Fiction: Plunging Into Myself

This morning I am feeling willful. No longer do I long for the singing birds of poesy to stir my heart and soul. No. This morning I will begin to understand myself through the power of will.

I have waited too long for no one; Now I seek myself; I pray I do not find no one.

I will not rest until I understand why I suffer from this invisible gaping wound in my chest. What is it to wait for no one? What does it mean? Is no one God? Is God no one?

I cannot stand any of that babble this morning, and I cannot sit here and spew it. I am disgusted with it all, and I am most disgusted with myself. Yet I will be myself.

No one will take that away from me.

I will be myself by creating myself. In creation, I will find myself. My self will find itself. No one can stop me, or only no one can stop me. But who is this no one? Did I not say I was done speaking of it?

Now I speak of someone: myself. But of whom do I speak of when I speak of myself? Is the self the invisible gaping wound, or is the self that which heals the wound through visible forms of willful creation?

Can the self heal its own wounds? I must be able to. If another tried to heal me, I would not accept it. For this is true: what the other believes is healing wounds the self like no other. I would spurn the other, even if it were the blue-haired sea-creature I once let bandage and hold me. No. I must hold up these wounds to the light and let the darkness heal them.

I will understand all that ails me and I will heal all these ailments through knowledge, through understanding, through passionate understanding and through intense personal knowledge.

I will not stand back from myself and heal myself like a doctor from the outside. I can never heal myself from the outside. For this is true: to try and heal oneself from the outside is to wound the truth of the self within.

Instead I must plunge into myself to meet what explodes out of me.

Longing For No One Still

A whole multitude of birds part me from sleep this morning. They sing me awake but they cannot sing me to stillness; still, I do love to hear them sing; for a few moments I give myself over to the listening. I do not want the sun to rise but would like Time to stop moving so I can remain in these moments that flee from me as the sun finds its way into my room. When the sun rises the people also rise, and whatever peace I had felt within me will turn to conflict, what clarity I had felt will turn to confusion as surely as the day begins, whatever light in me the darkness had helped to rise will fall again with the rising sun. But perhaps I will have a few moments shortly after the sun has risen when the other light lasts past its usual time. That is all I can ask of the other light this morning. Then I will willingly return to the darkness from whence I either came or willingly walked into one time, having heard that only there is one truly lit.

And who was it I heard that from? Someone who had been lit then burned and then finally cooled? Or someone whose burning slowly grew and was not extinguished? Was it someone at all who told me that? Or did no one itself tell me that?

I can be told nothing by those whose passion, though it does not have to be visible and outward, I can nevertheless clearly see has cooled or whose fire has extinguished completely. Would you believe that I can be told nothing by most people? For instance, would most people tell me to “wait for no one”? No, they would tell me instead to “seek out someone to love, seek out your soul mate, find happiness in love, find satisfaction in work, spend time with others, get out of yourself, pursue your desires and your dreams, live in the moment, do not think of the past or future, sleep well, eat well, work hard, hold on, be free, be still, find comfort and shelter, keep moving, be moderate, let go, dance with pretty young women, talk with wise old women, laugh with women always somewhere from ten to seventeen years older than you, and above all do not wait and allow all opportunities to pass from you. Above all go after what you lack, do not wait for it to come to you.” But I lack no one, and how can I go after that?

Would they harass me to speak before I am ready or would they allow me to be silent until the words arise out of me on their own accord? When finally I find someone who will tell me nothing, then I will be willing to listen. This is why I am waiting for no one. Someone is always telling me something. I have the feeling that only when no one can find me will I be told nothing. I am always listening closely to be told nothing, and that is why I wake up early when only the songbirds are up. They sing of nothing and I listen closely to their song. They tell me nothing and if I could listen to them telling me nothing all day and night as I wait for no one, I feel I would soon be given all the wisdom of the ages, which I would keep within me until the one I wait for, who is now not a one, finds me and in doing so becomes no longer no one but also still not someone.

Still I am not sure if I am even someone at all, and moreover I am not sure if I want to be someone, if in being someone I no longer wait for no one. Actually, I am quite sure I do not want to be someone. “Sure you do,” I hear from those ones who are always telling me something, “Use your talents, go after success, receive the credit due for the work you put in, give people hope, give them a reason to live, inspire them to greatness, inspire them to be someone as well. When people say to you, ‘now you are someone,’ then you will know you are someone. When people say to you, ‘you have given me the freedom to be someone, and who I have become has provided security and certainty in my life,’ then you will know you’ve done what you were put on this earth to do.”

