The Litergist

I remember Paul walking, strutting, down the streets of London, full of life. We had just watched Rattle and Hum, the Irishman Bono projected bigger than life over us, also in his youth and full of life, singing. All the riches in the night.

Paul was my roommate. He was my Dean Moriarty. The stories I could tell. And then he returned to America, as I would later, and we lost touch and never saw each other again.

But the internet has a way of keeping people connected. On Father’s Day, thirty years later, while I was with my wife, I saw a stream of posts. Paul just died.

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered.

Later I would learn from a friend of his I did not know the details – how cancer had burrowed through his spine, how he never complained, how he lived quietly with his pain and died.

And then our friend Jean died. Also cancer, but in her brain, slowly taking her self and then her life.

There are others. Suicides. Traumas. More cancer.

My time will come too, this is certain.

This weekend I was near the base of Mt. Tremper at Zen Mountain Monastery for a retreat focusing on the precepts. Rather than follow the zazen discipline of counting my breath, I let my mind run free like a monkey among the trees.

The first precept is to affirm life.

Shugen Sensei talked about how one person’s enlightenment is connected to another person’s enlightenment. If he is hurting, you are hurting. If he is growing, you are growing. So work toward not just your progress, but toward everyone’s.

And then the evening gatha. I listen to the litergist:

Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance; Time passes by swiftly and opportunity is lost; Each of us should strive to awaken; Take heed – do not squander your life.

The last time I saw Paul was in our pub in London where we tended bar. He had just returned from Scotland and was holding court, bantering, full of life, bigger than life, not an opportunity lost, as if to tell me,

“Do not squander your life Chris.”

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