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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 49 I remember thinking that I needed to discuss this with John. There was nothing I did not discuss with John. Because we were both writers and both worked at home our days were filled with the sound of each others’ voices. I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right but we were each the person the other trusted. There was no separation between our investments or interests in any given situation. Many people assumed that we must be, since sometimes one and sometimes the other would get the better review, the bigger advance, in some way ‘competi- tive,’ that our private life must be a minefield of professional envies and resentments. This was so far from the case that the general insistence on it came to suggest certain lacunae in the popular understanding of marriage. That had been one more thing we discussed. What I remember about the apartment the night I came home alone from New York Hospital was its silence. Unexpectedly, it starts to rain, but few rise to leave. Instead, hundreds of people take out newspapers, unfold them, and use them as hats. Twenty minutes later the rain picks up, becomes a pounding storm, and an organizer announces the evening will be cut short. Still, Didion will sign books in a nearby tent. More than two hundred people wait, soaked and cold in driv- ing rain. When they finally reach the signing table, many are beaming. One young man hands over a Dutch copy of Magi- cal Thinking for her signature; another copy is Portuguese. One teenage girl tells the writer she is “the awesomest.” Through it all Didion sits: tiny, quiet, smiling a small smile. Even. Trillin, just back from a national tour for his latest book, says he is surprised by how many people have told him they had read The Year of Magical Thinking. “Writers often don’t quite antici- pate who’s going to read them,” he says. “She hit a chord.” It’s true. After decades of writing for political junkies and cul- ture critics, Didion is suddenly speaking to a wider audience. The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award and is be- ing made into a Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave. Sales of hardcover copies of the book are about to surpass 600,000. This suggests a need that is not being fulfilled. Our culture’s worship of youth is disconnected from common experience. We need a serious discussion about the end of life—and those left behind. Looking for help in the literature on grief, Didion found—as so many people do—that much of it is trite or other- wise unreadable. Death, Didion says, is the one thing “we refuse to think about, refuse to contemplate, and refuse to admit happens.” She can re- call proof of her own fear. When John and Quintana were sitting in the living room discussing the organ-donor forms on their driver’s licenses, Didion rushed in to change the subject. She couldn’t stand to listen to them; the thought of their dying was ing to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds com- posure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feel- ing will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our individual existence. For us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is nir- vana. That is why we say, “To attain nirvana is to pass away.” “To pass away” is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps “to pass on,” or “to go on,” or “to join” would be better. Will you try to find some better expression for death? When you find it, you will have quite a new interpretation of your life. It will be like my experience when I saw the water in the big waterfall. Imagine! It was 1,345 feet high! We say, “Everything comes out of emptiness.” One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we can see the beauty of human life. Before we realize this fact, everything that we see is just delusion. Sometimes we overestimate the beauty; sometimes we under- estimate or ignore the beauty because our small mind is not in accord with reality. To talk about it this way is quite easy, but to have the actual feeling is not so easy. But by your prac- tice of zazen you can cultivate this feeling. When you can sit with your whole body and mind, and with the oneness of your mind and body under the control of the universal mind, you can easily attain this kind of right understanding. Your everyday life will be renewed without being attached to an old erroneous interpretation of life. When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation was, and how much useless ef- fort you had been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have diffi- culty falling upright from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life. ♦ From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. © 2006. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications. “It takes a long time for the water to reach the bottom of the waterfall,” says SUZUKI ROSHI in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. “Our human life may be like this.” ➢ page 116