Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lenten Diary 3

The Sobriety of Lenten Reflection

     As we entered this second week of Lent, I came close to being one sorry fool of Fate.
     My laptop died. At least it showed every sign of it—a dark screen at start-up, and then nothing. It came at a bad time. I had a press release I wanted to send out before evening.
     Well, forget the press release. Forget my laptop. It was acting just like my last laptop when it died after I clicked on a website I shouldn’t have.
     I’d been messaged by friends that morning that my Twitter account had been hacked, I needed to change my password. I followed the advice but noticed that my internet was running slow.
     I didn’t connect those two facts until later, when my screen stayed dark at start-up. Did getting hacked on Twitter have something to do with crashing my laptop? But it didn’t matter anyway. My computer was dead. The internet was slow. Strange coincidence but I doubted they were connected.
     I gave up my business plan and went out for the evening to an open mic.
     When I got back around midnight I tried to access my email account with my wife’s iPad. But the internet was still painfully slow. So I blamed it on Verizon and shut down the iPad and the wireless router. Maybe the internet would be back up in the morning. I’d have to call a geek about my laptop. Until then, try to forget about it.
     But I couldn’t forget about it. I decided to give my computer one last chance to start. With the router off, I hit the power button. The dark screen came up. I waited. Nothing. I showed my wife. We commiserated. My attention went elsewhere. When I turned back, the familiar Windows wallpaper shone brightly from the screen with my short-cut icons neatly stacked around its edges. Was this for real? How did it happen?
     I turned on the router and queued my press release to send. Whish! Out it went. The internet was back! All is well! No explanations given, no technical fixes applied. Now it works, now it doesn’t, then it does.
     But one day it won’t. And nothing will fix it. That’s the hazard of life. Most of the time we may falter and fail but we don’t die. You can get to thinking there is no death, at least not for this or that person, place, or thing, because of all the times they didn’t die.
     Then, one day, it happens. They really die. It only takes once, and that once is appointed on every calendar. One day my laptop, like all my former computers, will die. One day, inconceivable as it may seem to me, I, too, will die. Some day. But not yet. Not today.
     That’s Lenten sobriety for you, and it leads to all sorts of premises about how we don’t really die, we just...pass on, cross over, change form, resurrect. After-death mythology is not only various but highly enticing, especially at this time of year. Lent, after all, begins with the reminder: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the primal curse of God on man and woman. We are all mortal! Repent, repent!
     But there is a spring which follows winter, and from that lovely inevitability we speculate—or insist—that there must be life after death. I, for instance, was raised to believe in reincarnation. My family spent many hours around the kitchen table speculating on our past-life relationships. My parents were brother and sister in a former life. My father and I were once brothers. In this life my mother is my father’s teacher. Or so a psychic told her. I always  wondered if my father agreed.
     I don’t disbelieve any of that, but I don’t believe it as I once did, without much question. Both my parents have “passed on.” And since the dates of their passing, most recently my father in 2000, I find my feeling of closeness to their departed souls fading. My father, my mother—they’re becoming memories more than living presences in my mind. I don’t know if they still exist somewhere as my parents. I rather doubt it. I’m not really sure they still exist, except as fading memories.
     So it is with all attachments. Five years ago my bicycle was stolen. I bought it in 1988. I identified with it. It was an extension of myself, part of who I was. I greatly mourned its loss. But I need a bike, so I bought a new one, a Jamis, same make as my old one but not the same bike. It took me about three years to accept the new bike as my bike rather than a substitute for my bike. I had many good years with that bike. You could say we were a couple.
     Now I don’t think about my old bike that much. It has become a memory. Now my new bike is my bike. It could outlast me, in which case it will most likely become someone else’s bike. Just as my old bike did. And I will not have a bike. I can’t quite imagine myself not having a bike. I can’t quite imagine myself dead.
     I see that dissolving attachments and acceptance of mortality is part of the process of Lenten reflection, at least in these early stages. To a Buddhist it’s called Impermanence. Frankly, it haunts me. I don’t want to believe it. I want my parents to still be my parents when I die.


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