Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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I’ve spent many years repairing windmills with my father-in-law at his Four Mile Ranch. The mills pump water to the surface for cattle and sheep to drink. There are nineteen of these windmills on this broken patch of land, which looks west to the Bighorn Mountains and east to Powder River.
This strange country of cancer, it turns out, is the true democracy — one more real than the nation that lies outside these walls and more authentic than the lofty statements of politicians; a democracy more incontrovertible than platitudes or aspiration.
In the country of cancer everyone is simultaneously a have and a have-not. In this land no citizens are protected by property, job description, prestige, and pretensions; they are not even protected by their prejudices. Neither money nor education, greed nor ambition, can alter the facts. You are all simply cancer citizens, bargaining for more life.
That fall my brothers and I would be sowing the fields on our own for the first time. Dad was working extra shifts at the ceiling-tile factory with the threat of layoffs ever present. One night he sat us down and said, “Wheat’ll be yours to get in the ground. Work together.” That was it.
John and I first met in an aisle of a snack shop run by a blind man named Ray. By the time we got to the register, we were deep in conversation. Ray handed me my change and said, “That guy is smitten with you.”
War and peace start in the hearts of individuals. Strangely enough, even though all beings would like to live in peace, our method for obtaining peace over the generations seems not to be very effective: we seek peace and happiness by going to war. This can occur at the level of our domestic situation, in our relationships with those close to us.
There is no time. Every moment is now; every moment is every moment that ever existed and ever will exist. But because this particular form in which we find ourselves at present can only ride one impulse at once, it seems to us that indeed time is a ball-bearing rolling down a tube past 1960, then 1970. Jump off an impulse; call the jump death. Land upon another; call the landing rebirth.
Water will not put out a reality fire. Those little red extinguishers are useless. A reality fire will not be tamed. As the eyes move from object to object each bursts into flames and is consumed, gone forever, and no smoke either — for a reality fire will consume so thoroughly that nothing is wasted. No smoke escapes. Never any smoke. From a reality fire there is no smoke.
When I came to understand that there are mythic patterns in all of our lives, I knew that all of us, often unbeknownst to ourselves, are engaged in a drama of soul which we were told was reserved for gods, heroes, and saints.
A woman in a gray hooded coat, with hands in her pockets, is actually dancing alone at the bus stop a block away. She is turning and twirling with herself, and now with me, and now with you.
The eviction notice arrives in the mail, just like any other bill or letter. There’s no sheriff, no knock at the door, no sign posted for everyone in the neighborhood to see.