National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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BLACK DOG DREAMS

The House is dark, except for the hall night-light and the glow of moonlight through the louvered blinds. Bodhi Dog is a curled cocker-ball in the curve of my legs snoring-his long curly ears splayed out in sleep-when he then yelps and howls out a long high Oooouuuuhhh. His legs run furiously and his short little tail stands straight up, wildly wags back and forth. Some past puppy dream haunts his mind. I sit up, rub his tummy and softly say “It’s OK, Bo, it’s OK.” In the stillness of the night hours, it becomes okay—-until the next time when Bodhi remembers the past.

In the morning, I rise when the blinds grow brighter and dawn, somewhere in the enveloping mist of our inland valley, is blanketed with ocean fog that sweeps over the hills and stays for days. Coffee and a banana start the day—-energy for the trail. I leave my room tidy, as if leaving it forever; as if I might die out there and it would be a last portrait. Old monkish habits still linger, the drama of Irish transience is forever soul and a Scot’s will to be powers a painful old body for its next feat of endurance.

The last piece of the morning leaving is placing a small pillow on the bed. It has a history, like everything else in the sleeping room. Small green calico’d and embroidered on one side, it reads:

“Guardian Angel for us pray
That kindness, love & peace
Will stay in every heart
To enter here and keep thee
To us ever near”

Old monk or no, for a scrappy Irish-Scots American, the lesson of those colorful threads must be renewed everyday on rising and everyday before sleep, or the perpetual, almost genetic rage over injustice will destroy the peace of this old man and the purpose of his disciplines: “that kindness, love & peace enter here”. The right time to leave the battlefield is always an intuitive business or a skillful maneuver, and sometimes a matter of the last one standing. I often think to myself in these early hours, in these past months and winter days, “It’s time to let it go. It’s time for the young to discover what is myth, what is worth fighting for, what is worth sacrifice, what is real , what is true, and most importantly, what is both.”

Bedeaux’s sister gave him the pillow when he graduated from medical school. Its Victorian charm and sweet innocence touched him deeply. It had childhood bonding in its embrace, something only they knew. To the outside observer, no two more worldly sophisticates could be imagined who tied their love in the invocation of a guardian angel and a sentimental token worthy of Jane Austin characters.

Michael was my friend. He was one turned away by family, except for his beautiful sister and her spouse. He put himself through school—alone, and graduated—alone. He celebrated that day in the company of other new doctors and came home late at night to find on his doorstep a package from Fed-X (the pillow) and a dozen roses from his upstairs buddy–me. Thinking about it, the past, brings up the emotion of that ‘feeling,’ which happens every time the mind and heart skip a beat out of the usual orbit of condition.

He took time off to just enjoy life for a spell, and we found more occasions for company and music. We found a mutual interest in classical and choral music and every few weeks would carve out time for listening. Even in those days, his large collection of ‘78’s’ seemed the archaism of a dedicated connoisseur. Less than a year later, he was dead.
Those were the plague years. Every week dozens died, every month a hundred, every year—thousands. It went on for a decade and more. It still goes on, but now America’s fetish for death has shifted to fantastic wars on terror and little is spoken about the plague. Now that ‘illness’ is no longer God’s curse, but a pandemic raging at large in the world, Christian communities with stricken mothers and children bear a quiet fact-of-life, and God’s curse is silent.

In those early days, AIDS/HIV was a death sentence. A year…maybe two of unrelenting suffering ended in only one way. Michael’s time was relatively short. Some months after his graduation victory he developed fevers, which went on for weeks. He began to waste away. One day, at the end of a week, he went into ICU and was dead by the following Monday.

His sister called me from the hospital, “Hurry”,she said. Shortly after arriving, a nurse showed me into the inner sanctum of critical care, where I saw him in an incubator through a large window. There he was, silent and still in a mechanical sarcophagus. The visual shock was devastating. He looked skeletal, as if the fever were melting him away. His body was shutting dow;  his blue/black, shiny long hair had turned white.

He was a dying wraith, but able to hear as I described the beauty of the Spring day outside and how grateful I was to know him; that he had once saved my life, how music would always bind us in friendship, that I would hear his spirit in song, and that I would take care of his beloved cat, Amadeus. The sincerity of that awkward inadequate rambling grief still clings to my heart after all these years. If nothing else, he heard the poignant love therein and was mercifully far beyond the tethers of sorrow.

