“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” ~ Mary Oliver
You always think you will know those experiences or moments that will change your life. The thing is for most of us we don’t realize what they were until long after they have happened to us. So you can never remember who you were before that. I had such an experience recently that has irrevocably changed my life. I am a much different person today than I was a mere two months ago. The thing is I realized that I was going through a significant change in my life and I was fortunate enough to live that moment. Those who have known me for some years have noticed that there is something very different about me of late. Well they aren’t wrong, there most certainly is. My life took a very big shift in direction lately, and it’s a very positive one for sure. People can feel the difference in my character, and to be frank it feels great. Whenever I discuss this time people say I am glowing, more than one person has made that comment. The thing is I can feel the peacefulness permeate my entire being. For hours after talking or thinking about this time I am so peaceful. It started not so long ago, in a place not so very far away. At my favourite coffee shop on Davie Street, somewhere around the start of October. I ran into someone I have always had a very strong connection to who I had not seen in at least 6 or 7 years. First though let’s lay some context.
It would have been about a decade ago. We met while working together. We didn’t hang out a lot at the time, but we did converse. I’m pretty sure it started with me giving her some kind of note; I mean that does sound like me. At any rate at that time it mostly consisted of writing each other letters. I have often written letters to others; after all as I wrote earlier it is how I feel most comfortable expressing myself. The difference here is that she actually wrote me back. She put such effort into the writing even going so far as to draw painstakingly pointillist pictures on the envelope. Another letter was a scroll that she took time to singe in places. It was a little surreal to me as I wasn’t used to getting letters and poems returned. That made writing even more thrilling for me, for there was the anticipation of what would follow. It now makes me think of Tereza in “Unbearable Lightness of Being” and how she saw Tomas’ book as a symbol.
“In Tereza’s eyes, books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood”
“Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love.”
So this was a very powerful and creative connection. She could write with a passion that rivalled my own. On top of that she had the hands of an artist and could draw and paint a skill I always admire in others. She gave me several drawings she had done, I still have them. There is something very powerful in having someone create something for you or that is inspired by you. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time together mostly walks home and the occasional evening or afternoon. We would drift apart for a time and then reconnect. It never seemed to last too long and then one or the both of us was off in a different direction. Our timing never seemed to be synced even though our connection was. Then she was gone again and it was for a very long while. I lost touch but always kept an eye open. I just had this feeling that we would reconnect again at some point. I do remember once walking by Second Beach pool and I heard her laugh, it wasn’t even a question, but she was there with her family enjoying a picnic. So I kept walking that time. Then one day I spied her in a restaurant and went in and said hi. We chatted briefly but then never followed up. Soon after the restaurant closed and that was that. That was about 6 years ago and whenever I passed that restaurant I would remember. You’d think in this digital age I could find her, but that wasn’t the case.
So back to October and I look up and there she is crossing the street. I called out partially because I wasn’t sure I believed my eyes. It was and I could tell she was as thrilled to see me as I was her. She was only in town for a few weeks and then was moving pretty far away to be married. I was happy for her and then she walked away. This time I wasn’t going to let it go that easily and I got up and found her down the street. I gave her my number and asked her to keep in touch. I then went home and sat on pins and needles, but she texted. We texted back and forth a lot about how we had always known we would reconnect and how great it was. I had recently come across some quotes from Shunryu Suzuki about dealing with difficult issues. She recognized a couple and said she had just read his book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. On her recommendation I picked it up. That was step one of the big change in my life. I devoured the book and was really intrigued by the concept of beginner’s mind and nonattachment. I had kind of been on that sort of path for the last decade but I didn’t really have a focus.
Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things. The Buddha
The other story that inspired me involved a man who had studied Buddhism for two years having to leave the monastery. He feared he might never come back. The monk who was with him said, “The only way you could have avoided the pain of this parting is if you had never come.” Life is full of beginnings we may not like and endings we may struggle with, but they are part of life and we must accept them.
So here we had a finite amount of time together, the outcome was pretty well written. We had to make a choice, either enjoy the short time or make it uncomfortable with expectations. We decided to just enjoy the journey with no destination in mind. That was going to be a challenge for me, for I have always had a tough time with such situations. I realized though that in the past worrying about such things is what tainted them. So this time I would give it my best, I would just try and be the best me I could be. It dawned on me I could enjoy this short time for certain, and it was one that already unlikely and borne of fortunate circumstances, or I could have nothing. So we hung out. We went for walks and hikes through Stanley Park and through Lynn Valley. I took her and at times her son on my favourite trails in Stanley Park and my favourite at Lynn Valley. We also had one night where we walked through the dense fog to Dharma Kitchen on Broadway, had a superb meal and the best chai tea, and then walked back home through the fog. It was a perfect evening and one of the best in my life. It is certainly one I will always remember.
