Why did the people think so little of death? Because the rulers made too great of demands on their lives, so the people welcomed death. They could no longer see the good for the bad, the right way to go for the wrongs heaped upon them.
By keeping to the center, by finding a pivot point, one comes to see there are always a right and a wrong; there are always a this and a that; these two produce each other. Those who cling too tightly to one and then to the other vacillate back and forth; they have not found their point of correspondency. By exacting more than is fair, by sending away the hungry and by turning out the tired, even the great state of Rome was lost. What chance did I have against the executioner?
Having little to live on, I know better than to value life too highly.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Achievement

The world is full of achievement. Most people spend their lives seeking to achieve success, wealth, and fame. These are all great things to be sure but they are not the highest achievement.

Almost everyone lives their life alone though they are surrounded by the mass of humanity. Almost everyone has a secret they never share; they spend their life hoping no one guesses what it is. By living in pretense they deny themselves the truth of their achievement.

I never tell anyone that I know their secret. They think I don’t see how weak they are and how confused. I let them pretend they are big and strong; I let them imagine I am soft and feeble. If they think I am as mixed up as they are then they will leave me alone. If I smile just right they believe I am as unhappy as they are.

I was a troublemaker as a child. My parents would send me to church so that I might find salvation but instead of turning left at the fork in the road thereby achieving my goal I would somehow end up turning right to spend my Sunday mornings smoking cigarettes I bought with the money I'd been given for the collection plate while playing pool with the other miscreants at the pool hall.

Of course word trickled back to my folks from my grandfather who missed my shining face in the familiar pew. The following Sunday I would be driven to the church steps with stern words of warning from my folks. But again, instead of turning left into the church I somehow got sidetracked into turning right invariably finding my way back to that smoky old pool hall.

My grandfather came to our house one dire Saturday. He sat me down to talk to me, words of doom and how disaster would follow me the rest of my days lest I repent. He always said I would go to hell for my sins. But I figured when I got there my sins would no longer matter. I wanted to explain that to him but I knew he would never listen. So instead of learning to speak I learned not-speaking.

I talk very little even when spoken to. Those who talk much know little. Of what I know I cannot speak.

By masking my knowledge I simplify my problems. I shield my senses from bright objects of desire and temper the need to possess them. I am at one with the dust, water, fire, sky, and with the wind. This is called original union.

I am unconcerned with friends and with enemies. I am unconcerned with good and harm, with honor and disgrace.

This is called the highest achievement.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Force

My lover hesitates as I tug her towards our bed waiting in darkness and anticipation of delight. She overpowers my desires with a single word: no.

I say I am bored; there is nothing happening. It isn’t because nothing is happening though. It is because I do not think what is happening now has any importance. A desire arises to force the moment into being my vision of it. The moment has become my enemy.

I desire to feel important so I force myself to do things beyond my means. I grow tired and bored with my exertions, however. It is better to keep within my bounds; I let others tired themselves out by breaking themselves against the world.

When others ask for advice I offer it gladly. I have little to offer, however.
Whenever I am asked for advice I always counsel not to use force to conquer an enemy, for this will only cause resistance. Force is always followed by loss of strength. To go against this advice is to come to an early end.

I counsel to achieve results but never to glory in them. I counsel to achieve results but to never boast of them. I counsel to achieve results but never to be proud of them. I counsel to achieve results but never through force. This goes against nature.
I counsel to just do what needs to be done and to never take advantage of power.

This is the way of the universe.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Giving Way

My latest work in progress is tentatively titled The Art of Living: Zen Stories. Although it is comprised of a series of vignettes centered around the Tao te king it can also be read as a novel since all the parts tie into a whole. This chapter is titled Giving Way:

If I get involved with too many people that have too many problems they drag me under the waves of discontent right along beside them. They are unimportant, a waste of time. They interrupt the flow of my life and poke their noses into my business. It is like I am in a movie theater and everyone is talking so I cannot hear the sound; everyone is standing and I cannot see the screen.

But then the floor of the theater gives way; I am alone floating in interstellar space watching this movie I know nothing about. I think what a stupid thing this is; this movie has nothing to do with me. A realization hits that this movie is all there is; I sure as hell better get interested in it; once it stops I stop too.

