I had a hard time falling asleep last night. The room was filled with moonlight, and my head was filled with thoughts about mortality: the mundane reveries of a middle-aged man. I thought about God. I thought about getting up to pray. Instead I went to the kitchen, got something to eat, and read the newspaper. This morning, I wish I had used that wakefulness differently. God was in the moonlight, and God was in my troubled thoughts. Illumination doesn’t have to wait until I die. As Kabir said, all I’ll have then is an apartment in the city of death.
I live between two worlds. I no longer believe completely in separateness, in the illusion of “Sy,” but neither do I believe completely in the reality of God. I still pledge allegiance to separateness, even though I’ve seen the light. I’ve seen the light, yet turn toward darkness, and close my eyes, and sleep, and dream.
I won’t call it “depression.” If God has ten thousand names, so does this sadness. I walked in the forest but didn’t call it “loving nature.” I saw thick roots that spread in all directions, and thought, There’s one root that goes down deeper than I imagined.
My lament is the same lament. My wife is sympathetic, but she’s heard it all before. Even the beautiful English language shakes her head when she sees me coming. Him again, she thinks, with his fifty synonyms for sadness.
On this spinning planet, night turns into morning. My daughters are women now. My magazine is twenty-five years old. I breathe in as I begin this sentence, having no idea where my thoughts will lead me. I breathe out. I share this spinning planet with six billion people who know as little as I do. We breathe in.
As I got up this morning, I accidentally kicked one of my cats. I knew she was curled up at my feet, but I was clumsy. How easy it is to make a mistake and cause suffering. We make one wrong move, say too much or not enough, offer help too soon or too late, and the universe is suddenly a different universe. Even with the best of intentions, we hurt each other. Of course, we didn’t mean it. We meant to bend our leg, pivot to the left, avoid the sleeping cat. We meant for the marriage to work. We wanted all the nuclear weapons to be dismantled.
The loneliness and the longing for God are married in me, whether I’m talking to a friend or praying in an empty room, running my hand over my wife’s body or running alone through the woods. The loneliness and the longing for God look alike; strangers are sometimes confused. When I feel lonely, I say, “Oh, God.” When the longing for God burns in me, I want to be alone.
My daughter Sara and her boyfriend, Leo, leave today after a brief visit. They seem to suit each other perfectly, though I’m unsure what this rather superficial observation means. People can seem perfectly suited for each other and end up hurting each other terribly — in which case, it seems, they become perfect adversaries (though I guess no one’s perfect). It’s obvious that my daughter now has a life of her own, a man of her own, yet I keep staring at the headline — amazed at this most predictable of stories, this miracle of transformation called “growing up.” The daughters I cradled in my arms now own cars, pay taxes, make love to their boyfriends, worry about the future, visit their father, then drive away, fly away: they’re here, then they’re gone. I’m sad Sara’s leaving. I’m sad that I see her and Mara so infrequently. It’s not the same sadness I felt when they were younger, and the miles between us were like some gaping wound. The wound has healed. I run my finger over the scar, absently, as I say goodbye one more time.
No, I don’t love getting up in the dark. But I love the light, and some light comes in just before dawn. The light of awareness changes everything. Would I rather toss and turn in a dream of separateness? Wake up, Sy. It starts with getting out of bed. It starts with praying for the willingness to pray.
I dreamed that our home was vandalized. I was furious. But I know that even if something like this never happens, time itself will bring down its fist; nothing lasts. This beautiful home and these beautiful bodies are impermanent. This long holiday weekend ends tomorrow. This long, amazing century draws to a close. But if change is inevitable, then a change in perception is possible, too. Yes, this body is impermanent. But am I this body? Yes, this house will fall in on itself one day. But is this house my real home? Today, I cherish an illusion. But not even illusions last.