The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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The Titantic is split in two; it sinks. That’s the story of the Titanic. That’s my story, too, hitting the same iceberg again and again, and never quite believing it. One evening my wife and I are having an intimate conversation over dinner; what a glorious conversation! The next day I’m clinging to the side of a lifeboat. My tears are warm. The ocean is freezing.
I didn’t meditate yesterday. To whom am I confessing? Do I believe God keeps track of how often I meditate, and for how long, and whether my back is straight? My loving God, my greedy God, my punch-the-time-clock God: I’m here today. Don’t forget I was good today.
Yes, I drank too much and ate too much and talked too much. Do my transgressions rise to the level of an impeachable offense? If I’m going to be tried, I want a judge whose hair is wild and whose suit is rumpled, a judge who’s occasionally been seen cupping a joint on the courthouse steps. I want a judge who knows how to laugh, who laughs with his belly — a deep beautiful laugh he’s been working on for years, the way some men work on their golf swing. I want a judge who makes mistakes; who knows that people are the sum of their mistakes; who knows that what distinguishes us as a species is that, since the dawn of history, we’ve screwed up again and again. It didn’t start yesterday when I ate from the wrong tree.
J. calls. He’s in tears. At fifty-eight, he’s been given the brush-off by his girlfriend. Later, I talk to L., who says he can’t understand why, at the age of sixty-two, happiness with a woman still eludes him. Did I once imagine that, as a man grew older, he’d become wiser about love? What an imagination! As for me, even after all these years with Norma, I’d be foolish to exaggerate how far I’ve come. A turtle, having walked halfway across the road, might think he’s made some progress. And he might be right, if a car doesn’t come hurtling out of the darkness, its driver humming along with the radio, his arm around his honey. It’s a love song.
Love with its fifty exceptions, the type on the contract so small.
I read a few pages of inspirational text. It won’t do any good. How many wise words have I read in my life? I might as well measure how many raindrops have fallen. Does that mean I won’t be thirsty an hour from now? Wisdom is a refuge only when I’m wise.
The animal body says, PUT DOWN THE BOOK. Walk away from the desk. The animal body says, Get down on your knees and pray. But don’t pray just to your unseen God. Remember me. The animal body says, I am with you always. When you ignore me, I am with you, and when you stare glumly in the mirror and still don’t see me, I am with you. The animal body says, Here is my advice: Take all those spiritual books and stack them on top of each other. Then stand on top of the stack. See how much closer you are to heaven? The animal body says, You want the answers to cosmic riddles, but what good will all these answers be if you don’t even know where you stand? Start with where your feet touch the ground.
It’s been hot for days. There’s been no rain. The earth mother says, Go ask your father. But the father doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, thousands are killed in a tidal wave. Is that because of the father’s indifference? The father’s displeasure? The father’s unimaginable love? One day, we’ll all be swept away: count on it. We come and go. And everything we imagined would save us, every bank account, every vitamin pill, every love affair — big surprise: it doesn’t save us. Not from dying and not from living. Not from asking the wrong questions and being satisfied with the wrong answers. For the thousands killed by that tidal wave, was the wave smashing into them the wrong answer? What was the question?
At the gym, R. said: “Life gets more mysterious, and our concepts get more and more frayed.”
The suitcase I just bought sits in the kitchen, waiting to be put away. The suitcase makes it look as if I’ve just arrived from somewhere or am about to leave. Maybe that’s a good reminder. Living with a suitcase in the kitchen might remind me that I’m staying only awhile — a few more decades, a few more years, a few more days: who knows? The suitcase comes with a lifetime warranty, unlike me. The suitcase meets the requirements for carry-on luggage. I have no idea what might be required of me.
Clearly, I wasn’t put here to sleep long, uninterrupted hours, drifting effortlessly through the night like a whale rolling in the darkened sea. These days, I’m awakened either by one of my cats, or by the need to pee, or by Norma’s snoring. Yes, my beautiful wife snores now. Why deny what’s true? For nearly twenty years, I’ve been sleeping beside her — or not sleeping, listening to her snore. God of mercy, give me twenty more.
I have been feeling sorry for myself lately: My husband and I have recently separated after fifteen years of marriage. I’m almost fifty. Today I was contemplating the varicose veins in my legs and thinking of having a face-lift, like many divorced women in my wealthy community. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me: too needy, personality disorder, maybe even bipolar. The fear and self-condemnation were gaining control. I’d even decided I wouldn’t be able to send donations to The Sun anymore — I would need all the money I could get.
Then I read Sy Safransky’s July “Notebook,” with his thoughts concerning love between men and women, and I knew I’d be fine. What I need is Sunbeams, Readers Write, Sy’s “Notebook” — The Sun. I never feel alone after reading its pages.