I recognize I am in the valley of knowing and not in a movie theater at all. The valley of knowing is the meeting place of the universe; the valley of knowing is the mother of the universe. By keeping still the valley gives birth to all things. By knowing stillness I know strength.

I give way to my lover; she lays low in stillness. She overcomes my strength with her gentleness. A strong country that gives way to a weak country will conquer the smaller country. A weak country that submits to a strong country will conquer the strong country.

This is the way of the mystery.

To conquer I must learn to give way; to be conquered I must also learn to give way. A great person desires to be adored. A small person desires to adore. By coming together they each fulfill their desires. It is fitting for a great person to give way.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Adventure at the River



After outfitting himself in his grandfather’s leather and tying the homemade contraption for his head onto the luggage rack with a strip of green ribbon laced through the bullet hole in the back of the helmet, Jon double-checked his provisions for the trip. In his top jacket pocket he carried two dozen doses of high potency LSD blotter-style acid with a wizard who looked like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings imprinted on it (he had purchased the stuff last spring from a friend who dealt in such things and he hoped it was still good) and in the glove box in front of the gas tank he had stashed an ounce of kind bud along with a rolling machine and papers. Stuffed down one boot was a flask full of cheap blackberry brandy for the cool mornings and stuffed down the other was his .32 five shot revolver and a small roll of bills.

Since Chiesa had a faring he didn’t need his sun glasses but he carried them in another one of his jacket pockets. The early morning sun always hurt his eyes but he had found he could look right into the afternoon sun without the aid of sunglasses. He had Benny the boy roll up quite a number of joints before he left but he told him nothing of his plans. In fact he confided his plans to no one at all. And so he fired up Chiesa with a kick of his foot and sallied forth, deeming it a beautiful day for an adventure. As he tooled down the straight county highway, slowing to about 35 miles an hour since there was no other traffic in sight, he fired up a joint.

In this fashion he rode for about two hours, always staying on country roads and away from heavy traffic and towns. He had smoked more than half the joints he brought when he noticed a sign that read: Seymour Family Reunion. With a U-turn he turned the bike around and turning at the sign he rode down the gravel road toward the river. His ass ached from not being used to riding and both his hamstrings were tight as a bull’s anus. He spotted a group of campers parked hard alongside the riverbank. The air smelled of rotting fish and bad water.

He rode along while dodging potholes until he reached the crowd. He found didn’t know anyone but as he putted down the road a group men sitting at a picnic table waved at him and motioned with hands for him to come over. He noticed kids running everywhere with no apparent adult supervision. He cut the engine by closing the gas cock and Chiesa started to wobble. “Wow, that’s an old Panhead!” One of the men had risen and started towards him, calling out as he walked. “Hold on old-timer; don’t let her get away from you!”

But it was too late. The bike had started to tip as soon as our man Jon had flipped off the gas cock—before he realized his legs had gone numb from the ride. He had made to kick the kickstand down in panic but the sandy soil gave no purchase. He fell over with the bike on top of him but now several men sitting at the table jumped up running and they arrived in seconds, picking up the bike and helping him to his feet.

“Take it easy there, old dude. Jesus Christ, you could dislocate a knee or break a leg or something. Man, what a sweet looking bike! Are you okay? Come on over and have a beer. You look like you could use it.”

“Yes, that would hit the spot, thank you so much for the help. I’ve been riding for a while and I just need to stop for a while to work the kinks out of my ass. You guys are having quite a get together. I saw you from the highway.”

“Yeah, it’s sort of a family get together but not really. You’re welcome to stay for as long as you want. Hell, spend the night. You got a tent?”

“No. I didn’t think to bring one.”

“Well, I think I have a little pup tent if you don’t mind that. And I even have an extra blanket if you need it.”

“You know, I wouldn’t mind staying the night. It looks like dark isn’t far off. Thanks for the offer.”

“No problem.”

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Jorge and that’s Bill, Dave, Platt, and Gordo.”

“My name is Jon.”

“It’s nice to meet you Jon; here is that beer. Are you holding anything?”

“I have some kick ass acid.”

“What kind?”

“Blotter. Wizard.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, I have a couple dozen hits. I’m letting it go for fifteen dollars each.”