But still I say I was not put on this earth to do anything of the sort; I was not put here to inspire anyone but rather to wait for no one. Certainly I was not put here to provide certainty for someone! If you do not understand that, you are probably someone yourself, hoping to be provided with certainty, which may well be the end of all hope, which I am not certain even exists in the first place. You’re probably always telling me something you’re certain is true. When I say I wait for no one, I am not telling you that. I am telling no one that. Remember that no one is my audience. Remember that I hope (oh yes!), yes I hope that no one reads this and comes to meet me in the place we decided on before it was decided by all those not me that I should become someone—like them. Then I was still no one; now, still not yet myself, I wait here for no one still. I feel like I’ve waited for many years, even when I did not know I was waiting. I have been waiting for no one long before I was told to be someone, and I will wait for no one long after everyone has given up on me, convinced I will never become anyone at all. By all means, I would say to them, go on being someone; I will continue to wait for no one.

I used to think I was waiting for someone. There were women I thought I longed for. Perhaps when she returns, I thought, I will be able to be myself again. She let me be myself, she loved me for the whole of who I was and also for the splits within me. If she returns I can again be the someone I no longer am. But although she brought out the someone in me, when I was with her I was no longer waiting for no one. I would forget about no one in her presence, forgetting also that before my search to be someone began I had been waiting to meet with no one, who was absent; I had been waiting for no one until I was sure I could meet it everywhere.

When I was with her, everything seemed indeed to be all that I had dreamed of and more; it seemed she was the one I had waited for, though she was not at all no one; she was someone, and someone as beautiful and fleeting as the purest snow falling in the night before the desert sun melts it the next morning. If I could not be with her while still waiting for no one, then I could not be with her at all. But it took me some time to understand the longing, time I spent longing for some woman, or other, time I did not yet know what I truly longed for, which I came to understand was for no one, in time. But how I still long!

Waiting For No One

The same sun shining through the window in this place I must have been before, this place a blue-haired sea-creature left and I returned to only to remember she could only dance alone. Always leaving and returning, always dancing and sitting still. Always looking for the ‘always,’ for what remains, for what is ceaselessly here and does not need to leave and return in order to be here without ceasing, what does not cease but whose activity is not meaningless. For what is more confusing than unceasing and meaningless activity? Doing in order to escape being, working in order to be paid for one’s efforts in fleeing the self. Yet, what is the flight I undergo as I rip apart “what constrains my heart to this prison from which I’m fleeing?” So I ended a poem. Is this a different sort of flight? Yes, for it involves ripping apart the chains, not simply avoiding the chains or going someplace where the chains aren’t nearly so painful, a place where one can forget the chains altogether.

The flight I undergo must go through rather than under or over the chains, cannot avoid them; must go through the self, cannot flee it. It is not a flight from self but a flight from the fleeing of self, from whatever forces the self to flee; it is a forcing of the self to remain with what it wants to flee and be free from, to remain chained until it is able to rip apart what chains it. It is a flight into and then a fight within, rather than a flight away from and a fight without. The outer fight is only ever a flight away from, can only ever put distance between me and what I must come near to, can only disconnect me from myself, from the flight into and the fight within.

The absolute necessity of this flight into and fight within can make me uncomfortable in any situation which requires me to flee away from and into the outer fight which never has made any sense to me. This is why I have a lost look in my eyes much of the time, or in overcompensation I have the driven, focused look of one who pretends he knows exactly what he is after. But do I know what exactly I am after? Would it be exact if I said I am after what brings me before my essential self, what brings my false self to its knees in agonized supplication, what brings me to a place where I can share in the agonies of others, seeing through the distorted expression of the soul and into the essence of their agony? Or would that be a poetic misleading, a flowing veneer like a roaring river just before it is dammed?

Is it possible for me to be exact? What exactly is possible here? What should I hope for? Should I hope at all? Some say hope sits with love on the top shelf of the most essential virtues; others say it is an illusion and inessential. It is essential that I see through illusion, but first I must know what is illusion and what is truth. Is hope essential or is it an illusion? Or is it an essential illusion? But there are no essential illusions; the two terms are contradictory. There is much in this world and in the self that is contradictory, however, and there is much truth in contradiction as well.

