It had been a workday like many others – not particularly memorable, but pleasant enough in its normality. Spring was just around the corner after what had been a long, dark winter. In fact, it was already warm enough for one to say that spring had arrived – in reality, if not in name. Briefcase in hand I let the door swing wide into our apparently ransacked living room, and from that moment on it seemed that life would not be normal ever again.
The first thought that appeared within the stunned blankness of my mind was that we’d been robbed. Unfortunately, however, it was a thought that couldn’t quite be squared with the reality of that which had been left behind. Why wouldn’t they have taken this? Or that? And then a pattern began to emerge. The walls were bare because her artwork was gone. Things were in disarray because her things had been removed. I went into the bedroom and threw open one of the drawers of the chest still standing where it had always stood; and that was when I knew. No, I didn’t know why or how, but in that moment I knew full well that she was gone.
She must have been waiting for my call, given the fact that she answered her cellphone on the very first ring – a wonderful gift in and of itself I would come to realize with the passage of time. For even though it was not a conversation that would answer my questions as to why or how, it did at least let me know that she’d not vanished into the ether. Yes, the woman to whom I’d been married for five plus years did still exist. The woman whose birthday we’d celebrated at her favorite restaurant just days prior without a hint of anything seeming awry did indeed still exist, although my ideas of who she was and what we’d shared were just as ransacked as our house. Everything but the reality of her existence had vanished sometime between the 9:00 and the 5:00 of that day. And as I sat in stunned silence after hanging up the phone – feeling as if beaten and pummeled into submitting to something that I couldn’t as yet comprehend – my gaze drifted to the far side of the room where something that looked a bit like an acorn lay all by itself on the bare hardwood floor.
Ah, yes, I knew exactly what it was; and an instant was all it took to relive the entire arc of its existence up to that point. It was early in our marriage and we were walking through the park on a bright autumn day when we happened upon the lotus pond with its bounty of drying seed pods thrust up into the chilly air. We marveled at their almost alien appearance, and of course we wanted to take some home. After strolling the perimeter of the pond we finally found a couple of specimens that were both nicely formed and within safe arm’s reach of the shore. For years those lotus seed pods sat prominently upon the bookshelf in her study – until that fateful day.
I remember feeling strangely gratified that she still cared enough to take them. Perhaps they reminded her as well of happier days – days lived before some inexplicable change in the biochemistry of being made everything turn cold and distant and dark – days that I had deluded myself into thinking would return.
For many months that lotus seed rested in a tiny bowl upon my altar. It sat there day in and day out while I sat day in and day out with the cold and dark reality of what had become of us, of what had become of me. And every now and then in the midst of that cold and dark reality I’d catch a fleeting glimpse of what that lotus seed might one day be – a static symbol of loss and potential unfulfilled…, a relic of happier times forever in the past…, a monument to the dangers of life and love and trust… And what, then, would become of me? Would I live the rest of my life clinging tightly to what has been, savoring only what has been, falling slowly back to earth from a place where I once held high my bloom?
And so it was that in the midst of summer, with everything warm and bright and alive, I made the choice to live a life fully accepting of all its joys and sorrows – those of the past and those most surely still to come. With that lotus seed in hand I retraced the steps that I’d taken with my lover way back when. And when I reached that pond once again I said goodbye as well as hello. I stood upon the bridge where we'd once stood in love together and let that seed roll slowly from my palm to drop into the dark water of the unknown.
If you think that time is just so much water passing under the bridge – that yesterday is gone never to return – then you must simply be forgetting how you’ve marked the years since your loved one passed away, or since that driver swerved into your path, or since the doctor told you the news that in an instant changed you from who you were to who you are. Yes, all of time is always with us. The you that looked into the eyes of your beloved is forever here in this very moment. The you that was before the you of now is always present – as if that driver is forever on the verge of drifting off to sleep, and that doctor is forever in the process of clearing her throat before saying those words. The past is always with us. We know this to be true; and when we recognize those anniversaries – some too personal and raw to even share – we are acknowledging that it is so.
Such anniversaries don’t even need to be marked off on any calendar in order to be remembered. They’re always with us. We are their calendar. And so it is that without any prompting whatsoever I came to realize that at the end of this month I will have lived five years’ worth of wonderment why, five years’ worth of the lowest lows and highest highs, five years’ worth of watching a beloved flower die only to gradually turn into the soil in which another has so graciously sprouted and bloomed.
Please see Dogen's 'Being-Time' - Part 1 and Part 2 if you’d like to read more about the nature of time and being.
Lotus seed pod by Vmenkov via:
Lotus pods lying on the ground by Vmenkov via:
Lotus blossom by liz west via:
Copyright 2013 by Maku Mark Frank