“Hey man, you can sell it all right here. Break it out.”

After selling all but two doses, Jon saw fit to swallow them himself and chasing the blotter acid with a long pull from the beer he belched. Oh that’s good! The men had by this time gone back to talking among themselves about things he had no knowledge of and so he decided to walk down the dirt road towards the river. By the time he’d walked a hundred feet he could feel the acid starting to hit him. It was definitely still good, no worries there.

The grass under his feet, quite involuntarily, suddenly, seemed very soft and green even through his boots. He sat down and took the boots off one by one and along with his socks set them by the bike. He saw that his toenails needed trimming. He could feel the roots growing in the sandy soil under the grass. A little girl came walking by and stopped and looked at him.

“Hi there mister. My name is Ashley. You wanna come go for a walk with me?”

“Sure, let’s go.”

They walked down the dirt road past a campsite full of people that all seemed to have the same yellow cast to them. Little Ashley took his hand in hers as they walked. By the time they had gone a hundred steps the acid was hitting him with force. The river appeared to their left. A little boy ran by in front of them on his way to jump off the bank into the languid green water. A trail of boy-ness both followed and preceded him. Our man Jon’s fingers on his right hand seemed to be being pulled peculiarly long so he had to let go of the little girl’s hand. The river reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place and it suddenly seemed best that they turn back.

“Let’s go back now, okay? Do you know the way back?”

“Sure I do silly. It’s this way!” The little girl skipped on ahead of him and our man followed though he was slowly being overwhelmed by the color of the sky just at sunset. When he looked down the road there seemed to be a rather large gathering of people up ahead. Yes, an extraordinarily large gathering. Hmmm. Looks like something is wrong, he mused to himself. Some of the people seem to be pointing at the river and when he looked over there he noticed that there were more people in the river holding hands forming a human chain. What on earth could be going on? Did someone drown? A woman came running towards the little girl he’d been walking with and picked her up, sobbing and hugging her close.

Uh oh.

Several men he had never seen before were close behind the woman and heading his way. The whole crowd seemed angry. One man stepped forward, a big man with colorful tattoos running up and down both arms and a red face that seemed to be floating on the bulging muscles of his neck.

“Where you been with our little girl, mister? We thought she fell into the river. The sheriff is on his way. You better have a good explanation or you’re going to jail buddy. I can tell you that.”

“But we just took a walk. She came up to me while I was sitting here and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I sure didn’t mean to put all of you out. Maybe it would be better if I were on my way.”

“I think maybe you better wait. The sheriff is going to want to talk to you.”

“Well you can see everything is okay now and I just think it would be better if I go now.”

“You can explain to the sheriff what happened.”

“It was a mistake. I thought it would be okay to take a walk with her. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was tripping.”

“I told you to wait and you’re going to wait. Even if we have to tie you up. Victor, you got rope in your trunk, don’t you? Go get it. We’re going to have to tie this old pervert up to keep him from leaving.” One of the men turned to leave and our man chose that moment for his getaway and he would have made it too if not for a root under his foot that made him fall and strike his forehead on a rather large boulder growing out of the riverbank.

Livid green geometric shapes leaped swimming around the atmosphere as he flopped about like a dying fish. Someone seemed to be kicking him in the ribs but when he put his hand there to protect himself he found it was a tree branch he’d fallen on doing the damage. A uniformed figure loomed large over him filling the sky. There was a gun on his hip and handcuffs hanging from his belt. The stench of the polluted river filled Jon’s nostrils. The officer looked crisp and leathery. His mouth seemed to be working itself up to spill out words

“Get up.”

“Huh?”

“I said get on your feet, you old scumbag.” A set of iron hands jerked him, roughly, up by the jacket and dragged him to his feet.

“These people tell me you crashed their party and kidnapped a little girl. You could be in all kinds of trouble. Put your hands behind your back. Do you have anything in your pockets I should know about?”

“Uh…”

“I said hands behind your back!”

His bare feet dug into the sandy soil and propelled him forward faster than the sheriff could follow in his shoes. He didn’t actually think of running, it just happened. The night swallowed him in black and he was alone. It was so dark that as he ran he held his hands rigid in front of him to avoid running into a tree.

