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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
82 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2014 register nearly endless variations on the themes of suffering and discontent, but Dr. Haley’s face stayed the same from instant to instant. It was absolutely silent, and so was I. As though to confirm everything I was feeling, my teacher’s attendant turned to me and said, “He looks so peaceful.” I said, “He’s done running,” and she seemed to know what I meant. The mountain was dark and silent when I returned to the monastery after my visit with the dying man. A veil of mist inked the footpaths black. I sat down on the only rock where I get wire- less Internet access, popped a lozenge, took out my iPhone, and fed my addic- tion to nicotine and attention. Looking into that screen, waiting for the pages to load, waiting for something, was like looking into the dying man’s eyes—there was nothing to grab on to. It was bright and bottomless. I looked up into the vast night sky, so silent and sure of itself. Nothing new about it in all the years I’ve known it, yet it only gets more interesting. Later, tossing and turning in bed, I was still compulsively searching, this time inside my own skull, searching for something that wasn’t fleeting, that wouldn’t per- ish, that I could hold on to forever, even in deep sleep. But you cannot Google your own soul. Hmm, I thought, that’s good. I should tweet that. Right now, before I forget! Why? Was it because I had something genuine to share or simply because I wanted to be heard? Did I tweet, and write, as an offering to others or to shore up my feelings of permanence and relevance against a cosmos that is like a great thief who takes everything in the end, all our words and deeds? The loss of my laptop was just the beginning, and minor in comparison to what the dying man and his wife were losing, and which we will all lose sooner or later. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I tried to picture the face of the guy who filched my MacBook Air, and my stom- ach turned and my mind puked a little. He had all my words. What was he doing with them? Perhaps the real truth was that I did not fear death so much as I feared leaving this planet without leaving my mark on it in some way, dying without accomplishing anything, as though I’d never existed at all. And now this fiend was out there somewhere erasing my legacy! But if something can be taken from you, was it ever truly yours to begin with? It occurred to me that the harder we search for something permanent in this world, the more ephemeral and dis- posable are the things we find, and the more we find ourselves simply searching for the sake of searching, moving for the sake of moving. We are a culture running away from death. Maybe, in the end, death is the only thing that cannot be taken from us; maybe it’s the only thing we can truly call our own. When I held that dying man’s hand, closed my eyes, and disap- peared into the diminishing warmth of his palm, I felt for a brief instant like we were owning our imminent deaths together, and that he was blessing me as much as I was blessing him. It was noth- ing like my earlier fantasy, where I held his hand and his eyes popped open, full of life. Instead, we held hands and died a little together, and so came to resem- ble Dr. Haley, who was done searching. Maybe that’s why his face was so peace- ful. Like the night sky, it was fathomless, his peace every bit as deep as the suffer- ing in the dying man’s eyes. How deep is your love, how deep is your love—that song was still trapped in my head, only now my inner Barry Gibb seemed to be asking for an answer. Not so deep, I told him. I crave immortality, I’m attached to things and ideas like my stolen laptop and those lost words, and I really need a smoke. But I’ll keep fak- ing it until I’m not faking it anymore, I thought, drifting into a bottomless sleep from which I would awaken tomorrow, but the dying man would not. I’ll keep trying. ➤ continued from page 61