The Long Pause
I took a break from my blog to write the old fashioned way – in notebooks. Last year I just decided to tell myself random true stories of people and occasions that have meant a lot to me during the course of my life.
Eventually I came up with the idea of writing cards to people who’ve influenced me, prioritizing those who I am highly unlikely to ever see again.
This sounds more morose a reflection than it actually is. The lines of work with which I’ve been involved most of my lifetime means I’ve connected with people around the country. As I write this I am in Chicago, visiting neighborhoods that have vastly changed since the time they were virtually all in my territory as a (legal) drug rep ages ago.
I was born in Chicago, but never truly came to know the city until I mercifully got that job. No way could have I become fully who I was without it. I’d been able to choose my own territory boundaries for safety’s sake, as there were areas reps feared to tread. I naively chose all the Chicago zip codes without restriction. Colleagues fretted for me, but I was never attacked, raped, or hurt in any way throughout those years. I met people, well-known and not, I would have never met otherwise.
One could cross a street in vast Chicagoland and feel as if venturing into a whole other country. I learned where the best Polish bakeries were, the coolest European shops, and where authentic tacos and vintage cookie jars could be found (not at the same place mind you). As time and a few promotions went by, I ate at the finest restaurants of Chicago and surrounding areas. I admit this at risk of some thinking I’m a snob – not really. I was always in awe of the opportunities my work brought, and enjoyed feeling successful. I worked hard and was grateful. I’d sometimes have the sense I didn’t belong, and that’s a good thing—one of life’s big yin-yang ironies is we deserve it and we don’t. Lots is luck, but persistence is a force.
Some of the great people I came to know were humble and hardworking doctors practicing in old neighborhoods. There was Dr. Jefferson who maintained an office in a part of the city other reps wouldn’t go to. One of his daughters danced for the Alvin Ailey troupe, another was / still is an award winning Journalist. He felt a deep commitment to the place he came from, where he’d raised his kids. He was proud of his family and loved his community.
There was the son of a medicine man on a Hopi reservation in Arizona I befriended, and a physician whose sister is the famed writer Sandra Cisneros.
I was friendly with a Chinese pediatrician who was both an acupuncturist and allopathic (Western) practitioner long before it was popular to be “alternative,” especially in the Midwest.
When I asked him which he preferred, Eastern or Western ways of treating illness, he replied with a smile: “Remember, it is always good to know more than one approach to the solving of human problems.”
Then there was my friend Dr. Shastri, a spiritual and unforgettable character. On the topic of death and the timeless nature of consciousness, he proposed that no matter what the circumstances of bodily demise were, “the day comes when, no matter who we are, we slide like a drop of water into the ocean…indistinguishable through anything ego understands, but as essential to life as anything we can imagine.”
On the topic of enlightenment he said: “That’s the great question isn’t it? Well, one of my own teachers said to me that when the day comes that you can contemplate all you have been through and learned…and have the sense that you have mysteriously come full circle, returning to your own source of being, irrespective of your attachments to whatever you imagine that you or life was supposed to be: That’s enlightenment," he said.
When I asked him to say more about the enlightened one’s “full circle journey” he replied that it’s realizing that your nature has been and is perfectly suited to the life you have actually lived, “apart from the fantasies you hold and the illusions to which most of us cling.”
The insight, the wisdom you acquire is about the way this world is, and how to be in that world “holding to your own center, knowing you are sufficient after all.” What a guy Dr. Shastri was – better than a coffee break!
I asked him how a person could find their center during times when circumstances make things so difficult. He referred to a time when, as a doctor, he could do no more, even with the best consults he could find.
“It’s not about circumstance,” he said. " Those are passing aspects of life, not life itself. You transcend that, and there it is.” Enlightenment.
See the work, do your best work, stay out of misery. The latter, he felt, was a choice.
It actually seems possible now, twenty some odd years later.