The acid had peaked and he was tired. His head hurt and there was something sticky in his eyes. When he felt his forehead his hand came away sticky wet. There was a hole in the right side of the old leather jacket. The moldy moth-eaten hide had offered scant protection from the tree branch he’d fallen on and his hand came away wet again when he probed the hole. His bare feet were cut and felt like they might be bleeding too from the brambles he had run through unawares in his mad flight to freedom. His breathing came in ragged gasps as each breath hurt deep inside his chest. When he spit it tasted of copper.

But he was free! He was proud to see the old Panhead was sitting where he left it with his boots still beside it. He pulled on the boots wincing in pain then jumped on the bike, kicked it one time and it fired to life. Out of the corner of his eyes he spotted the sheriff coming out of the brambles behind him as he eased out the clutch and hit the throttle. Easy does it; don’t want to spill the old girl now. He didn’t turn on the lights until he was well down the dirt road.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In the Beginning...

Just outside of a town (who’s name I don’t remember) in the great state of Northern California there lived a while ago one of those kind of men who are apt to keep a .32 caliber pistol in his boot, an original ’48 Panhead motorcycle in the garage (both of which once belonged to his grandfather), a clan of lean cats living in the barn, and a swift to sleep duty dog laying in an overgrown yard. His stew (often) had more vegetables than beef in it and most nights he ate the remains cold with bread. Bean soup on Fridays, eggs and bacon on Saturdays, and an occasional chicken on Sundays (more as a delicacy than a rule) made up the rest of his diet.

His attire consisted of a couple pairs of overhauls made of heavy denim for working, three pairs of dark blue straight legged jeans for every day, a pair of leather cowboy boots made by hand by a local boot maker down Sonora Mexico way, a half dozen black tee shirts for the weekdays (though these all had tiny holes in them), a broad-brim cowboy hat to keep the sun off his face, and a good wool double-breasted suit and a shirt and tie for holidays and funerals. His homestead was moderate and provided him a meager living if he grew a cash crop.

His family consisted of his widowed sister named Anastasia, Ana for short, who was of around sixty years of age and who cooked (though not well) and kept house (about equal to her cooking), a niece not yet twenty by the name of Marie who attended the local community college and worked part time at the White Hen, and a boy of about fifteen named Benny who worked for him both in the field and at home and who could tune the Harley as well as use a cutting knife. The boy was no relation to the others but had come to live at the farm for a week as a foster child when he was five years old (for which the state paid) and because he had nowhere else to go he just ended up staying on (and the state kept on paying).

Our man was about fifty years of age and of stout constitution, but wizened and gaunt, an early riser and a heavy smoker with a permanent hack. He had gray chin whiskers so long they often became entangled on the steel buttons of his bib overhauls; this served to tears to his eyes at those unfortunate times. Only a few straggled hairs grew on his cheeks though he never shaved. His nose was red and nondescript; it had the look of having been broken and poorly set a number of times, which indeed it had been, most often after having consumed one too many shots of Jack Daniels with beer chasers and getting mouthy with someone either bigger or perhaps just a little less drunk than himself.

They say his surname was Johnson or Johnston (accounts differ on this) but if a person was pressed to say, it might be a reasonable guess that his name was Johansson. This, however, this has little to do with the story as most people just called him Jon. What you really should know is that the above named man in his leisure moments (which was most of the year) gave himself up with such passion and delight to reading books of sorcery that he almost entirely neglected planting a crop or working the farm.

In fact his craze for this type of literature became so great that he sold many acres of arable land in order to buy as many rare books as he could find on eBay and Craigslist. Above all he preferred books written by Carlos Castaneda, a disciple of the famous brujo Don Juan Matus and considered by many to be a great sorcerer himself. The clarity of Castaneda’s writings and the wisdom of Don Juan made him value those books more than his cats valued three day old bacon grease; especially when he read of Don Genaro flying around the tree tops and the apprentices lining up and jumping from a cliff into the blackness below.

He was not quite convinced that anyone could gather the totality of self while plummeting to earth in pitch darkness for no matter how great a brujo Don Juan was it seemed inevitable that the apprentices would end up a heap of bloody flesh at the bottom of the cliff. Nevertheless he praised the author for concluding his books with the promise of unending adventures. He often debated with the bartender Ned Turner at the local pub—a man of learning who had graduated from Notre Dame while manning the offensive line—on the relative merits of lucid dreaming.

