A MINOR NOTE ON THE FOLLOWING: Out of respect for those of you who ARE Native American, I should say that, while we may have some Native American ancestors, few would call our fairly WASP family 'Native American'. Paul is victim here of a family myth, wishfully nourished by... Dear Old Mom.
by Paul Reitman
Subj: Re: dc pool party Date: 9/5/1999 6:05:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time From: PreitmanDear Pool-playing friends,
After all the poetic intent on attending tonight's party, I could not, and wanted to explain.
I had a death in the family and just found out this evening. While Pat Harrison was/is not related to me by blood, she was/is one of two surrogate mothers that I had during my high school years. As I was a constant runaway and, in general, a pain in the ass, Mom Pat was one of the few adults in my life that saw through the pain of being a teenager and always greeted me (or anyone else under 20) with "Are you hungry?" And I often was. Mom Pat fed our tummies and our soul. Mom Pat's husband fed our intellect, him a Jazz musician and cartoonist and aquarium rock dealer. Mom Pat had twins, my age -- Ann and Brice, and that's how I got to know this Native American family who lived in a very large ramshackle country house in the middle of nowhere outside Millbrook NY. Annie Poo and Bricey were my twin best friends, and very beautiful free-spirited children with long jet-black hair and eyes that saw things much differently than most people. I hadn't seen Ann or Brice since 1974, up until last Sunday. That's when this story begins.
Last Sunday I was flying high on my way back to DC from a dharmic week with Thich Nhat Hanh in Vermont, and I remembered what Thay had said about our ancestral roots: go back -- they are a part of you, to understand yourself, understand your village.
So I soon found myself off route 44, upstate NY, driving 5 miles an hour down Tinkertown Road looking for landmarks that I could remember as I had hitchhiked down that path one thousand times, but never drove. Looking for that old falling apart country house that always had a leaky tarp for a roof. Looking for the pond out front that was full of huge old goldfish that looked as mangled and tired as the crooked frame of the garage that stood close by. By gut instinct, within 30 minutes or so, I was there, in the winding drive, looking at the house that I had taken refuge in at age 13. And nothing had changed. No, it was 3 decades older but looked exactly as I had remembered it.
The door was slightly ajar and there was a group of people in the meadow below. I approached.
"Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but does anyone know if the Harrison's still...." A woman turned around and then I saw Ann, a beautiful Indian girl of 15, with 30 years of life draped over her face like the old draperies hanging in the windows of the house that stood behind me.
"Paul!" she screamed. We hugged, we cried, we made quite a scene in front of the potential clients and a realtor, who was leading the group around the grounds in an attempt to sell this beautiful shamble of a house.
"Paul, I have to sell the house, Mom's in an intensive care nursing home and not doing too well, so Paul, please go make yourself at home...you know where everything is."
And I did. I walked onto the lovely porch with the same old chairs and sat looking at a huge maple tree collect energy from the cosmos, and then making its leaves glow green - after all, it had been a really fantastic retreat! I was dumbfounded by the realization that Ann was here by chance, and so was I. I sat and reflected on the teachings that Thay had just given us, where he stressed the practice of examining the interconnectiveness of everything as a way of understanding. I certainly was understanding and not understanding all at the same time.
I decided to explore the house...no, my old home. I walked in the front door, dark interior smelling of rotting wood, oh that lovely smell that I preferred over the cleansed container of my urban home back in the city of Poughkeepsie. The peeling wallpaper, the old photos on the wall, the threadbare rugs and objects d'art everywhere, so much dust and clutter it looked like a partially distinguishable land ward view of a distant shore in the morning fog...you just can't make out what is nearby.
But at ease, since I knew all the landmarks by heart, I made my way up to the attic -- the sanctuary and the safety zone. Passing through the library I noticed books that I had read and placed back on the selves in exactly the same places they sat now. I noticed novels, like the Grapes of Wrath, which I had said to myself that I wanted to read and still haven't. I noticed the slant of the shelves and the feeling that it all could just slide away at a moment's notice.
I was almost to the stairway that led to the attic, passing Mom Pat's bedroom, when the hair on my arm started to tingle even more than it already was, and a whisper; "Are you hungry" came back into my consciousness after all those years. I wasn't. Not one bit. I was as full as I could be.
Eager to see the attic but practicing "peace is every step", I walked slowly up the stairs, following my breath and looking deeply. I saw the thousands of footsteps left by the gang of us, seeking salvation from hormones, homework, and the forced hygienic cleansing of our spirit. At the top, it was all surprisingly clean and bright. Ann must still stay here from time to time, I thought. But she had moved very little and many signs of the old standards remained: rows and rows of albums: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone, places where there once hung blacklight posters, wax drippings from the multicolored candles on a plywood. I imagined my initials still on the attic beam.
I realized at that moment that this was where I had learned about friendship, about making love, about losing control, about regaining control, about art and music and all the things that have continued to fuel my inherently creative soul. This was it. My power point. Bur overwhelmed, I flopped on the bed and looked out the window -- out into the meadow far into the distance and cried like the boy of 15 who could not go home because his dad would beat him when he arrived. Ann had come up and she sat down rubbing my back and told me, "Yeah, I get that too." No words needed. No understanding needed. No sutras in sight. No bells, no cushions, not even the antidote to give up as an offering. But I "got it" at that moment, with Ann's hand on my back and with my eyes glazed over and my mouth slightly open and my breath out someplace dissolving. I had touched the Buddha within.
That was last Sunday. Some of you may have seen me since and some have noticed a difference from my miserable 3rd marriage-is-over -and-my-teachers-are-dead-and-my-life-is-a-middle-age-mess-boo-hoo-boo-hoo self of late - you keep telling me that I look tanned! My theory is that I was sunburned 100% by happiness in that attic.
This Tuesday evening, Ann went to visit Mom Pat and told her about my visit. She remembered me quite vividly and asked Ann, "Is he hungry?" A few days later, she passed away.
So tonight I can't play pool, but tomorrow I might.
ODE TO PAT "Are you hungry?" asked The Vast Emptiness To the Great Nothingness -- She had been worried. "I am so full," replied The Great Nothingness, "That I feel I will burst into a hundred trillion billion stars" And they did.