Useless discussion can be a bridge between people, so it is important.
*Dainin Katagiri Roshi. The Light that Shines through Infinity: Zen and the Energy of Life.
I had never heard an affirmation of useless talk, before I had read only spiritual teachers warning to avoid this apparent hindrance. I am relieved to hear someone affirm what appears useless can be equally, with what appears useful, a way to join with others ~ useless, an act of living and loving together. So, life moves through the apparently insignificant, spoken or happen to have happened, and in that we may discover wisdom given in the wonder and beauty of being alive, at this one moment on this one planet, together. So, with an apparently unimportant, maybe even useless, happening 52 years ago. Yet, I see, now, the bridge was there, an appearance of this totally amazing whatever we call life, and this is always happening between us, drawing us into the only place we can learn ~ together. And, sometimes, something happens in one moment, and past it seems to become, but it lives timelessly in that becoming, leaving us with that meeting breathing timelessly, and those who shared it together breathing together, also. See, happenings are life, they live, they never become merely happened. Events are present, bridging a timeless sharing, not bounded by breaking up a whole into times of past, future, now. These happenings are wise teachers. So, now, to a day in the mid-1960s, I was a little body, Wayne too.
* * *
I do not know any the why of any why Wayne did what he did that day 52 years ago. I still see little, plump, short, black hair Wayne looking back at me, prior to the decision, still see refusal to follow clear directions. He did follow directions, not mine. Many would say Wayne went in the wrong direction, some right direction, some neither.
Wayne and I were beginning school together, first grade, Satilla School, Alma Highway, south Georgia, USA, County of Jeff Davis, named after Jefferson Davis. In one direction, Hazlehurst, GA, another Alma, GA, another Baxley, GA ~ a colloquialism from where I was born "in the middle of nowhere." Rural kids, attending country school, grades 1-8; afterward, fate was being bused to the town kids and town school, Jeff Davis High School, up the road to Hazlehurst about 8 miles.
Being new to Satilla School territory, grey matter and neurons and synapses still busy forming an internal outlay of geography, mapping what was this and that and not. One important unknown location to Wayne, boy’s restroom, there was only one for each gender. Wayne needed to go, requested Mrs. Waldon, our only first grade teacher ~ the school was small enough for one teacher for each grade, teaching all subjects ~, to leave and informed her of needed direction. Mrs. Waldon asked for a guide who knew the way to the boy’s restroom. I gladly lifted hand and was given this responsibility. I had both the boy’s and girl’s restroom set in the map in my little brain, I could see the way all the way to each, and which was which. Wayne could not. So, in some sense, I felt like an expert guide to the bladder-and-bowel-relief-station. I took seriously this duty, for Wayne's sack. Not only from then on would Wayne have the directions in his mental map, he would be relieved of his present somatic compulsion for relief, and I would have proven a successful guide. This venture and outcome seemed simple and sure, but, like life, simple and sure are often not sure, even when simple. We humans tend to make the sure unsure or not-sure at all. Now, present-tense, to the portentous beginning of guiding Wayne to the restroom.
* * *
We step outside the small red-brick first grade building, lunchroom like-bricked before us, to our right the main building of grades 2-8 and restrooms, in the same small red-brick design. We turn toward the main building, begin walking. Wayne comments on seeing the boy’s restroom ahead. I inform, even plead after his initial counter-insistence, the restroom facing us, attached to this side of the main building, is not what he needs to enter, clarifying that is for the girls. I share the boy’s is around the corner to our right, on the other side of the main building. Wayne listens, informs me he is right, meaning I have no idea what is coming out of my little misinformed brain. Pleading having failed, what can I do but watch and wait? That little moment like the parent who knows the youth is heading for disaster, the parent cannot help him or her see the walking is straight into disaster dead-end. So, thumbs cross, one hopes all will turn out mendable, even if not well ~ yet, that is within the small frame, for misfortune is oft seen differently when seen through a larger frame stretched upward and downward and outward by time. Wayne is walking into a big problem, in my first-grade worldview. Regardless of a natural propensity to compassion, I can do nothing to save them or him, only watch this scene of errant certitude play itself out toward an inauspicious conclusion.
* * *
Wayne enters. I wait. Shortly, several girls are running out onto the covered porch of their restroom. In unison, they are screaming, with stunned faces. I find out, later, Wayne was discovered only after entering a stall. He had not learned where we lived, if one entered a public restroom with only stalls, no latrine, that was a sure sign of being in the wrong location.
Now, reflecting on the echoic convulsions erupting from the screaming Satilla damsels, a glaze of horror shrouding their faces, I see, I smile, but did not smile that day. I wonder, now, "What was Wayne thinking, still ensconced inside a world he was not physically endowed to belong?" Now, I laugh, yet not that day. I viewed it all as a disaster, even though a small, even possibly tiny, one. Maybe a disaster only for the girls. Wayne did not seem overly upset coming out, possibly he was simply relieved to be relieved, mission accomplished. But the girls, they were emitting a litany of suffused shock. We lived in a very conservative culture, and shame regarding and fear of the genitals was endemic, and I would not have been surprised that the girls had never been in proximity to a male with his pants zipped open or hanging down, even hidden in a stall.