Ned himself claimed to have dreams in which he knew he was dreaming and yet could act of his own volition and go where he would. But the barber, a man who went by one name, Boner, maintained that no one could interact with waking people while in a dream, and Ned himself had to admit the truth in the barber’s statement. This caused our man Jon a small deal of consternation but he put it off to his friends’ inexperience in such matters.

It was true that he had never yet managed to lucid dream even once, but every night before going to sleep our man carefully set himself up to look at the back of his hands as soon as he came to the realization that he was dreaming. It’s also true that he didn’t quite know how to go about setting himself up to see his hands so he lay in bed for several minutes with his eyes shut, visualizing the back of his hands. He’d been doing this for a year without success but he took comfort in reading where Castaneda wrote that it took Don Genaro ten years to see the back of his hands in his dreams.

In short, he so immersed himself in those sorcerers’ intrigues that he spent whole days and nights over his books; and so with little sleeping and much reading his mind dried up to such a degree that he lost his sense of reason. A rather steady regimen of smoking the most potent marijuana in the world (which he grew for medicinal purposes on the south slope facing the creek. At times it seemed to help fight the depression that set in after his wife passed on three years back) also added to our man’s state of general confusion to the point where he no longer knew for sure what was real and what was an illusion or if indeed it mattered a jot either way. Having lost his wits he stumbled on the maddest idea a madman ever stumbled on. He found himself compelled to become a sorcerer’s apprentice like Carlos Castaneda and his cohorts.

And since there were no sorcerers living near his home, he felt compelled to hop on his big two-wheeler (despite having no valid driver’s license for several years now) and head for the open road in search of adventures and magic. Having not ridden for many years, our man had to gather what he deemed to be essentials for the trip. His grandpa on the Jones side had once been a biker back before the lawyers and doctors came to dominate the road on their expensive machines and the old man’s leathers were still tucked away in Grandma’s cedar chest.

The old gal just didn’t have the heart to throw his things out after her husband had put down the bike to avoid a group of children crossing the road and slid into a guardrail headfirst. Though Jon was a tad taller than grandfather Jones, the leather jacket fit, as did the old boots. It should perhaps be said that the chaps looked as though the man wearing them was expecting a flood and the boots hurt his toes when he walked any sort of distance but he reasoned that since he planned on riding, not walking, the boots would serve him well.

No matter where he looked, though, he couldn’t find a helmet. Even though the great state of Northern California had no helmet laws, the renegade state of Western Arizona did, and so having no money to buy a new one, he resolved to construct a helmet from a WWI German soldier’s helmet that his great-grandfather had brought home as a souvenir. There was a bullet hole the size of a finger in the back of the helmet, it was stained red inside, and it had no visor, but he managed to construct one out of Plexiglas and clear tape interspersed with glue.

In order to test its strength in a crash he took up a miniature baseball bat with Head Tamer written on the side of it and struck the helmet smartly. The visor shattered into a dozen pieces with one of them flying up and striking him directly in the left eyeball. Not only did his eye hurt each time he blinked, it dismayed him to see how a single whack destroyed a week’s work. Nevertheless he set to work constructing a new visor, this time using spokes from an old bicycle wheel to give it added strength. Wiping the persistent tears running down his cheek from his injured eye and having completed the visor he put on the helmet, deeming it strong enough to withstand a minor crash, and without making a second test with Head Tamer he considered the helmet ready and road worthy.

On his orders Benny the boy spent two days tuning and cleaning up the old Panhead while our man spent his time smoking kind bud and thinking of a name for the bike. It didn’t seem right starting such a momentous adventure on a bike with no name. After considering hundreds he settled on Chiesa de Or San Michele, or just Chiesa for short.

This name he found on an old marriage license he discovered folded in one of the hidden pockets of Grandpa Jones’ leather riding jacket. The paper said the marriage had taken place in a church in Florence, Italy by that name and he liked the way it sounded as the words rolled off his tongue though he couldn’t be sure he was saying them right. He thought the name of the church sounded feminine and he always thought of bikes as women.

[to be continued...]