At the wake, Bedeaux’s sister gave me the pillow she had sewed for him. She and her husband had also ‘officially’ named a star after him. That was decades ago, but always for me and the pillow—the beginning and ending of a day. That ‘feeling’ stays with me always. It is an old friend, whose exact name has forever escaped me. What to call it? Watching Bodhi Dog always brings it forth. Observing his gentle trusting sleep on a fleece next to the ‘Angel pillow’ summons the emotion, which passes quickly like clouds, like storms, like sunshine or seasons, but never simply one  thing.

The first time it came was in childhood—perhaps at the age of six or seven, when one Summer day, I laid down in a patch of tall green grass and felt in a rush of awareness that the grass was ‘alive.’ It was a spiritual awakening, but for a child with no words for such a happening, it became the ‘feeling’—an internalized unknowing, true every time no matter the reality from which it rises.

Ancient cultures and languages know the ‘feeling’ and have given it nuance over the millenniums in which poets, artists, philosophers, writers, eremitic dropouts and spirituals have given it form in expression. English is somewhat disabled in this regard, and the closest word to describe the ‘feeling’ is ‘poignant‘. Poignant is grief, but not sorrow. It is joy, but not happiness. It is keen awareness, but not a measured wisdom. My father, in the discussions we shared before his death, told that he too knew the ‘feeling,’ that he called it love and the ancients called it agape.

Winter Solstice has passed, the days are getting longer- or so it must be. The dawn is muted in the misted gray of fog. Along the trail are heaps and tangles of brown bent stalks, black pods, and the weight of winter death. But even so, wild green grasses thrive. In the vineyard rows, yellow mustard grows and near the old farm house near the trail a few Paper Whites and Periwinkles appear. In the sodden tangle of intertwined bushes and barren trees, a new world appears—-a wet world of the seasonal interstice on the north left coast. No bitter harsh delineation of New England winter stands here. Something more complex and richly transitional forms and reforms the atmosphere and valley lands.
The marsh lands are flooded and vibrant with a glorious rich texture of lichens, moss and fungus enlivening a hundred trees in the soggy ponds and tangled masses of bushes and burgundy berry mounds. Celadon, jade, deep vibrant greens and a thousand shades of these decorate a forest standing in rain ponds on which float migratory swans, mallards, geese and egrets. A pair of otters leave trails of diving ripples in the wake of noisy ducks. When the sun breaks through, the air becomes illuminated and there streams down rays of brilliant light against the blue/gray sky and the wet lands seem to power in a great aura of life.

The ‘feeling’ overwhelms me—-the passion and vividly precious transience of life. On the way back to the little village in which we live, I encounter in the distance two large women pushing a baby carriage. As they appear, closer and closer, I see that they are Latina, one a grandmother, one an Auntie. From a distance I see the baby, a tiny boy, wave at me shouting “Hi…Hi!” As I get closer to the entourage they stop, for the little boy wants out of his stroller. Dressed in bib overalls, a bright orange T-shirt and a tiny baseball cap, he waves at me again and says. “Hi…Hi”.  The women laugh as I stop and say “Hi Baby!” He then turns and says “Bye”. The ’feeling’ is sacred- only moments in the happening, and as I walk on alone down the path I think, “It’s good to be an old man, who experiences these miracles.”

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4 Responses to National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

  1. lindalou says:

    ahhhh…dear monk….this exquisite writing took my breath away…..thank you thank you for such a lovely and difficult piece…breathe, just breathe…its almost all we can do….

  2. zorbear says:

    Thank you for providing a place of stillness from which to go forth into life again…

  3. Tara Crowley says:

    this is an exquisite post that makes my heart full to bursting. “Poignant” is a very good word. From your story of putting your sleeping room together in the morning, to your friend’s life and passing, to your description of the seasonal change in these here parts, to your delightful meeting with a toddler. The pillow is such a treasure! I was given a pillow, embroidered, that a friend of mine loved and slept with in the last months of her life. When she made the leap and left whatever THIS is, her children gave me the pillow. I keep it on my bed so I can say good-night to her and greet her spirit in the morning. What precious, poignant, embroidered fluffs of material we possess.

  4. Thanks for sharing with us. Daily miracles indeed. -fallenmonk

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