There is contradiction in that the self needs to undergo the fight within yet wants to engage in some outer fight so as to avoid and distract itself from the more essential fight. Is it right to call it an inner fight? It is a fight with no victor, no one standing over the others. It is a fight that ends in reconciliation, and the casualties of the fight were never alive in the first place. It is a fight that ends in aliveness, leaving dead and forgotten on the battleground only what never had existence. It is a fight that ends in soul after going through distortions. But the outer fight leaves on the battleground bodies whose souls had the potential to become fully alive. The casualties in that battle were not yet fully alive (for who is fully alive?), but they could have become so. Now they cannot. It is a fight that ends without any sort of true reconciliation, for true reconciliation is inner unity. The peace treaty only signifies that one side was more successful at fleeing the self than the other side.

Who am I writing this for? No one. I am writing this for no one. Only if no one reads this will I be happy, for no one is my audience. The more people who read it, the less happy I will be, for then I would be getting away from my audience, who is no one. If you are reading this, you are not my audience. By all means, read on, dive right into my confusion with me and we can sink a little bit deeper, or perhaps you and I together can float along long enough to be to be rescued by no one, who was my audience in the first place. No one will be sure to come by soon enough to where we are struggling to keep our heads above water. Is it a mistake to call for no one to come rescue me from sinking? Regardless, neither no one nor anyone will come. Perhaps you should leave; remember I did say you were not my audience. I am not here to sink with you. Search for someone to save you, by all means, while I wait here for no one. But do not think I wait here for no one passively or passionlessly. It feels to me like I wait here for no one as no one has ever waited anywhere for anyone. I wait here for no one perhaps like one who still waits for a lover after many years at the intersection of Despair and Hope, where the train to Bedlam crosses the train to Bedrock, where the train that never stops running passes the train that has not yet begun, and the one who is waited for is no longer anyone to the one who waits except in dreams. Do not think I wait here simply thinking. I can no longer think. I think now only of simple things. Is it too hot? It is too cold? Should I go out? Should I stay in?

While I am thinking of simple things, which is all I can think of anymore, I feel the intensity of my longing the way I feel the unbearable summer heat of the desert, multiplied by infinite degrees. Yet who do I long for? No one. Not a single human being. Not even her. Not anymore. I know how that longing ends, and I do not want a longing that ends. Yet this longing for no one is beginning to sear me. Do you think I wait for a dream? No, I must not have made myself understood. Let me try again. Let me, without trying to make myself understood, again express my longing in such a way that it cannot help but be understood, at least by myself. Is it myself or no one who I’m writing for?

I cannot help it if you read this; just remember that I am not writing to you. Although if you are able to remember what you have forgotten, I hope you remember also that this writing is a sort of forgetting, though its final goal is remembering. And what is remembering but forgetting the present to return to the past? I have forgotten the gift which turned out to be nothing of the sort that you handed to me just before I turned from you and walked without a map into the heart of the wilderness, though I didn’t know how to find what I didn’t know I had come there for, and my heart was in such unrest that the silence of the desert could do nothing at all to still it. Had you forgotten that? I would not believe it if you told me you had, but who am I to say I always believe my disbelief?

You must for a moment suspend your disbelief, suspend yourself in mid-air with me as we circle slowly downwards towards the heat of the balloon that rises to meet us, though we are in different hemispheres and I cannot see you. Because I cannot see you, does that mean the heat that rises will not meet in the space between us? Because there is space between us, does that mean I cannot see you?

The heat that rose in me cooled the passion an unearthly sea-creature felt for me, once she realized that this rising heat was not directed towards her, had not risen for her, did not rise for any human being. Again let me remind you that I wait for no one. I know the heat that rises in me, though it may reach the space between us, will not reach either of us when there is no longer any space between us and we are in a passionate embrace that lacks the rising heat. When the heat has risen above it slowly fades from below. And as the heat slowly fades from below the one who felt the heat slowly becomes separate from it, becomes cool, detached, indifferent, without the intensity that is his greatest strength. To burn continually one must have faith that the fire will not come to the surface to be extinguished but remain where it can burn slowly but fully, ever increasing in heat. Faith and patience are necessary as well as an ability to allow oneself to feel lost, given over to the lack of gravity in space while remaining locked into the seriousness of the task, out of one’s hands yet within one’s self.

