The window’s tree is a friend. Its limbs pulse with rain as Sabbath meditation sifts preoccupation.
The living room corner, home within home, contents me. The sill's cup of French Roast stimulates my molding words as poem and essay phrases on what seem urgent social concerns. The cup side's Greek Tetradrachma coin image of olive branch with owl stands for Athens’ ancient democracy. I write to bend history's arc toward justice, but I, at age seventy, am running out of time.
Urgency attends weighing human rights and wrongs. I’ve argued that how we are, not what we have, defines us. Democratic actions for the common good are like true friends, precious but rare in a clichéd, sound-bite environment. Ideals instilled in childhood prompted my first civil rights speech, as a valedictorian in elementary school. Civil Rights and Vietnam framed my adolescence, but the world now seems worse off.
Gunmen killed the Kennedys, Johnson squandered the grace of his Great Society agenda and renounced the report of his National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders with its prescient warning of our becoming race-based, separate and unequal societies. Reagan’s manicured grandpa image sold notions that government itself was the problem as robber barons took control.
Like those whom I have found heroic – Dr. King and JFK, Cesar Chavez and the Berrigans, Dorothy Day and Daniel Ellsberg – I will leave unfinished work at my end. Thus I find myself in transition from striving to fix the political toward exploring the spiritual.
“In the center of one’s nothingness one meets the infinitely real,” wrote Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk whose contemplative prayer through hermit life on monastery grounds sought transcendent truths. Merton poems, books and essays fill a college archive, stores and shelves. The Merton Society interprets his work. Yet his untimely death leaves us looking. Merton, by hosting retreats for Dr. King, the Berrigans and Joan Baez, engaged with the world as it was with its vexing greed and power ethos.
“Dad, you’ve done your part in politics, schools and soup kitchen. You’re generous with the homeless and work with the Katal Center’s Close Rikers Campaign. What more can you do? It’s time to enjoy your retirement,” my adult son has advised. “That work fulfills me,” I've answered.
But something beckons. A year with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s guided weekday Zoom meditations drew me into its course on Contemplative Jewish Prayer, so I sit seeking settled mind and posture’s peace not to write for publication but to explore sensation. Might being still bridge psychic defenses to make space for the senses? An ancient rabbi's “quieting method” invites us to embrace the Divine.
Norms intervene. Feet pound pavement in the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. I ran it thrice when young but now bask in my powder-blue armchair awaiting the volume’s decline. Heart opens. Passing thoughts contrast nature’s resilience, runners’ vitality and the hubris of car drivers denied the highway inflicting their useless horn-honking cacophony on us all. Measured breaths bring calm.
I curl legs in my perch to stare through the pane while releasing my gaze from control during Prayer yet I am restless, resistant to time-segment guidelines. A jet’s screech carves my solace as precisely as Flatbush Avenue’s fishmonger sliced this morning’s purchased salmon. A slammed car door, the itch on my scalp’s right side and the laptop screen’s Dropbox pop-up disrupt me.
The resilience of tree leaves’ gentle rise and fall rhythms are restorative. That familiar anchor aids me. A saving grace lies in how I’ve practiced patience, two years on from reading how Robert Lax, a Thomas Merton friend, stood peaceably in public whenever mandatory waiting met him. “Put yourself in a place where grace can flow into you," Lax wrote. He modeled this behavior, transforming conduct norms. My encounters with delayed or noisy subway trains as well as market lines, like his, have taught that irritants pass.
Spirit soothes, body settles as if embraced in an unfolding lily pad whose tender elevating touch bridges rooftops to where I might softly touch sky. The Divine Oneness of things and people pervades my heart. To implore God to “show me the way” seems superfluous. “The way,” I sense, awaits.