Video of the Author Reading Aloud
When I was a child cigarettes cost just thirty five cents a pack. I remember my uncle the priest standing in the church parking lot smoking one after another while saying goodbye to his parishioners on Sunday mornings. When he came to visit our home my mother didn’t like him smoking in the house so she refused to provide him with an ashtray. Rather than going out of doors to smoke he flicked his ashes into the palm of his hand and rubbed them into his pants.
Before he left our house my uncle would always reach a coarse hand into a deep pocket to pull out some change. Sorting through the coins he would hand me a quarter and dime holding it out to me in his ashy palm. As he did so he would wink while cautioning me not to take the money and buy cigarettes with it. I always felt like winking back at him as I promised not to; when I retrieved the coins they felt dusty and smelled faintly of tobacco.
Reaching into that leathery wrinkled palm always reminded me of the moveable feast called Ash Wednesday when my uncle would make a cross on everyone’s forehead out of the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday leaves while admonishing them to turn away from sin. I thought how he might well have used cigarette ashes instead of burning the old palm leaves and how no one would know the difference.
When I grew older I wondered why my uncle was tempting me. If his goal was to keep me from buying cigarettes it seemed odd he would always give me the exact amount required to purchase them. I wondered if his intention wasn’t to provide me with a little spending money so much as it was a test of my resolve. Perhaps he thought temptation must be present before a person knew if they were strong enough to resist it. A description of temptation might not have been enough; he sought to make it real.
Other people have goals in their lives. They have purpose. They know where their life is heading. The experience of their lives is real and concrete. They hold an image of the perfect world in their hearts as they spend their days striving towards it. To these people the description of the world is of paramount importance. Nothing else matters. By ignoring the mystery they keep to the description; by succumbing to temptation their lives are filled with desire.
The strong attack the weak. Great countries look to conquer small countries to prove their greatness. They muster armies along with myriad weapons of destruction; when the small countries have been laid to waste the learned of the great countries write down the history of these exploits. As they grow up the students revel in their learning. Thus war is repeated generation after generation.
While he lived my uncle always seemed disappointed both in me and in my actions. He expected me to live a life without sin and yet I was a sinner. In his descriptions of heaven there was no room for a person of my caliber. He made a point of informing me how much I would have to change in order to become a man of god. I wanted to tell my uncle how I had no expectations of heaven or of god but I knew I would only disappoint him all the more.
I suspect my quiet cemented his suspicions.
Having no expectations I find I am never disappointed. By following the source I forego the description of experience; by stilling desire I leave temptation behind; by acting in the moment I let go of the promise of tomorrow and the sadness of yesterday’s regrets.
By keeping to the mystery I am without substance. People enjoy pleasant music and good food and fine paintings. They smoke their cigarettes and drink too much while telling others not to follow their example. They describe the way of the world; they caution me to be aware of sin; they do not walk the way of the mystery. These are all descriptions of experience. But the mystery is without flavor; it cannot be heard; looked for, it cannot be seen. Use it and it cannot be exhausted.
So I cultivate peace and happiness; I allow the mystery to rest in my heart.