So you should view this fleeting world —
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
~ The Diamond Sutra
Sunday afternoon I attended a celebration of life ceremony for a friend/Yoga practitioner, Michael, who died young and quickly. I kept not believing it all week. Then I sort of forgot and then I remembered and kept not believing it again.
I hug those I haven’t seen lately and sit between Sara and Jodie & Liam in the second row. I sit for an hour and a half listening to stories, memories, thoughts, songs. I stand and cup my hands when someone says to. I bow my head when someone says do that now. I watch as people drop their pages and try to find words and their singing voice. A friend’s hand’s trembles and eyes well. I wait as they stop in order to collect themselves.
We’re all outside for this and so is an eagle, a hawk with a red tail, a dirt road I walk on with Sara; and we see our shadows, feel a gust, hold onto our hats as the leaves turn and go down, cottonwood trees—bark coming off in thick sheets.
How little I knew of this person, Michael, who I often misjudged, was irritated by, and frequently found myself next to, in class, at a performance. Why was I so easily flustered when others could love him so well? During the celebration and people talking with their papers and voices, stones and flutes in front of them, I discovered things I liked about Michael. As I listened, I began to re-learn that if I try to know a person, I can tolerate them better. He started a men’s book group of all things. He was studying the atmosphere a long time ago. He sang in an acappella choir and now they are singing for us a song he chose. A song so heartful and deep and gone. Why didn’t I go when he invited me when it was just down the street!? He adored his daughter and seemed to be a rock for several people and was open and curious for anyone who crossed his way.
“What’s in your way is your way,” I say to my students. But hard to practice for me. Oh, he’s a scientist who loves art. Oh, he’s smart. He’s curious. He wants to be involved, to find out. To grow. He’s not afraid of conflict. He comes from an educated, talented, and privileged family with all these siblings that look like him! His friends said they really talked deeply together, even if they had different opinions. They liked to do that. They did it on purpose.
“Don’t seek the truth, only cease to cherish opinions” says the third Patriarch in Zen, Seng-ts’an.
I hold my opinions too closely. I’m afraid of being uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry about someone else’s ego.” Anabelle Boissevain, a close Zen teacher, told me as I was ranting in the middle of a retreat.
I’m scrolling through emails and find I had written an apology to Michael for some unskillful—alright, a jerky thing I said. He wrote back, holding his ground. And he wrote back again and said he cared for me regardless, underneath, beside. He cared when I was a jerk and he cared when I was sweet, kind, fun. So that’s what he left me with. A little bit of love, in case there was any doubt.
I am thrown by how quickly it goes. I forget how precious this moment is, over and over. And then I do recognize its fleeting flounder and flutter. And how precious you are, reading this.
As people were speaking, I had the sense that they were introducing me to Michael and also trying to complete him. Improvisation Master, Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about Art living in the after-flavor. He talks about the beauty of the resonance of what is imperfect, incomplete.
And there is an after flavor here. And that’s where the beauty lies.
~ o ~