Unable to be Moved—a Fiction Vignette

I need to write how I feel though it rarely makes any difference. The birdsong, the calm of Sunday evening, everyone in their homes, the loss of light as night overcomes the day: none of it moves me. My own unhappiness moves me least of all. It disgusts me. I went to a place where people who sometimes move me get together, but my heart did not stir. I flipped through books that had moved me before—to tears, to adventure and the road, to longing, to love for wildness and people great and small, to love for quiet and peace within me. I tossed each book down again. None of them could move me. Oh, but I would not be resigned! In the morning before the sun had risen I got on my bike, rode up in the direction of a mountain to the south for 15 miles up a steep grade. I made it to the top and flew down. But to move oneself is not to be moved, to feel oneself moving closer to some destination is not to move closer to oneself. I could see the trees pass by in a blur on the side of the road; it could not make clearer the blurred confusion within me. I moved my body but my soul was left unmoved.

Knowing I could not simulate the love for people I didn’t presently feel, I moved myself into the simulation of anger to see if that emotion could change my mood. I riled myself up. People? I despised them. Always smiling, unconscious or unable to allow themselves to feel their own suffering. It was all pretend, a never-ending game of Risk that ends with each player being dominated by the world, except in this pretend game people were stabbed for their shoes and thrown into gutters to die with rats. And me? I was experiencing my anger about people faking happiness and about the injustice of things in a superficial, fake, non-genuine way, without the compassion and sadness that I knew were deeper than the anger. That only sunk me deeper. I could not think of one happy moment.

Just two nights before, I had danced to funk, soul, and rock and roll. I could not hold the memory in my mind. It flew from me into unreality. Dancing—when I felt most myself, most able to express the truth in my soul—did nothing to me. Its restless, self-abandoning and self-revealing movement was only a way to escape the inability to be moved. It was no better than riding a bike. It was nothing but a last ditch effort to rid oneself of burdens that, at the end of the night, would come back with unforgiving vengeance. It failed like all other futile efforts. I remembered with greater clarity the visceral feelings that came into consciousness after the dancing was over and the glow from it gone: unable to sleep, pummeling the keyboard like I always do, trying to approximate in writing the feelings I get from dancing, and failing there too.

It was all failure, and success was the greatest illusion and entrapper of all. I had never succeeded, though perhaps nothing is more fortunate than this. I had lost jobs, lost prestige, lost relationships that had not even begun. No one had lost anything for me. I had lost them all the way I prided myself on being: alone. But none of those outward losses bothered me as much as the inner feelings: my felt sense of deficiency; my inverse and hidden grandiosity, the distance between who I was and who I felt like I could be; my loneliness yet my barely unconscious shattering of all possible opportunities I had to moderate that loneliness with a long-term romantic partner. But what good did that do? How could someone else take the loneliness away? It was not possible. The loneliness was there, and all I could do was understand and express it as best I could. A partner would only put temporary distance between myself and what I could not be parted from.

I could lose everything as long as I could create a work of art that expressed all the pain of those losses and the much greater pain of which those losses were only a symptom. I could not do it because I didn’t even feel any pain, only apathy and a frustration I felt would engulf me from the inside. I suppose I cannot say that I did not feel pain, but my greatest pain was being unable to express the pain I felt. Everything I wrote was inadequate. Only dancing provided an immediate and full expression of feeling. But the expression of pure and complete feeling possible in dancing was inadequate because inarticulate. Energy without meaning. I could dance and express the truth in my soul, but what was that truth? What did it mean? What good did it do after the fact? Nothing was left on the floor, though everything had been propelled out and onto it. It was depth brought to the surface with nothing that remained after the cessation of movement. Nothing that explained the contradictory feelings of overwhelming nothingness and unbearable passion impossible to keep down, the feelings that had caused the restless movement in the first place.

Soon all the feelings would plunge back in and down, become invisible, practically non-entities, as insignificant as the empty dance floor in the closed dive that only moments before had been the site of such forced exuberance. The feelings would be sucked in like dirt into a vacuum, the only thing to show for their existence and expression the fading neurotransmitters that would make it difficult to sleep for a few hours at least. And in the morning a hangover as psychologically painful as that from booze, though the night had been spent without the suspect benefits of that wrecking substance. The extreme ecstasy that dancing can bring at its most intense moments does not lead to long-term happiness and the comedown is just as severe, just as strong as that from any intensely enjoyable experience, whether naturally felt or artificially prompted. It is important to find the center, but not if it precludes the dancing, not if it prevents the soaring. Let monks and spiritual titans experience that grounded, centered equanimity. I know nothing of the center. It is as alien to me as I have become to myself.

