Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air. *
Harmony of Difference and Sameness
by Shitou Xiqian
Jake’s sitting in the water, tail and all, trying to catch fish. The fish swim right up to him and when he can’t stand it any longer, he lunges at them, biting the surface. Today though, he puts his face in and bites underneath.
Chloe is looking down the path, focused on a fishing boat rolling on wheels in the distance, moving toward us. She tries to disappear under the willows. A large scruffy white man pushes his long red and yellow boat with one hand and drinks from a can of bud with the other. He’s out of breath. He has just about passed us when he stops. He is figuring out how to place his beer can in the boat without spilling it. “Good morning,” I say. He turns slowly toward us. “Good morning” he says. His grubby baggy pants are almost falling off. His belly sticks through the buttons on his shirt, scraggly chin. Chloe pulls away from the man as far as she can go on the leash. The man looks at the lake and goes on, pushing the boat with two hands.
My jaw tightens, eyeballs hard, shoulders hunch, quadriceps grip. Awareness heightens and I’m furious for no good reason. Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön would say I am “hooked.” The Tibetan word is “Shenpa.”
I remember what my friend Charlotte told me when talking about the difference between empathy and compassion, when I said I had neither, that I was really judgmental. “Well, you start with yourself.”
I breathe in my anger and a tear rises. Then, my internal environment shifts. The fisherman has gone. Chloe’s now tugging at some willows. Jake is sitting in the water, tail and all, moving his head around, looking closely into the water.
I am waiting in the waiting room, wondering if I should be sitting in the sun in the dermatologist’s office when I just had a carcinoma bloom/blotch carved from my face. The left side of my face is numb and there is a huge bandage over my cheek. I’m trying to write, drinking tea out of a small corner of my mouth. My heart is beating fast from the injections and my handwriting is wobbly. I put away my pen, close my eyes and feel the warmth from the sun on my face and legs.
“We got it all!” Mari, Doctor Mott’s assistant, says. “Clear Margins?” I ask. (I don’t know what that means but I’ve heard people say it). “I guess so,” she says. She’s got smooth skin. “Sunscreen!” she says. She tells me about a truck driver who looked 20 years older on the left side of his face and arm. “It’s on youtube.” She takes photos of my face as we go along. She asks if I want to see how it looks before they patch it up. “It was pretty deep,” she says. “Maybe later,” I say.
Dark Side of the Moon plays in the surgery room. Mari pokes my face with more numbing liquids. My heart races. I feel liquid dripping down my face and try to wipe it off. “It’s not wet,” Mari says. “It just feels wet.” Then she leaves.
I am alone on a table in the center of a very large room, the side of my face falling off, listening to Pink Floyd.
All that you touch
all that you see
all you feel
all that you …
The sun is eclipsed by the moooon.
I drift into the music, to my parents living room. I remember listening to that album repeatedly, holding the black cover, tracing my finger around the edges of the triangle on the front, reading the lyrics and singing along.
Dr. Mott and Mari are quiet as they work. I feel some sensation way off to the side of my face. I say something about stretching skin. “That’s why they call it plastic.” Dr. Mott says.
The dark side, under the skin. Unknown. Hiatus. The Pink Floyd singer is going to meet me there, on that side of the moon. Or at least I’ll find others on that side, who have been among fringe culture, unseen, forbidden, not known.
If I met the fisherman there; If I had encountered him in the gap, would I have been kinder, more curious?
Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light
Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking. *
I drive home from surgery on the road closest to the mountains, take two Advil and the animals and I collapse on the couch and watch The Graduate. There is Ben and the fish tank and backyard aqua pool. I forgot about the part where Mr. McGregor beckons Ben outside and holds up his finger and says, “One word.” There are cuffs and cuff links, earrings, cigarettes and drinks, bouffants, and a claustrophobic sense of authority, stiffness, pre-arranged agreement.
Later when Ben breaks through, he does so as an individual and part of a movement. Because of how he sees, we will see differently.
The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases.
The four elements return to their own nature as a child to its mother.
Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.
Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour. *
Two large carp appear out of the pond’s mud and algae, turn and face Jake, moving backward and forward with their little hands. Jake sits, arm pit deep in the lake. He doesn’t see them at first. Then he does. For a few minutes they all watch each other, and I watch them. The carp, Jake, and water in between.
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