Ann Arbor– so long ago, so very long ago. We all know that feeling when some potent memory comes again out of the mist so fresh, clear, and real that it seems ‘now’ again. I find myself saying “chotto matte” (wait) in a language I’ve unknown over the years. It seems foreign again. “Wait” But, as you surely know , the ‘now’ turns into a memory again and it has to go before it becomes a thing, hard and polished.
A Nor’easter swept over the October landscape back then. The house, a rambling Japanese country design, had deep over-hanging eaves, and secured those inside waiting behind sliding wooden doors and subtle paper lighting. The storm had bent over the tall grasses, chrysanthemums, and garnet sedums. The long expanse of English lawn was covered with brilliant red, orange and yellow maple leaves.
The folds and rises gave an impression of a luxurious printed garment. The beech grove seemed enlivened by the wet rain. Tricolor, fern-leaf, copper and burgundy glistened– all that light and color in the darkening storm. The great presences of that place were the tall expansive weeping beeches. Their branches swooped up like herons and dived low to swoop up again. In the storm they danced like courtesans with long silken sleeves.
The north side of the house, where a large bedroom and its wrap-around balcony overlooked the pond, was a great stone garden. Created with massive boulders and sprawling stones, it re-created in miniature the landscape of Sung China along the Shiao and Shang Rivers, painted in ink on a long breathtaking hand scroll by Hsia Kuei nearly eight hundred years ago. Its dwarf conifers and bonsai were forests and craggy mountain tops. In the muggy summer twilights, fireflies created the vision of tiny villages here and there. It was a Muromachi conceit: a beautiful mitate for its inhabitants and just a splendid garden to others.
Surrounding the entire five acres of that magic land, was a fragrant white pine forest. The lower branches, over the decades, had been clipped away- so that in rain and snow, it was possible to walk on the silent soft pine needle carpet of its floor around the entire perimeter as if it were a long interior corridor. In the spring, morels grew in abundance to be harvested. They were contained in homemade, washi, origami boxes and given to ‘foody’ friends like May Day love tokens. It was a twentieth century Tale of Genji.
That October day when the storm hit, the house had the ear-ringing silence and muffled voices of waiting, which can only happen a few times in a life. An old friend had come from D.C., canceled a speaking engagement and found sitters for her children. A Tibetan Lama friend sat quietly unobtrusively in a corner softly singing the Prajna Paramita Suttra and an exhausted nurse, sleeping on a divan, was wakened.
“You had better come in. It’s down to 40.” ‘It’ rolled from toes to head, as the breathing softened and quit. I held the warmth against me, until it too had quit. Then, gently lowered my first love back down into his down-quilted cloud.
By prior agreement there was no wailing, weeping or distress in the room. But I walked out, down the long length of those large empty rooms with their sparse, elegant art and headed for the library. There in the tokunoma was a magnificent scroll with calligraphy that read “Mei Rikki, Rikki” (Great Explosion of Light). It made me angry. There was no enlightenment here. Not for me certainly– only a fury of grief and sorrow.
Pushing open the heavy glass library doors as the sun burst through, an extraordinary double rainbow filled the southeast heavens. I roared and roared and roared. The ripping through heart and mind left soft deep scars that never healed. That was many decades ago. My spirit drifted away then, like “the tattered edge of a passing cloud.” In the days since, the essence of that experience hasn’t stilled- only changed. Grieving , even while moving forward, is as constant as selfishness, loss, or poetry that never fails to sustain.
Sunny days and many long years have since intervened. Love has come again, and , like grief, it is so different than the first time: seasoned and every bit as powerful, but far more enduring. Its’ greatest gift is sustaining depth. When the time comes, I pray that my warmth will be cradled as I look down on the deep green carpet wet with colors and rain. “Shigatta Ga Nai” (It can’t be helped.) Ann Arbor 1987