I stare out the window, but barely notice the trees outside. The birds are singing, but all I hear are my own thoughts. Do I notice the angle of the sun? Does the mysterious morning speak to me? I hop from branch to branch inside my head, as if all worlds were there.
The English language sighs. The politicians can’t keep their hands off her. They buy her clothes. They buy her jewelry. They can’t stop making promises. How weary she is, and the campaign has only just begun. She glances at her watch, such an expensive watch, and gazes out the ballroom window. She remembers the poet who loved her, or said he did. She loved him, too, or thought she did, especially when they lay in each other’s arms. Such a narrow bed. Such an old hotel.
It’s hard to make more time to pray and meditate. But hard compared to what? There is no other life against which to compare this life: there is only the opportunity to live mindfully or to complain that I never got the chance.
The Dalai Lama spends more than five hours a day in prayer, meditation, and study. But, he says, he also prays whenever he can during odd moments of the day, not only because it helps pass the time but because it assuages fear. He says, “I see no distinction between religious practice and daily life.”
My neighbor’s dog has cancer. She’s doing what she can to make him more comfortable. I’m doing what I can. I pray for him every day, and I pray for her. I don’t pray just for a healing miracle. I pray that my neighbor and her dog experience God’s love, just as I pray to experience it, in sickness and in health, on good days and on bad, a love that’s more real than these bodies, closer than our own thoughts: who we truly are, once illusions drop away.
I bought a new pair of glasses, but they haven’t corrected the error in my vision. I still see what belongs to me. The books on the shelf, filled with the words of other men and women: mine. The vegetables in the refrigerator, grown by other men and women: mine. I call this house mine. Everything I see from this chair, my chair, I see with my own two eyes. I close my eyes. I follow my breath.
Norma is going out of town, and anticipating her departure is a problem for me, the way a small earthquake is a problem. The ground shakes, and I want to run — but where? I have so little faith in my ability to comfort myself, to make a home for myself inside myself. I hear thunder in the distance; I want to run from that, too. Who wants a storm blowing through here this morning: pelting rain, strong winds? But I can’t do anything about the coming storm, and I can’t do anything about my changing feelings except sit still for a moment and not run — even if I’m afraid, even if the unexpected rain ruins all my plans.
I need to remember that I deserve nothing: not Norma’s smile and not the guarantee of another long weekend together. Not a good return on a safe investment. I don’t deserve to be saved from my loneliness. I thought marriage would save me. It was an understandable mistake.
All day yesterday I felt anxious about Norma leaving. When I got home, I was still jumpy. I didn’t want to be alone, but instead of calling a friend, or driving back into town, I made myself sit down. Right away, I began to sob. And right away, my sadness stopped being frightening. It was just — sadness.
I think I ought to be a rock, but water thinks otherwise.
Something frightened one of my cats last night. I tried to soothe her, but she was still afraid. So I just sat with her, not trying to do anything, just trusting that being in the same room would help. Of course, this is exactly what I need to learn to do for myself. My presence matters, even if at first I don’t seem to be the friend I need.
It’s easy to talk too much, eat too much, talk too much about eating too much, while the hungry go hungry, while the heart goes hungry. Am I hungry for love? Of course. Who isn’t? Even the President is hungry, and that’s no joke. When I’m really hungry, I want my wife beside me. Marriage is an election I’m afraid of losing, always counting and recounting the votes. Is she attracted to some other man? Will he sweep the South and carry California and New York? Not likely, she assures me. Don’t worry, she assures me. Forget the polls, she says, and trust your heart. Oh yes, my hungry heart.
I worship alone in the early morning, my coffee as black as the sky outside. There’s no rabbi here, no priest. No one is feeding me chicken soup for my soul. Here in the darkness, I won’t be confused with a busy editor whose calls are screened, who gives generously to all the right causes, who every month assembles the wisdom of the ages on the last page of his magazine. Here, I remember that so many fools like me have come and gone. We eased out of bed before our wives were up, sat on the floor, talked to God. How skillfully we bargained. How beautiful our words.