A Brother to Dragons
The moon is not quite full, but it might as well be. I almost need sunglasses out here on the deck tonight. It's bright enough that at least I stand a chance of noticing if a cockroach flies into my soda can. Jupiter presides stately over Luna's shoulder, and the air is, finally, after one of the worst Texas summers on record, pleasantly cool. Just moments ago I heard a gang of coyotes celebrating a kill, their ululation shimmering outward from the woods down at the end of our cul-de-sac. The street punk sound is a welcome relief, since I haven't heard from them in a long time. Nearby Walnut Creek is dry for the first time in memory, and drought hangs like the skeletons of leaves on a gallows tree. The sound of coyotes is an affirmation that life is somehow enduring, even in the face of the developer's bulldozer and nature's chainsaw (both of which have taken many of our trees).
The Coyote Boys have probably had a rougher summer than even me, but tonight they're having one on. They're partying past curfew, and we, their neighbors, now know that they're still alive, but also that there's something else still out there left for them to kill. As summer slouches exhausted toward autumn's harvesting scythe, the sound of something living, the joyous cry of something dying -- this is an ancient music that cracks the urban asphalt. It is a welcome assault on my inner Jericho. The sound is the rhythm of tooth and hunger and thirst and panic, and the fatal assent to the final act of the greatest generosity. For even as the last breath is stolen and the percussive rabbit's heart (or so I imagine it) is swallowed, life is feeding life.
I feel what they feel. No, of course that's not knowable, but for all my air-conditioned comfort, I am still both predator and prey, and I share their concerns. My hunter-gatherer brain wonders if I'll ever make ends meet. Like a squirrel, I wonder if I can bury enough acorns in the dirt and find them where I left them, or if it would be better still if a few of them will be lost to me but grow into new oaks to replace the ones we've lost... which in turn will make more acorns.
I worry about my students. I wonder where they've all gone and why. Deep down I know. They've gone off hunting other things, or they've all been consumed by other things. I have spent decades hunting and feasting and doing violence to paradigms and ideologies that fell behind the herd and deserved to have their bones picked over by me and my kind. And now, my basic need is to be hunted and to have the satisfaction of knowing that hunger still motivates the seeker, that air and water and flesh and wisdom are all of the same substance, and signify the same urge.
I might worry about those students past who have taken my blood like the mosquito that now sits on my skin. But who can blame either? I still have blood, and there's plenty more where that came from. I would feed them all if only I could.
I might worry also about those other students who I've seen giving their own blood to make this work, to make things better, to serve, to wait the table of our barbaric banquet. But I know they've already got the best from the kitchen long before the guests arrived, and once the food leaves their hands, it's already begun to cool.
I do worry about my children, now grown. I worry about my lover also. My parents too, and those rare and mythical creatures I call friends. I worry, not because they are not capable, for in fact they are all of them spectacular human beings. Rather, my worry for them is really a reflection or a projection of my worry about my own adequacy as a provider. I know I have chosen a hunting ground, if not of higher terrain, then at least rarer, and with game not suitable for all appetites. Where others arrive back at the village with the boar slung over their shoulder, I bring honeydew and milk of paradise. Where others bring timber and stone with which to build a home, I bring starlight and caves of ice. And yet I too so love the smell of bacon and the warmth of the hearth and the grain of wood... have I nothing with which to trade for these?
I worry about the holes in my pockets where coins slip through (small denominations, all), and I worry about the draft in my dojo's walls where my students leak out like vapor. I worry, but not enough, really. However worked up I get about it some times, it's mainly a show, an attempt to speak the language of commerce and convention. Privately, I hardly care. There, that's a confession. (And while we're at it, my present dojo actually has no walls. For the time being, we train on this very deck where I now sit and write and nourish myself on Dr. Pepper and moonbeams.)
I sometimes think the coyote and the rabbit know things that you and I forget. "Of course this land is dangerous... all of the animals are capably murderous. One must eat the other who runs free before him."
All my life I have hunted aikido, even before I knew its name or took its lessons. Now I know that it's the thing eating me, a great bird tearing at my liver day after day. So far my interior grows back, always just enough to keep the mythic cycle alive (though it won't always be so). I also feel in the pain of its beak the realization that I have no Promethean Fire to ignite Alexandrian Lighthouses, or to illuminate even Plato's Cave.
Instead, all I have to offer is the simple reminder of the coyote and the hare. The cynics have it all wrong... the law of the jungle is not to eat or be eaten: The Law is to eat AND be eaten. We take in this garden universe through every voracious maw of our being. But time and the summer heat and your great great grandchildren will eat the bread of your body and drink the wine of your blood, and do so rarely in remembrance of thee.
We are all consumed, but the lucky ones, or the smart ones, the aware and the wise, find an infinite space of joy in their consuming passions, around which all suffering is but a veil hiding the immodesty of their ecstasy.
Open, you container of life. Open so that life spills out of you, for you can't hold it within you as if it were yours to keep. Let all the world drink from you until your vessel breaks, and then let the pieces grind grain.
The time of the Titans is passed, yet Prometheus' brother goes free. His bride's gift to the world is mingled with the stolen Fire, and what do you really want from someone like me? A better kotegaeshi? Make me a better offer, then, because I've sold it for far too cheap. Make me a better offer, because you know as well as I do, that I'll give it away for free as long as I breathe.
Tonight, I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. I alone am nourished by Lao Tsu's mother. I teach aikido for a living, realizing full the idiocy of doing anything for a living, but living.
No more coyotes, no more rabbits. Just the sound of my neighbor's condenser unit whispering its insistent lullaby. But I'm still not that sleepy.
May I be the doctor and(With apologies to S.T. Coleridge, Perry Farrell, Shantideva, and the rest.)
September 2 - 3, 2009
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
Re: A Brother to Dragons
Oh my, Ross,
Thank you. What a lovely, lovely piece. I've enjoyed reading many of your columns, but this one is even more beautiful than the approaching thunderstorm one. Why are you apologizing?
Re: A Brother to Dragons
Ah, Susan... we really must get on the mat together one of these days. It would be good to meet there at last.
Thanks so much for the affirmation. It does mean a lot, you know.
As for the apology, well... it is but a murmur of grace muttered by the cannibal after his many-coursed meal.
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