Thankfully, both the girls and Wayne were not permanently damaged by this ordeal. Wayne learned where to go next time. I had completed my first lesson, of many, about the uncertainties of guiding others, teaching them, parenting them, counseling them, … I am learning by reflecting on that to this day. Much of my life I have been a guide in varied roles, with most of that being apparently as much a helplessness as that day with Wayne. I keep trying, I guess that will be enough. I, too, have been Wayne many times.
* * *
Reading today, I came on a statement on writing and life. Captivated, partly for I am a writer and enjoy life. I enjoy learning life, how to be with in a natural way. Doing that, or better that happening, the unnatural way drops, little by little, and I suffer less, bless others more. All naturally. Is it not amazing how natural can become such a huge life-long project, when natural is natural and implies non-effort to be anything? Yet, we humans seem to feel a deep urge to keep trying to help life be life. Odd, we are. David Rynick, a Zen Buddhist teacher, observes ...
Writing, I feel my way on instinct~always trying to find the beating heart of things. It’s a delicate procedure, and often the flashing firefly I catch at dusk turns out to just be a dark bug in the light of morning. Logic, apparently, is not enough. I am learning to trust my senses and allow the dancing of time to teach me what I need to know.
*David Rynick. This Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons.
I identify with what Rynick speaks of. His words apply to writing and life. We can intend to learn better letting go, or letting be, dropping attachment to the logical mind that blocks natural: that wondrous, nonconceptual flow of life, unfolding from its own flowing, flowing-flowing ~ potency, wisdom, grace, all becoming and never losing any potential to become. We, still, have to make decisions, we get confused, still, and, sometime, what appeared a flashing firefly later shows itself as a dark bug. We emerge from the deep cave of the birth canal, we stair at the neon flashing sign: Welcome ~ Enter, No Guarantees. Yet, somehow, we seem born with an onward tendency to keep moving onward, regardless of our past failures or successes, even as we are learning to live in the only moment we will ever be invited to live with.
* * *
That day, 52 years ago, Wayne was a writer and I too. Our narratives met, a scene with a scene coalesced by his urge for relief and my agreement to lead him to relief. We each did our best. I see, now, it took me these decades to see differently what happened, and happens, for it remains evolving in the narrative of "my" life. And that scene still lives 52 years later ~ what lives, never dies. I see, now, something inexplicable happened, profound and ordinary, as each narrative, each scene of our lives. Many causes and conditions led to all that happened, possibly infinite, and we, Wayne and I, innocently did what we did as a result. Any measure of freedom of choice, was offered and limited within all that led to the going-into-the-wrong-restroom episode.
With that scene at Satilla School, as all life, these days I feel less a need to understand a why, more the ease and joy of celebrating, appreciating life happens as it does and we know little of any why. In that relaxation, I feel a lightness, a growing love of life, more capacity to trust this I call “my” life unfolding.
We are all like I that day, standing and watching the scene unfold based on its own momentum. I did my part as best I could. Wayne did his part as best he could. He made the best decision for himself for it was his decision, so the decision was not right or wrong. I can commend him for trusting himself, and maybe that was part of his learning not simply to agree with others. I do not know. I do know there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone else, even when we find the other was correct. At least, we have the dignity to express disagreement, and that is a sacred act. As I told an acquaintance recently, “I would rather act with integrity and make a wrong choice, than simply agree and make a right choice.” Yet, I am learning, also, life does not fit into the neatness of "right" and "wrong." Life is too profound for that.
* * *
What Wayne did in entering the wrong restroom was a lively, wonderful firefly, when, for so many years, I saw it as a black bug. "Wayne, ‘Thank you!’ We shared an amazing moment in the story of our lives, and that moment lives inside me vividly, and the grace of it is intimate with your choosing your own way, not merely going my way. Today, I am so thankful for what you did, and the smile thereby you give me still." And, oh, yes, Wayne and I became close friends. We never again spoke of that day. The last time I saw Wayne was in my early 20s. And, right now, with a subtle sadness arising from writing these words, I wonder where Wayne is, and I feel love and gratitude for him, for life, for myself. I miss him and embrace that as the gift Love is, an Affection holding time with all its gains and losses, births and deaths, in one graceful embrace. "Wayne, we cannot go back, but we are here." Knowing that, I am at peace. I hope Wayne is too.
*All material, unless another source is cited, is authored by the presenter of Lotus of Heart, Brian Kenneth Wilcox, Florida USA. Use of the material is permitted; Brian only requests that credit be given and to be notified at email@example.com .
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union, is available through major booksellers.
*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.
The Sacred in Me bows
to the Sacred in You