Today I must visit him. No more equivocations. No more looking in the mirror and seeing a young man looking back, as if time will always smooth the wrinkles and photo shop out the cost of these endless meanderings. Why do I allow myself to become so comfortable in this land, where everyone is afraid that they don’t really exist?
I don’t know if he needs my company. Perhaps he doesn’t believe that I will be there for him for his final journey. Or perhaps, if I do somehow make it to his bedside, we will have nothing to say to each other, considering that one of us will probably be past the time of clinging and evading; and the other, the one wielding this pen, is still calculating his odds on a long shot.
I don’t know whether to draw or hold, as I stare at the green baize spread out before me. The other players are looking around but not at me. The click of the chips and the thrumming of the fans mark the passage of time; an atmosphere of expectation pervades everything; and even those who have already lost everything seem to be watching for someone to drop their winnings.
Something tells me that I could spend the rest of my life here, endlessly plotting my next move on a time-line where the only next moves are to order from a catalogue with the same items it had yesterday. Sometimes I imagine I’m in a virtual reality whose projector and sound system are getting their signals from my own mind: so that when I look out at my world I’m seeing just what I expect to see. The range of options is certainly impressive. They run through aversion and longing, high to low, but–like the countless hands possible from a deck of cards—they are quite predictable.
I need to be careful, lest my planned journey into the future amounts to nothing but another pull on the lever of a nearby slot machine.
I probably should envy friends who travel to exotic lands—mountains, ocean beaches, and unspoiled villages—learning new languages and meeting new people with their native cuisines and costumes. But if these world travelers are like me, everything they encounter will be seen as an example of something they already know.
Still, it is wonderful to dance to different melodies and exchange glances with someone who seems more grounded and more present than yourself. I don’t want to dismiss the value of travelling or of dislodging ourselves from the tight bonds of habit and routine.
Indeed there were times in my life when I visited foreign lands (Europe, Peru, Bolivia, Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, LaDakh . . .). Psychologically, I travelled farthest inside Canada, the land of my birth, when I fled years of working in cubicles as a programmer and spent the next two years unloading scallop boats in Nova Scotia, picking tobacco in PEI, working on farms and ranches in Alberta, and doing manual labor in an open pit copper mine in BC.
But now I’m thinking that something else is needed: a trip not charted on any map. I’m weary of looking for something new in space when my way of looking can only show me what I have already seen, with inconsequential variations. I’m weary of trying to fill my time with meritorious activity when I feel stuck in this moment and my dreams of reaching the emperor’s feast grow dimmer. Sometimes keys that promise to open to a shining realm will show up as ghost keys, only giving access to places I’ve already visited.
Have you noticed it’s getting darker? It’s getting harder to find a door, let alone a key that might open it, especially when my eyes are closed to anything unfamiliar.
Let me try to bring into view the journey I am hoping to undertake. Laugh if you must, but I want to visit myself in the last moments of my life.
You may wonder why I feel that an entire book is needed to chaperone a single moment in time: an encounter between a dying man and his deputized representative who is still languishing out here in the fields of this human life.
Well, if I last long enough, I hope to explore some of those questions. In brief (not a ‘brief’ to present at the final Day of Judgement, but more like a snapshot from the Oort Cloud of life here on Earth. Since a human lifetime is already such a microscopic event in time, the best chance of communicating with the end of life may be to feel at home right now.
So this is my strategy for a paradoxical, perhaps impossible, undertaking. Why might this undertaking be impossible? I want to embrace the entirety of this lifetime, which must remain incomplete as long as I am still alive. It seems an essential feature of life that we yearn for wholeness while being obliged to deal with our own limited individuality. As an individual we are inevitably confined to a single location in space and time, and are bound by the narrow viewpoints that this imposes on us.
Consequently it often feels like we are out in left field trying to understand decisions being made at the home plate. This book is an attempt to inhabit the entire field. Not through by-location or clairvoyance; but by being present to the aura and pervasive medium in which all the usual polarities—now and then, here and there, you and me, self and world—stand out like surf-drenched rocks at the edge of a vast sea of being.