“I hope you don’t mind, but I stole two of your beers,” she said when I got back home.
“Nope, that’s fine,” I replied, putting my fresh bottle of Xanax on the top shelf next to the Men’s Health vitamins, ant-acids and Lexapro. She’s an alcoholic who sees her daughter every other weekend, and I’m me. We’re both taking care of my grandmother who has moderate dementia.
After three months of hell, I had to get back on the meds. After one month of hell, she had to get back on the bottle—but just for tonight, at least in theory. Just for tonight.
She’s a hired caregiver who helps me out in the afternoons. After my grandma went to bed, she clocked out and stayed with me for a few hours. She’s quiet, thoughtful and kind. She’s damaged. She struggles. She’s part of my tribe.
We talked politics, religion, and the zodiac. We talked about relationships, abuse, and love. She asked me how long I’ve been single, and she said that she falls in love, “From the inside out,” where a person’s personality and what they’re about make them attractive or ugly.
My bed’s a three second walk from the kitchen. Red sheets in a crumbling room with big windows. My cat slept peacefully in her little box of bags as we fought off the cold night pressing in from the outside.
“Did you make it home safe?” I messaged her. “Yep :)” she texted back. “See you tomorrow.”
When I think of the “big picture,” I see bubbles. Countless bubbles floating in space.
In each bubble, there’s a cave, and in each cave there’s a person sitting by a fire. When these bubble touch, then there two people in the cave, but it still isn’t same. Because from your perspective, I’m in your cave by your fire. From mine, the situation’s reversed. And when those bubbles drift, it’s as if I leave you, but to me it’s you who leaves.
Sometimes these bubbles join and create another. Sometimes they merge so completely that there’s truly only one fire. But, no matter what, they all pop. Where does the fire go?
So we sat in our cave, sharing ourselves—or at least the selves of the moment. Both knowing the score, both seeing the big picture, both trying to make that infinite space come alive and shine. That’s the bodhisattva’s work. They go where they’re needed, and they are who they need to be.
If you’re drowning, I’ll drown with you. If you’re flying, I’ll grow some wings. I never ask people to change, and I honor your pain. Because that pain is the foundation of everything beautiful that can come to be. The same way that a crack in the wall can let in the morning light.
You can keep the bells, chants, and rituals—those only alienate the people who need Dharma the most. You can keep your make believe teachers and made-up lineages. Zen is here, in the morning afters and midnight sighs. It’s in cold cups of coffee, sleeping cats, and winter light on a closet door.
There are no students and no teachers, there’s just this moment that we can share but never understand. Like a hug in the night before she goes. The dream unfolds long before we go back to sleep.
Anshi (安狮) is the pen name for a certain Chan Buddhist. He calls his introspective, autobiographical writing, “Living Dharma.” All names are changed to protect the privacy of those involved. If you know who Anshi is, please refrain from telling anyone. Feel free to check out his Facebook page.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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