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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2011 68 “long story. Never mind.” “You want paper or plastic?” My voice slipped a scale. “Paper... please.” That would prove to be a mistake. I hurried out of QFC, pushing my little gray cart with four bags of grocer- ies as quickly as I could, and stopped at rite-aid across the street to buy earplugs for my wife and myself. It was now 9:30 p.m. driving home, I was praying the neighbor’s party was over, but to my surprise, yet somehow not to my sur- prise, I felt—even though my ears were plugged—the density in the air before I heard the humping arcs still flooding the neighborhood like a broken water main. even worse, when I downshifted into my driveway, I had to hit the brakes because another car was parked in my space. My neighbor’s guests had filled the street with their vehicles. The one in my driveway, a Chevrolet blazer, had a skull-and-bones decal in the back window, and under that a bumper sticker that said, “You Can Kiss The Crack below My back.” My first im- pulse was to let the air out of its tires, but then realized that would only keep it in my driveway longer. so I parked two blocks away. I looped Nova’s nylon leash around my left wrist, loaded up my arms as high as my chin with four heavy bags of food, and started tramping slowly uphill back to my house. That’s when fat raindrops began to fall. by the time I was thirty feet from my front door, the paper bags were soak- ing wet and falling apart. Ten feet from the door, Nova realized we were almost home. he sprang for the steps—Wes- ties hate to get wet—and that snapped my left arm straight out, which sent cans of sliced pineapples, soup, and toma- toes, bottles of maple syrup and milk, and bags of raisins, potatoes, and rice cascading back down the declivity, lit- tering the street like confetti or a land- fill. For the longest time, I stood there, head tipped and sopping wet, watching my neighbor’s guests flee inside to escape the rain, lost in the whorl of violent, in- visible vibrations, and I was disabused forever of the vanity that three decades of practicing meditation had made me too civilized, too cultivated, too mellow to be vulnerable to or victimized by fu- gitive thoughts—anger, desire, self-pity, pettiness—triggered in me from things outside. These would always arise, I saw, even without noise pollution. Then, all at once, the loud music stopped. dragging my dog behind me, I slogged across the street, so tired I couldn’t see straight. I climbed my new neighbor’s stairs, and banged my fist on the front door. after a moment it opened, and standing there with a can of budweiser in his right hand was possibly the most physi- cally fit young man I’d ever seen. I placed his age at thirty. Maybe thirty-five. In other words, he was young enough to be my son. his short hair was a military buzz cut, his T-shirt olive-colored, his ears large enough for him to wiggle if he wanted to, like Presi- dent obama’s, and on his arm I saw a tat- too for the Fourth brigade of the second Infantry division he’d served with at Fort lewis-McChord. he looked me up and down as I stood dripping on his doorstep, and politely said: “Yes, sir? Can I help you?” “We need to talk,” I said. he squinted his eyes as if trying to read my lips. Then he put one hand behind his ear like an old, old man who’d lost his hear- ing aid, or someone who’d been a black- smith all his life. “What did you say, sir?” I was less than a foot away from him. I felt like I was coming to from a dream. a profound sadness swept over me, dous- ing my anger, for I understood the un- necessary tragedy of tinnitus in someone so young. his was maybe the result of a recent tour in Iraq or afghanistan, per- haps from an Ied. I felt humbled. I did not judge him or myself now, because he had taught me how to listen better. I ges- tured with one finger held up for him to wait a moment, and went back into the downpour. on the street, I found what I was looking for, grateful that its plastic lid had kept it from being ruined by the rain. I climbed the steps again. “Thank you,” I said, giving him the chocolate cake. “and welcome to Wedg- wood.” ♦