Friday, June 24, 2005


I turned my hands out and cupped them slightly as I walked, feeling the air catch in them, and spill over. As often, nowadays, I found myself on the verge of tears, though not particularly sad or unhappy. A tilt of the light, the tremble of a leaf, can wrench my heart. I'm not sure what psychiatric or physiological condition this betokens. If any. Maybe it's just the travelling habit of the spirit -- it wears tears to go out walking.

I have not turned very well -- or more honestly, my turn has become a skid, leaving me travelling in the same direction, only less in control. "Oh yes," I thought this morning. "That's why I don't make sharp turns. I knew there was a reason."

Nevertheless, I am not stuck. I don't know why not. Even if I dump sugar in my coffee and eat fried potatoes with my breakfast. Even if I find myself ashamed today. This is a temporary setback. In any case, it's okay. My mortality is quite real to me. It's not to be prevented by eating one way or another. I mean to be done with being ashamed, and to ratify what I do. If it was worth it to me this morning, then so be it.

But that turns, itself, into an internal struggle, to which I can attach pride or shame, depending on how it goes. This is a clever noose, and it's not to be undone by thinking and resolving, however shrewd, however stern. Either meditation undoes these knots, or nothing does. I've come to this conclusion dozens of times. So I come to it again. Though without the tremendous surge of hope that it once inspired.

Somebody wanted Martha to write a chapter, in a proposed book, about why she became a Buddhist. She has no intention of writing it.

"Why did I become a Buddhist?" she said to me. "Because I thought it would work faster than it does. Because I didn't think it would be so hard." Then she laughed, that wonderful laugh. Often when I go up to kiss her goodbye, she's meditating. I wait a moment at the door while she murmurs the ending prayers, the prayers that "dedicate the merit."

I look back at my recent narratives, and I see what's missing. What any person who knew me offline would spot immediately. The mystery of how I nerved myself to get my first job. Of how I came to have a career, those things that I presented as inexplicable accidents: they're all due to Martha. Her encouragement, her thinking, her practical working-with-what-is-there.

"What would you do in your ideal job?" she asked me. I grinned crookedly. "Learn the rudiments of a new language every year," I answered. Which, as we mulled it over, we realized is about what you do, if you work in software.

She liked the university. She liked the thought of being a faculty wife, I think, and she would have made a good one; she's always had a gift for teasing academics, and bringing out the best in them. But never an objection to me giving up on an academic career, this career I'd spent five years and thousands of dollars training for. She saw what teaching did to me.

Likewise, when I came home one day last year and admitted to feeling trapped in my job, she picked it up right there. Started figuring out what we would need to do, what the exit-strategy should look like. I wasn't trapped at all. There were ways out if I wanted to take them. This, although I know the prospect of losing this income frightened her considerably.

As I said recently, in another connection, my good fortune sometimes unnerves me.

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