Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I woke up this morning in a body, breathing. I’m drinking black coffee now. I’m still breathing. The dark morning stretches like a cat. The billions of people who are asleep are breathing, and the billions of people who are awake are breathing. How is it possible for me to feel alone?
The Sunday newspaper is lying on the ground. The loud thump as it hit the doorstep frightened the cats, and they ran. They don’t need to read the newspaper. Do I? I’m hooked on being well-informed. But what a lifeless world I read about, stripped of mystery. If I didn’t know this was a blue-green planet, if I didn’t know it was indescribably beautiful, if I didn’t know it circled a burning star, would the headlines give me a clue?
Last night was the longest night of the year. Now, day by day, the light returns. Do I call this a “miracle” or do I call it “nature”? Is there a difference? What about human nature? Isn’t that a miracle, too? When we see ourselves as we truly are, we call it “enlightenment”; we call it “salvation.” The words don’t matter. What matters is that the broken heart is lifted; the light returns.
I’m sad that Mara is leaving today after such a short visit; my daughter lives in Los Angeles now. Here we are, more than two decades after I split up with her mother. The world ended then, but love survived. I never stopped being a father, and now both my daughters are healthy, intelligent, beautiful young women, and saying goodbye still makes me sad. Not that I want to keep Mara here, stop the clock, stand in the way of her discoveries. No, I have no argument to make against the waning moon or the rising tide. Mara is asleep upstairs. I have no argument with her dreams, or with the plane that will carry her three thousand miles away; no argument with the big jet engines, or with their deafening roar as the plane screams down the runway and, unbelievable though it seems, takes flight.
The world breaks down the door to my heart. Old, rotten, splintered door: why even bother closing it again?
When I rise early to pray — for myself, for my loved ones — aren’t I like a hungry man who wants to be first in line for bread? Yes, I praise the One who feeds us. But what about those who haven’t been fed? Were their prayers not fervent enough? Did they read the wrong books, make the wrong sacrifices, sleep the morning away? O Holy One, how can you give to me and not to my brother?
Two nights in a row, I dream about the Holocaust. It lives in my imagination like a deserted nuclear reactor just visible through the trees: mangled from the explosion, quarantined. But the damage has already been done. My imagination, too, is radioactive; it can’t be helped. In the dream world, as in the waking world, humans do terrible things to each other. In the dream world, as in the waking world, someone is calling someone else a “kike,” a “nigger,” a “whore.” Now we’re at war with the planet itself, truly a world war. When a species becomes extinct, does it no longer exist in our imaginations?
America lumbers along, a huge beast almost too heavy to walk. Yet, step by step, we carry on. What determination in these rippling haunches! O America, we’ve become larger than anything the world has ever seen, and clumsier than anyone could have imagined, dragging our tail along the ruined ground.
Here I am, still struggling with my passions, my fears. “Lord,” Saint Francis prayed, “make me an instrument of thy peace.” But do I need to become more tranquil to be “an instrument of thy peace”? Birth was a struggle; life is a struggle; dying will probably be a struggle, too. Maybe one way to be an instrument of peace is to honor the struggle, to recognize the dignity in the struggle. The sun is a never-ending source of light, yet it’s burning.
Death is in no hurry. He’ll be patiently waiting for me one night on the front steps, smoking a cigarette, looking at the stars. “Pretty evening,” he’ll say. I’ll have to agree. Maybe I’ll sit down beside him, ask for a cigarette. He’ll laugh. “You don’t smoke,” he’ll say. “No,” I’ll reply, “but it’s never too late to start.”
I promised to drive a friend to the airport this morning, so I’m up at four. In my forties, I used to get up at four every morning in order to write. Now I sleep until five. To some people, five seems early. But it’s not. Four is early. Four is a man who laughs in time’s face; five knows better. Four speaks his mind; five thinks first. Four imagines that, if he keeps trying, someday he’ll convince himself he’s a real writer; five finishes this sentence and walks away.