We exchanged some writing, well mostly me this time; as texting took some of its place (texting is not nearly the same for me though). I listened to what she had to say and was silent when we wanted to reflect, but no silences were awkward. She shared with me that writing to me those many years ago had helped her through a very difficult period in her life (I have kept every writing she had given me and I sent her a picture of them just after we ran into each other). We ran into each other several times out of the blue, and I never run into anyone I know in the West End, especially in such a short time. We both discussed how powerful our connection really was, it’s almost like electricity. At times it can actually be overwhelming for me. I don’t think there is any accurate way I can describe it, you’d know it if you have ever felt it. We share a great deal of interests in common too, though we rarely discussed this, they would just pop up as happy accidents. There were so many ways our connection manifested itself during this time, it was as strong as it had been a decade ago. In spite of this I still knew she must go and that she was at a crossroads in life. Ready to take that next step she needed to find herself and needed to go wherever she would be most happy. I didn’t want to see her go, but I certainly wanted to see her happy. I never actually knew what day she even left; I only had a general idea. She promised to keep in touch, but I totally understand if she doesn’t. Of course it would be nice, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for it. We did part on “see ya later” though as per the following:
Si La Nanda folded his hands across his elbows. “We say ‘see you later.’ Because we do not know we will meet again. ‘Goodbye?’ Then we do not meet. But ‘see you later’? Yes, maybe…”
Perhaps, if we follow the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, we will, indeed, reunite with this religious leader on another day, in another life.
But even if we suspect that existence presents us with just one shot, ‘see you later’ allows us to hope in the strength of those invisible connections we create on the road. ‘Goodbye’ gives us nothing but finalities and dead ends.
It was a fantastic 5 weeks and it changed my whole outlook on life. For one, as I mentioned to her one night at coffee, I felt as if I had been living my life on cruise control for the last 7 or 8 years. I was just going through the motions. I was happy and contented in many ways, I had no complaints but I had lost my passions. I hadn’t written in almost a decade and I had stopped taking my camera out and taking pictures. Two things I loved and that gave me a creative outlet. I had some new philosophies and directions in life I wanted to pursue (hence the blog). I wanted to challenge myself and develop a fear of regret rather than rejection. I wanted to put myself out there, speak as well as write, and enjoy every aspect of my life. It encouraged me to develop beginner’s mind and open up my world much more and to strive to never fear being vulnerable. These are incredible gifts that I will cherish always. They are challenges I will do my best to master with practice. They will make me a better me. It does go to show that it is not quantity of time you spend together but rather the quality. Even a few shared moments can have a great impact on your life under the correct circumstances. If you don’t keep your world open to them you might miss something incredible.
In the long run it also leaves me excited for all of the possibilities. It makes me wonder about what other connections there are left to explore, maybe some of them even stronger connections. I wondered how strong our connection would be the next time our paths crossed. Of course that is really neither here nor there. All connections we make are valuable, and some last a lifetime. It is important to cherish each and every one of them while you can still enjoy them. The other great learning I got here was that no one that you care about actually leaves you. Now whenever I hike those trails she will be with me and by my side, at the coffee shop, and at the Dharma Kitchen. I have taken those trails in the time since she left and I smile the whole way, I can feel that electricity. Our connection will never die, it will remain always. As Milan Kundera mused the greatest gift you can give another is your company.
On those starry, starry nights I’m looking up at the twinkling stars, the luminescent moon or the sparkling planets I always imagine your sepia eyes are out there somewhere looking at the sky with me. That gives me great comfort. There will always remain a spark of hope; I could never let that die. The embers beckon a phoenix to emerge. You will always be with me on the trails, and your subtle sweetness in the chai at Dharma Kitchen. My world from here on will be much more open. So one chapter closes and yet another begins, but the story is far from over. I only have a couple of pictures of you from this time, but I wanted to remember these things organically. It just seemed the right way to do it. Wherever you are out there take care and stay happy. Keep on being your beautiful self.
Tonight I sit in the Dharma Kitchen with my copy of “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” and have a birthday dinner in your honour. Accompanying that dinner is some delicious warming chai tea. I walked here on the same path and will walk back the same way home. If you can’t be with me physically on your birthday at least we can be together in spirit. I would love for our paths to cross again in the future, but it may be a very long time coming. Cheers.