It's the breakfast buffet at 7:45, with scrambled eggs in watery pans, toast curling by the instant coffee, home fries tossed in sodden heaps. The couple at the window table are not speaking. Her gaze is fastened on the parking lot: his eyes are with the waitress. "American Pie" sings goodbye from somewhere. When he was fourteen, she was twelve; they spent the summer running in and out of each other's yards. They climbed up to his treehouse, sticky palms from oozing sap, thunder rolling down like boulders, his father yelling from the porch to get their asses back inside before the lightning fried 'em alive. She kissed him on the cheek and ran for home. He squinted through the rain at her flashing legs and knew he'd always follow. He would trace her face's shape down to her smile. He'd been sparing with his words; he'd pared it down to simple touch. But forty years along the kids are gone, the business sold, and he knows what she will say and she's heard everything he knows, and there isn't any cause to look for wonder any more.
I am a connoisseur of words, selecting this one over that, preferring, usually, the ones aged in constant use over this year's crop. I show my age and era: bad meant bad when I was young and good was opposite of bad. I still am up for something my younger friends are down with. But like them, I do not care if I end a sentence with with. Although I draw the line at doubling up a word for emphasis emphasis. In contrast to some teenaged girls, my claims upon a personal god are kept within my silent prayers — not chattered up in shopping malls. I do enjoy a Latinate embellishment at times, luxuriate in polysyllabic morphings now and then. But sturdy Anglo-Saxon words will do just fine for everything but obscurantist bureaucratese. Words are given that we might create, and having created we can say that we have lived, and having lived return in gratitude the life we have received when it is done.
In the old stories the knight waits for the lady, who may know of his waiting or not. This waiting is a hunger. It is not necessary that the lady know. But it could help. We wait between one note and the next, a heartbeat or two. The shape of loneliness fills any space. You can wait for the world to change, but I don't think it will. Those tracks were laid long ago. Large souls arrive among us; we linger in their shadows. Here is a waiting of leaning forward, another of turning back, wistfully. Practice a waiting that moves toward your hunger. In the Psalms it says, "Wait for the Lord." With the Lord, a thousand years are as a day. It takes courage to wait for the Lord. That is in the old stories too.
These latter days bring me full around the turn to time. The beating heart of it. The steady drip of it from the eaves before the light rises through the trees. The rings of it in the tree snapped like a twig. The whirling storm of it. Time in my hands, a gift. The spending of it. Time ahead: no promises.
I saw myself today from a distance. A boy I could have been, might have been, jumping the fence so lovingly built for my protection. To ascend the primal mountain, day extends its glistening hand from the creation of the world. My missteps are mine to learn from. I wonder now if they are ours to share as we step into those polished grooves, as we wear the world upon our backs like an old and rumpled flannel shirt, thin at the elbows, rolled-up sleeves, the faint scent of all Eve's children still an evening's warmth within it.
In the order of things we line up alphabetically; we read from left to right. Power's talons grip from top to bottom, greater over lesser, from richer to poorer. But then, we can delight in how a tree lives all the way down to its roots, how water seeks the lowest point. Up from the bottom, counting the layers of sediment, Paleolithic to now, the first responders up the stairs in a building dying from the top down, shedding light and lives, profit and loss statements floating like feathers. Photos of wives, brother, children, freed to wing across the city, caught up to drift, light upon light, ashes to dust, scudding street-wise, lastly swept up against the bus stop. And then there is time, measured out in spoonfuls — the stray loose minutes before the alarm, the tension now and yet again vibrating like the filament in a light: grief before joy, pain before release, apocalypse now, revelation then. And death, always death. But then, life.
I closed my eyes and fell into a dream. Someone was complaining about the bother of a person who saw the world as it is and insisted on changing it. "She'll never fit in," he said, "She'll always be a few steps off the path." Then another voice, this one attached to a body slanting up the hill toward me. I sensed a strength, but I could not see a face. "Everybody has a piece of God in them" said the voice. "Even her?" scoffed the other. "Especially her!" said the voice. From the hill we could see far down across the roofs of the town to the ocean, a shining sliver of silver just under the sky. Something so vast poured into the thinnest horizon line . . . but that was all we needed to know it was there.
Take the good as you find it; don't set down a marker to say, 'This far and no farther' or nothing may come to you that you could recognize. And if you could recognize it you would be saying, 'Hello, old friend, I wondered if I'd see you again.' But then how to find the new, the good newness that is out there, slipped in between the hard rocks of experience, the sudden shiver on the water's surface, the quiet breath of the person next to you leaning into the vast open vault of forgiveness there for the taking, not depleted, a spring of everlasting life, a seeing through the grime and dust to something beautiful, ancient, original — yours.
Why does every bright day with wind arrive like San Francisco in '68? The fog pouring in like horses over the Golden Gate and the cough of seals down at Fisherman's Wharf. City Lights opens its narrow stair and Ferlinghetti is there at the top to turn and welcome you with his slow smile. And the feeling of reaching toward the bread of something substantial, the bread not yet broken, the sacrifice not yet made, the world still a kingdom to be discovered.
The rain began precisely when the weather app said it would. First, the street was spattered, then the drops crowded in like tourists. I never believed I could lay claim to anybody, to say, "You are mine," like they do in all the songs we knew. This is serious, what we call love. Maybe it is rare. I don't want to overthink it; I do that too much already. There was no one to say, "Watch now, this is how you do it, this is how you love without tethering someone." So, I fail, fail gloriously. Fail at arm's length and fail up close. The rain begins and begins, and all the while the bodhisattvas among us wait patiently. They will not enter Nirvana until all have found their way.