By Katharine Kaufman ~~~
Yesterday morning while picking at something on my shirt, fingers around my empty teacup loosened. Cup crashed down, shattered all over the kitchen floor. It happened, I said out loud, and then a pause while my brain got it and then the tears. This cup held my morning jasmine green since 1999 when I bought it at Shambhala Mountain Center after the first retreat I taught. I returned to the pleasure of this cup like an old friend. Deep pine green with light green inside and trim, a round shape that fit in my hands, perfect weight, Japanese Kanji on the bottom. At least once a week I remember, this cup is already broken, not as a premonition, but as way to express emptiness. I am here, yes, and simultaneously already gone. Empty, invisible. Still, when children visited, or anyone visited, I hid the teacup in the top shelves of the cabinet.
The night before the retreat I went out with this guy. I didn’t know it was a date until I saw his cowboy boots, These don’t come out very often he said. Oh, I guess I must have known because I asked my friend, Gay on the phone, what to wear and she said, get a new shirt. That means Buffalo Exchange. I bought the red velvet and silk; see through sleeves, with ribbons. It’s still in my closet. It looks like a hippie shirt to me now, like Janis Joplin.
At the North Boulder Laundromat when asking my friend Billy his opinions about going on dates, he sarcastically said, Aren’t you afraid that Steve will have an early death if you go out with him?
I secretly also thought that. This was the first anyone said it.
I am a curse.
Out of three, two died. That’s what Billy meant. The idea, my curse, was so stupid I never said it. Or it was so known that I never said it. I was so afraid of it being true I never said it.
Death separates us. Breaks us. Those close to me who die sift through me, seep inside my body. After Glenn died in his small plane I crashed my own car and wandered, a traveler in my own town, singing folk songs. With my dad’s, I walked past the Longmont Sailing Club and wanted to join, urgently. I ended up teaching yoga in the room that Chris taught in at the North Boulder rec center. Maybe it was even his class. Chris took his own life. While I was waiting for the students to arrive a deer peeked his head inside the room. Sika, I said, which is a gentle Japanese deer who apparently bows. Hello Chris. When my dog died I felt him in all animals. When my teacher died I felt him in everything, even an aspen leaf. When I am with members of Kobun Chino’s immediate Sangha I feel him somehow through us. Now this cup. . .
After friend, parent, teacher, is gone to the other side we live and live. Pulse and breathe and go and press forward with our feet, hands, torso and soft chins. We bump into things, people, each other. We are dislocated, temporarily dislodged; between worlds we somehow find our way. For so long, forever maybe, our heart pokes when we forget and are hit with the reality of it. You know what it’s like, Sunday; I want to call my father. Then, Oh yes, dad is gone. I am lost for a moment as my mind remembers. It’s no longer clear as a blast, shock, tremble or relief but a dull empty cell. I think that’s where the word, “ache” must come from. An aching wish accompanies the grab as I mold back together the dismembered logic, the vague steps of re-member.
Steve opened the passenger door to his bright pink truck. I asked, wasn’t he afraid to go out with me because of the terrible deaths? Maybe I was a curse on boyfriends. I’ll take my chances, he said. After dinner, Steve and I sat by the stream near my house, and I wondered if I would marry him.
There is no curse. Steve and my cat and all my neighbors, and everyone I love will die. This cup is already broken. I am already dead. What if this moment held all time and space? What if, like it says in The Heart Sutra, there is no birth and no death? My head of habits thinks things appear and are gone. Suzuki Roshi says, Not one, not two. I could live so freely if I was already dead.
Apparently there is an expression in Japan, putting a head on your head. I look into the world of stuff and opinions to find ways to justify my existence. I build a queenly throne with ideas and things so I can say, that’s me. All day long like a Skinner mouse in my cage: like, not-like, like, not-like, like, not-like, like, not-like, like, not….
When I was a child I had a zillion stuffed animals. I said goodnight to every animal. My father and I looked behind curtains, under pillows, bed for spiders, mosquitos. He carefully trapped them in a cup and paper; shook them outside. Then the ritual of goodnights was over. I hated to leave the world of light and especially my father as he shut the door. The dark. I felt my fingers and toes and head and torso grow strangely large, then small. The New England wind made creepy noises. Things blew and knocked around outside my window. I concentrated on numbers, one, two, three. . . to try to convince myself of solid body and mind.
Today I was walking around Golden Ponds with my neighbor Sally, a rat terrier mix. I actually read the warning! what to do if you see a mountain lion poster. After appreciating the lion from far and after becoming large, and not looking in the eyes, and backing up slowly— After all the best practices fail, the recommendation is to throw your belongings at the lion. I like the idea. The sign writers know that we don’t want to part with our stuff. They know that what they are suggesting is really our last chance against the lion. The enormity of throwing our actual belongings is implied. We may not think of it. We may hold on. They are basically saying, At this point, dear reader, you are in a shit-load of trouble.
I imagine at that moment of actually being chased or mauled, or toward the end of a long sickness, or old old age, I would realize that my belongings are not who I am. I would eagerly toss the few things I had left in my backpack, to the lion. I would let go.
~ o ~
About the Author
Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry. // Katharine Kaufman