The Fly: A Short Story

It started when I woke up and heard the fly in my room. I did everything I could. I read, I meditated, I sang, I did push-ups, I typed on the keyboard, I even tried praying to relieve the burden of this fly. The fly was still in the room. Sometimes it would stop flying and land somewhere. These were peaceful moments. Most of the time, though, it flew around. Those were hostile moments. I left the house for a while and forgot all about the fly. When I came back I remembered. It was still alive and flying! I tried a few times to kill it, but I could not manage to do so. It’s hard to kill a fly by simply clapping your hands. Flies are elusive and exasperating insects.

I could have left again, let the fly buzz around until he got tired or died. I couldn’t do it. This was my house, not the fly’s house. It was cold and rainy, a day to sit contentedly inside and watch the rain fall down, not a day to be outside. But I could not be content with the fly in the house, it brought me to the end of my patience, I really couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it or sit down with it in the house. I could do nothing but become increasingly irritated. I sat and tried to read again. Nothing doing. I could do nothing but think about the fly. It had completely taken over my attention. There was nothing else in the world but the two of us, the fly and me. I thought about why the fly had come. There had to be a reason. Flies don’t just appear out of nowhere without a reason. I thought about it some more and could not think of one single reason why this fly was in the house.

Was there no reason for this fly? If there was no reason for this fly, then did that mean there was no meaning in this situation? The dread!

The apparent meaninglessness of the entire situation filled me with horror and forced me into action. The meaning here would reveal itself, I was sure of it. I needed to be sure. I would learn what this whole thing meant by killing the fly. From the death of the fly the meaning of the situation would come to life. But first, the fly must die!

I went again into action. This time the fly would not get away. I followed him into the bathroom and shut the door. There, let him fly around in there, I thought. That settles things.

Before too long, I had forgotten about the fly and settled in to read. Sometimes I would stop reading and bask in pure contentment: the peaceful stillness of the day, the mix of rain and snow gently falling on the window, the warm cup of tea in my hand, I needed nothing else. The simple pleasures of life! What else was there to need? Needing was for unhappy people, the ones who were always intolerably irritated with absurdly minor issues.

Intolerable was the word. The irritability of other people always exasperated me to no end. How could anyone be so irritated! And how truly minor the issues were that made them so upset. I didn’t see a bit of sense in it. There was no meaning in it at all. What disturbed everyone all so much was as pointless as a fly. I was glad to be rid of those constantly irritated and discontented people, glad to be rid of all my burdens and worries. As the cold rain fell down on the window outside, I felt arise within me the warmth and sunlight of true contentment!

Soon, having drunk a pot of tea, I found I needed to go pee. Serenely, I opened the door and walked in. Immediately the fly flew out. How quickly the mind forgets of its troubles!

I forgot right away about having to pee and went to chasing the fly for a second time. Again, I tried to trap it in the bathroom, but it was too smart for that, so I was forced to look for another way to remove the loathsome pest from my presence.

I chased it for a quarter of an hour around my 350 square foot room. In such a small room, with such a small insect, such a vast and endless problem! It was madness, and it needed to stop. I chased it above the sink, I chased it under the table, and finally I chased it to my bed where it stopped flying.

I stood on the bed. The fly was in the far corner, on the ceiling, and I could tell it was afraid. The fear in the room was palpable. I stood there and waited, my entire attention fixated on the fly. This time it would not get away, I was sure of it. I thought about what I would do if it got away. I could not fathom the possibility. It was simply unimaginable to me that the fly would live for another minute. I pushed the thought out of my mind.

The fly took off again, while I clapped frantically like an epileptic at a piano concert. Did it hear my clapping? More to the point, did it understand the intent of my clapping? Above all I feared that the fly was under the misperception that I was clapping in support of it. On the contrary! I despised its very existence! I wanted to nip that misunderstanding before the whole situation got completely out of control. I wanted nothing more than to end this fly’s life, to kill its buzz, and not to give it my support by clapping, that senseless human form of expressing non-verbal approval. But the only way I knew to kill it was to clap it between my hands. That would be the last clap and the final curtain. Whatever misunderstanding my clapping might bring about would not matter after the fly was dead.

With the rage and fury fitting for such a critical and crucial moment, I roared at the fly,

“I clap to kill you, not to praise your efforts!”

