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.