Only Words

December 10th, 2019

He’s a quiet man. Well, he is most of the time.

John tends to be soft-spoken and a bit reticent, at least among strangers. He tries to feel people out before he opens up. He seems to be an introvert by nature. He is the kind of man who is cautious in his speech until he feels safe.

Then the dam bursts open.

I first spoke with John early on a Saturday morning. I was tired and wired. I had been up until 3:00 AM talking with Sarah and Sean about politics, religion, and general nonsense. We ended the conversation mostly because we had run out of whiskey. I went to bed in the attic, and I slept fitfully for a couple hours. I was not feeling my best when I unexpectedly met John.

John was staying in a bedroom at Voices because he had been recently evicted from his apartment. When he wandered out of his room, I was sitting at the living room table, trying to write some lame Christmas cards. John sat across from me. He wrapped himself in a shawl or a blanket as he sat down. The way he draped the cloth around him had a very Buddhist touch. It gave me an idea of who I was dealing with.

John is a bit younger than me, which means that he is still rather old. He has his hair cut very short. He’s lean, and his movements are graceful. He wears glasses, and his left eye seems to be just slightly askew. He exudes a quiet gentleness. That sort of thing always worries me.

He opened up after I opened up. I generally open up quickly, mostly because I don’t often care what other people think of me. John followed my lead. John spoke with the urgency of a man who has been lonely far too long. We had a long conversation that morning. John is a connoisseur of different religious traditions. I can identify with that. John is currently a Hare Krishna. I was unaware that those people even existed any more. He had been a Japanese Buddhist for twenty-five years. He had also been a Catholic and a Wiccan. As he explained it to me, John has been “around the block”. He has seen and done many things, and somehow he is still in the material world.

John is a seeker. So am I.

Somebody told me, many years ago, that there are two kinds of spiritual seekers. One kind only looks for answers. These people want to absolute answers to irrational questions. They find some things that kind of work for them, and then they make these answers into a dogma that can never be questioned again. I have met these people. Scary bastards. Other seekers never stop searching. These folks want answers, but the answers are never adequate, so they never stop learning. These individuals are often more interested in the questions than they are in the answers. Their hearts oscillate constantly between faith and doubt. They somehow feel all right in that grey zone between right and wrong, between truth and lies.

I live there.

So, John and I look for something that we will never find.

That’s okay. The path is the goal.

John and I talked about talking. We had a conversation about conversation. It was kind of like a Seinfeld episode. Any conversation that is worthwhile requires the exchange of ideas. There has to be a cross-fertilization, a transfer of soul stuff. Our present culture does not encourage any exchange of thoughts. Discussion in our society implies some kind of attack and defense, a zero sum game. You win or you lose. I want conversations where it is possible for every party to get…something.

John is a giver of gifts. That’s what he does.

He gave me an apple. He said,

“You need to eat.”

I ate.

Later, he gave me a framed picture of the Buddha. He didn’t need it any more. I didn’t need it either. Well, maybe I did. It’s hard to tell.

The picture is on my wall.



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