Still, the possibility that my intent might be miscommunicated was too grave a threat. The complexity of the situation made my head hurt. I wanted the fly to know I was trying to kill it, and not be under the misperception that I was trying to express to it my approval. I wanted it to be in fear in its last seconds, not basking in unwarranted and nonexistent admiration.

I picked up a book. This way there could be no misunderstanding. I would kill the fly by use of the book. I tried that for a while without success. No, that could not be the way. I could clap the fly faster than I could hit it with a book. Anyways, what if the fly imagined that being killed with literature was more flattering than being killed by flattery? Misunderstanding be damned! It did not matter how this fly died as long as it was very shortly dead.

Well, what can I say? Something changed in the manner of my pursuit. I became more focused, more driven. I readied myself, I zoned in on my target. It became more of a chess match and less of a bullfight.

The fly took off away from me, and I took a desperate lunge. I clapped one time, opened my hands, and saw the fly fall below me to the ground. It twitched once, twice, three times, and then it was still. It would no longer torture me with its insane buzzing.

I took a deep breath and sat down again. Outside everything was the same. The mix of rain and snow was still falling gently on the roof, the trees shook gracefully in the wind, and the deer and coyotes roamed the hills. I waited for the contentment to come back, the way it had been hours before when I had forgotten about the fly in the bathroom. I waited to bask in the glow of a task completed, a job well done.

But something was not right. Why did I not feel more alive now that the fly was dead? Where was the freedom from every care, the loosening of all my burdens that I was sure would come when the fly was gone? I was free from the fly’s odious existence, so why did I not feel free? I had been sure the reason the fly had come into my life was because of the freedom I would feel after its death. But I felt no freedom! The dread!

In the fly’s absence I could still feel its presence. In death its hold on me was even stronger than it had been in life.

I waited.

The 90-year-old Dancing Woman

The 90-year-old woman used to protest in the streets. She didn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t that there was nothing to protest; it was more that there was too much. There was everything to protest. There were walls everywhere she wanted down, but in the end the walls would stand. One would fall, another would be raised. Hers was an unknown protest, but I found out about it at the end.

I was walking past her house one day when she chucked her T.V. out on the lawn. I was a senior in high school and would graduate in a month. My gated private school was in the poor neighborhood so I walked through where she lived every day. I saw her before she saw me. She was getting ready to swing a wooden baseball bat down on the T.V. She looked back at me, her eyes were tiny dancing balls of strangely disarming rage. I had never seen someone so old so mad. It seemed to me that old people never really got mad, only irritated, which was boring and irritating to me. But madness, true madness, in every sense of the word, was rarely boring, especially in the old. I stood staring at her like that for what must have been five minutes.

As she stared back, the madness slowly ebbed away, though not completely, and her face started to flow naturally. It was an interesting face; it seemed to express everything all at once. It was ironic but not detached, open but questioning, almost ecstatically joyful and at the same time deeply sorrowful. It was not an old face. She was old, her face looked young; when she was young, I got the feeling her face had probably looked old.

After the longest time I’ve ever stared into the eyes of a 90-year-old woman, she asked me what my name was.


“What are you doing, Brad?”

“I’m walking to school.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re staring at me.”

“Yes, I’m staring at you.”

“Come in, Brad.”

I walked in. The room looked nothing like I would’ve expected it to. Then again, I had never thought about what a 90-year-old woman’s room looked like. But if I had I wouldn’t have thought of this. There were nudes on the walls and countless bottles of wine and gin on the floor. There was no bed, no furniture, just a thin light blue pad on the ground, a desk, and a typewriter. So this is what the house of an ascetic alcoholic 90-year-old writer looks like, I thought. The window looked like it had been recently busted open with a bottle; from outside I could hear birds singing and cars honking.

She asked if I wanted some gin, and I told her I didn’t drink. She asked again, and I told her again.

“I think you should have some gin, Brad,” she said.

I watched her as she poured the drink. I didn’t know anything about drinks, but I could tell this was a strong one. As she poured it, I wondered how she was still alive. I thought of trees after storms and shores after hurricanes. She practically forced the drink into my hand. I took a sip.

“What’s your philosophy on life, Brad?”

That took me by surprise. I had never taken Philosophy on Life; my school didn’t offer that. I took another sip and prolonged the sip. No answer came to me, so I answered honestly.

