Casting Grief before Monkeys
The occasion of the grief is nothing; you'd laugh at me if I told you. Laugh even more, if I told you how short a time I've had to bear it. Remember when the people all tell Curious George that he's been a brave little monkey? They would not say as much to me. I am not a brave little monkey. Especially not today.
I have poured water into offering bowls, wine into glasses, rice into measuring cups. The slow filling. Like that. The grief filling me up. There is not much room for anything but grief. I've been filled carefully, so that I won't spill. There's space for the grieving to tremble, and run from rim to rim. I can do my work, minimally. Chat with Martha. Read to the kids at night. But I'm walking around carrying, really, nothing but grief.
How long? What for?
Well, those are two good ways of turning grief into suffering. I wave them away. Like persistent mosquitos, they sidestep, and make for the dark places. Not gone for long.
I'm balanced between two void spaces, and feeling the loss of my youth, sure. (How long? What for?) Losses left and right. And this is a good life, remember? A life devoutly to be desired.
Blue-sky morning. Cool air. Crows scolding. (How long? What for?)
Flickers of joy, of ferocity. Moments of openhandedness. Is it all a pretense? Sure. For seconds at a time, it can be a pretense. Next question.
Long power wires, slowly climbing over my head. The sun is tangled in their braids, and their shadows are swaying. (How long? What for?)
6:27, and the omze's cushion is empty, and the candles are unlit. Quick, light the candles, offer the liturgy. Ring the bell. Oh, I love to ring the bell. Like a little boy loves to sit at the steering wheel. I've stepped into someone's shoes. Meditating, the persistent thought arises: how do I make sure everyone knows I stepped into the breach, even though it wasn't my turn, without appearing to want everybody to know that? Back to the breath. Back comes the thought. Back to the breath. (How long? What for?)
I reach with my mind, but I know I can't do it. I don't know how. Not strong enough even if I knew, I bet. A raw recruit. ("...and they pronounce him fit to fight. / There are blackheads on his shoulders, / and he pees himself in the night.")
Grieving songs and poems come to me. "O Margaret are you grieving, For golden groves unleaving?..." and "If you had seen my Charlie at the head of an army, / He was a gallant sight to behold..." and "ghastly through the drizzling rain / On the bald street breaks the blank day."
(How long? What for?) Wearily, I wave them away again. Just the grief. Just keep the grief. Celebrate the grief. It's the gift that today's wind has blown to me. Treasure it. Kings and emperors have gone to their graves with no such gift of grief. Else speak "Of one whose hand, /Like the base Indian, threw a jewel away, / Richer than all his tribe. "