Thursday, June 7, 2012
Pajama Bike Ride
"Is this manic?" I wondered for a second as I bounced over unseen dips in the brick street, but no, it's just June, the month of white nights. My cousin Sally and I were in Russia, in St. Petersburg, for the beginning of summer back in the early nineties and I remember well how the light at ten o'clock at night fills you with energy and you stay up all night eating fried potatoes and drinking the smoothest vodka that ever flowed down your throat with your new instant Russian friends and your eyes may feel a little sore and sandy in the morning, but who cares, look at the light!
Kenilworth Boulevard makes a straight line to the lake. I can see a red glow at the end of the tunnel of tree branches arching over the street. Nobody on the roads, nobody. People, you have got to see this! I think at the silent houses.
There's more keeping me awake. I bought a book for my old friend Michele's birthday, but haven't sent it yet, even though I missed the day and keep getting more and more belated. But it's not really just a book, it's The Book, for me, at least, and holding a copy and reading passages feels like communion with the dearest of old friends. It's Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard (and I just accidentally typed "Snot" instead of "Snow" which is important because I can get way carried away with goofy gravitas and silly solemnity when I'm trying to talk about My Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World...)
From the introduction by Pico Iyer:
The haunting beauty of the book--what comes to make it a modern classic--has relatively little to do with the fact that it describes a land (the Tibetan Plateau region of Nepal) that few travelers had seen in 1973....It comes, rather, from a rare mix of discovery and loss. The drama, the excitement of any classic record of an adventure comes from giving us the heart-pounding sense of traveling to some state, inner and outer, that few people have had the chance to see before; and yet what gives that a larger resonance here, and places it inside an elegant frame, is the sense, too, in every moment, that excitements fade, that everything moves on, that even the epiphanies and discoveries that seemed so exhilarating yesterday will soon be forgotten as the world flows on. You can't hold on to anything.
I've been thrilled and moved and changed yet again each time I've read The Snow Leopard, but it's the account of Matthiessen's journey off the Crystal Mountain that kills me every time. The journey out of the lofty place of insight, wisdom and discovery back to the filth and destitution of the suburbs of Katmandu, back to the inevitable disappointments that even an experienced practitioner of Zen tolerance can't avoid.
I try on a Zen edict as I'm pedaling down Kenilworth Avenue toward that red glowing sky at the end of the tunnel: "It doesn't matter." Catching sight of the elusive snow leopard, seeking insight instead of allowing it to come, capturing the moment instead of living it, even writing, none of it matters, does it?
It's an interesting idea but I come to a full dead stop when my mind, of course, flies to the children. I poked my head in their dark bedrooms this morning before I got on the bike. Mia lay in a hump in the middle of her bed, pillow abandoned, just her dear little head on the mattress. Like they used to sleep when they were babies in the crib. The Buddha's "desire is the source of all suffering" is a masculine concept. He was a man, after all. I cannot reject attachment. Don't want to. Perhaps I am just a tourist on the journey to enlightenment - I can't resist a peek at the gift shop. Might find a cute something or other to delight my little ones.