This morning I was heading in to work, listening to StoryCorps, Elisa Seeger and her husband Bobby, remembering their son Aiden, who died at seven. Earlier in the week I found out a good friend of mine is dying of the cancer. Another friend of mine, a kid, barely thirty, went in to get checked out for chest pains, they found a six inch cancerous tumor growing on his heart. I was in traffic, stopped at a light, and I looked over at this van next to me, it was from this place I used to work, a couple of group homes for people who had been institutionalized most of their lives and we were trying to get them into this kind of friendlier, more supportive group home space. For the most part it was a disaster, I think. Under trained staff, inexperienced administrators, lots of assaults and injuries and clients gettting out and wandering the streets. Anyway, there was this guy in the front passenger seat, intently biting one of his fingers, a kind of intense and quizzical look on his face, that familiar and yet individual and unique look of someone whose wiring is profoundly in disarray. It brought all that back in an immediate, visceral wave, like biting into one of Proust’s madelines, the years I spent working in children’s hospitals and group homes, locked juvenile facilities. All the physical interventions, jumping on them and holding them down to be forcibly medicated after they’d assaulted someone, the flung poo, the screaming, the relentless sadness and frustration and senselessness of it all. The lack of hope. And also the love, the sweetness, the moments of joy and tenderness unmediated by any kind of filter, just simple and raw experience. The good and the ugly.
And my heart was both broken and assuaged by it. Lifted as if on waves in the stormiest of seas and plunged down into the abyss as well. Both conditions, of bliss and grief, stood there in the middle of the street and started making out like teenagers. We all honked our horns but they continued, plunging their hands into each others pants, deaf to our entreaties.
We had to drive around them to get anywhere.
To me the great wonder, the great question, is not why does all this bad shit happen to me, but why it keeps failing, for the most part, to happen. I mean, I know I have suffered my small troubles and I know I won’t be spared in the end, or even much along the way, but still. There are great wide expanses of calm seas, with a favoring wind and sweet water to drink and plenty of supplies laid in. My wealth seems limitless for days at a time. I have lashed myself to a great woman and like Ahab I will not quit in my endeavor though she maim and kill me, for she is the only prize in the sea worth spending myself upon. I have a job that allows me the illusion of making a difference, and even if I don’t, it lets me play with guns and fight people and chase badguys, so. I have my strength yet, and vision, hearing, smell. The joy of eating good food, the joy of making art, the great gift of practice and following the dharma, a wonderful family, good friends, money in the bank.
I should be delirious with joy. And frequently am.
It is fitting that I should be crushed with grief, too.
And frequently am.
I know there’s no world more strange and glorious. It costs your life to take in the show, and that seems about right.