We stayed connected after he moved to a yurt in the Catskills and later when he moved to Michigan. Communication wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t frequent - just the occasional text, email, and phone call - just enough to last, so that years later and three weeks ago, he slept cramped in a ball on my couch.
He handed me a gift in a small drawstring pouch made of woven cloth. I pulled out what was inside and placed it where it fit perfectly - in the palm of my hand. I didn’t know what it was, but it was beautiful - metal, thin in the center, bulbous on the ends, and painted - gold, teal and orange.
It’s a dorje, he explained - a Buddhist symbol, a thunderbolt of enlightenment. He found it in Tibet, dipped it in the highest lake in the world in Nepal, and brought it to New York to help me accomplish my goals. As I held it in my hand, I knew I had everything I needed to do just that.
The conversation turned to poems.
He told me the name of one of his favorites,* told me how it came into his life, and to my surprise, recited it by heart:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
And he told me about the mountains in Nepal. The mountains where he'd just spent two and a half weeks, where he dipped the dorje in the water, where one morning, he sat.
He sat and watched a dense fog because it was all he could see up there in the mountains, where the mountains were hidden, hidden behind a dense fog, and that's when he realized so strongly that even though he couldn’t see the mountains, they were there. They were always there. Even in Detroit and New York, where the ground is decidedly flat, the mountains were always there. The mountains were, he realized, in him.
And while he was in Nepal, realizing the incredible, expansive nature of mountains, I was walking down a sidewalk in Brooklyn, fantasizing about moving to a small mountain town, and that’s when I realized with a sudden clarity that I was already in the mountains. I walked toward the Manhattan skyline and stretched my arms out wide like a T because even though I couldn’t see them, I could feel them - the mountains. And I said it out loud - my eyes closed - You’re already in the mountains.
We sat on my couch, discovering our shared sense of expansive terrain. A sense that seemed to reveal itself nearly simultaneously in his life and in mine, like there was something calling us both, calling us home, announcing our place in the family of things.
*Wild Geese by Mary Oliver