I have been earning some money this week, mostly fixing other people's writing, all the little matter out of place, which makes me want to write imprecisely, scattering commas. It's a textbook, and I think about the readings, arguing with them, inserting comments in the margins, which someone will read, eventually, and perhaps become irritated. I proofread an article about the origins of religion. Ages ago, it said, everyone knew religious myths were metaphors.
I remembered something that happened during the months I spent at a Buddhist retreat center in Junction City, California, the summer before I started graduate school. A series of special teachings was taking place. As part of this, a Tibetan monk came--to give a talk, exist. He was a short man with eyes as dark as a snow man's. He was called a Terton, which means someone who reveals--knowledge--maybe buried in a rock somewhere. Maybe in a dream. He spent a couple of days at the gonpa and on the day he left, everyone lined up on either side of the long drive leading out to Route 299, and Redding, Yuba City, Sacramento. Some held flowers ready to toss in his path. I stood there with a pink cosmos. As the Terton passed, in the back of a red Jeep Cherokee with the windows rolled down, I reached out to give him the flower. I think our hands met, but I'm not sure. We looked each other in the eye. It was as if I'd touched an electric fence. The world went white. I lost a few minutes of ordinary time.
Later somebody said to me, He zapped you, huh? I saw you afterward, kind of standing there. Um, yeah, I said. And wandered away. Names are coming back to me now—it might have been somebody named Chris. Chris and Sonja, who were so in love they decided that they needed to give each other up. Tall, blond Chris, who worked on the roof, tiny, dark-haired Sonja, keeping to herself. I ate Oreos and watched her surreptitiously across the room in the basement dorm we shared. It was a mistake to think I had forgotten details. Is who I am now somehow a result of being charged, overloaded, by that single passing glance?
I was taking to Diane in the heath food store the other day. She had just watched someone die. An old man, a jíbaro, from a long line of Culebrenses who talked in the old way, who remembered, or claimed to remember, the way things used to be. The man was bedridden, surrounded by family who did not want to see that he was dying—she said—for whom dying, it seemed, meant giving in, being subject to. Quieres sembrar cocos? they demanded. No? OK, then eat your food.
What does it mean that to die is to go plant coconuts? That death holds pastoral boredom? Or unending labor? Is this a tropical heaven? Or a vision of hell?