“I don’t have one, I guess. They haven’t taught me that yet.”

“No, they wouldn’t. What have they taught you?”

“Oh, all sorts of things. I’ve learned about the founding of America, I’ve memorized the periodic table, I know about trigonometry and calculus and biology.”

“That’s good, Brad. Br is for Boron.”

“Wow, that’s right.”

“I’m not a moron, Brad.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“I’m going to die, Brad. I’m 90 years old.”

“Yes, I suppose you are. This drink is good.”

“Yes, it’s a good drink. Before I die, I want to teach you what can’t be taught.”

“Alright, teach me.”

She laughed. I laughed too because her laugh was infectious, although I didn’t know why she was laughing. She had a wild laugh. There was something courageous about it.  It came from deep within, and was let out slowly, building up into a raucous climax that seemed more like a beginning than an ending. It brought me in, allowing me for a few moments to experience the world together with her. We were over seventy years apart; we had just met. It didn’t matter. Her raw, joyful laugh connected us like deep sorrow. We were intertwined and I understood that so were sorrow and joy.

I had to go, I was late for class.

“Come back tomorrow,” she said.

The next day from outside her door I heard symphonic music coming from inside. I walked in and she was dancing. Dancing! I couldn’t believe it. She moved with rhythm, every part of her in synch until there were no parts, only unity. She didn’t notice me; her eyes were closed. She whirled, tiptoed and twirled; she swayed; the music seemed to enter her and she held it inside, letting it out slowly, letting it out as she took it in, taking the music in fast as it sped up and then letting it out at the same speed. The dancing was passionate and powerful like the startling lucidity of a dream that grabs you and shakes you awake. It felt real because I felt alive while watching it. Just because a thing was dream-like didn’t mean there was no reality to it.

The dancing was all the more powerful because of the expression on the old woman’s face. It took me a while to define what exactly she was expressing, not just with her face but also with the movements of her whole body. Perhaps what she expressed resisted definition and definitive analysis. Her movements went along with the movements of the symphony. When the symphony became calm, and this was rarely, there was something in her slow swaying that made me think of the swaying of a lone tree on a mountain just before an earthquake or an avalanche. The tree struggles as uncontrollable forces around it threaten its life with their power. It is the only tree left and it is strong, it will go out on its own terms. It will die when it is ready. It moves so as not to be moved, it sways so as not to be swayed, it holds on desperately to its roots by letting its branches shake wildly in the wind.

That’s what it was, if I had to define it. She was expressing desperation but without any corresponding despair or anxiety. Her desperation came from a celebration of life rather than a fear of death. The tree is calm when all is calm toward it, but when threatened from the outside, it reveals its strength. It becomes resilient, unmovable. When threatened with death, it shows how much life it has left. It is ready for the end, but the end is not ready for it. It has too much of beginnings in it, too much of spring. Winter shudders to look at it.

I realized that my schooling up to this point had been hopelessly inadequate. You could not be taught how to dance like this old woman because you could not be taught how to be this alive. What truly mattered was to be alive; you couldn’t be taught what truly mattered. Was this what she had wanted to teach me?

The music stopped. She opened her eyes and looked at me.

“Come close,” she whispered, her eyes dancing.

She was lying on the blue mat now. I went over and kneeled down.

“What is it?” I asked. “What do you want me to know?”

“Nothing, you already know. Now you just have to find it.”

“But how?”

“Some gin, Brad.”

I poured her a half-pint glass, straight. She drained it in one swallow. Then she launched the empty glass at the window a good 15 feet away with what seemed to me to be impossible strength, shattering the glass and laughing. Was she courageous or was she insane? She looked at me again. She was no longer smiling, on the outside at least, but her face was not hard. Nor was it resigned or complacent. There was that same expression: a celebration of desperation without fear or despair.

You could go out feeling secure, you could go out feeling resigned, you could go out feeling helpless or hopeless. She wasn’t going out in any of those ways. She was going out desperately. It wasn’t the same as helplessness or hopelessness. I knew nothing of her life. Her experiences were her own, but she had loved them. She had grown from them all, good and bad alike. I could see that; I had seen her dance. Like the tree, she was holding on to her roots by letting her branches go. And her branches had always gone wild. She motioned me to come still closer. I leaned in. She looked at me once more.

“Find a reason to dance,” she said.

I watched as her eyes, dancing to the music of Death I could not hear, closed for the last time.