I pull up to a red light alongside a car driven by a man about my age, bearded, wearing a cowboy hat, staring straight ahead — at the light, or the lights in his head. Next to him is an older woman — his mother, I imagine — thin, with hollowed cheeks, staring vacantly too, but with a face more composed, peaceful, sanded smooth by the years. Or so I imagine — imagining too the man as an infant in her arms, her rosy cheeks beaming with that peculiar pride that seems absurd until we become parents ourselves; I see tears, insolence, worry, the root and flower of karma: the son arising from his mother who falls back at last into the strong arms of the son, time making the little tragedies laughable and the joyous memories sorrowful, because they’re past, gone, a light changing.
I think of my friends, most of us at least as old as our parents when they had us: it’s a relay race and we’ve been passed the baton, the bone of centuries, shining like the moon — and we’ll run with it, and pass it on. Our children’s legs will grow supple and strong; the best of us will stay strong, but no one will beat time. Milky complexions will sour. Shapely asses will sag. The irretrievable morning warms no one at night — though we live among those who pretend otherwise. And I don’t mean just “middle America.” Nine-tenths of the New Age spiel is just as shallowly deceptive, either promising eternal good health at the altar of perfect diet, or eternal wisdom at the feet of a perfect master. And it isn’t even greed that’s behind it, though there’s millions to be made. It’s fear. And if I sound contemptuous, I’m not, because I’ve no perfect master’s feet to kiss and the veins in mine have started looking like a road-map, and I get scared, too.
But my fear is just another spiel. The ego thumps the rostrum, advertises the body as who I am, or if not the body, the body’s desire, or desire itself — the silk of mind blown by the wind of mind. What else is there? This is like Reagan thinking he’s America, or America thinking it’s the world, or the world thinking it’s the cosmos, or the cosmos thinking its starry flesh is all there is to God.
And me, with my starry ideas, orbiting my own fixed star, my SUN, nine years old this month — how attached I am to its bodily life, its improbable survival, its immortality. “It will live as long as it’s supposed to,” a friend reminded me the other day, “then it will die.” How true, yet how my heart-winced just hearing it.
Maybe it’s the season, old leaves drifting down in me, dead and beautiful, winter close behind. It’s tempting to romanticize the poignancy, mask eternity with time’s changing face. Old ego, up to its tricks again, suggesting the poignancy might be eternal too.