I'm glad to be back on campus. I miss my family, but I suppose I'd be living away from them at this point now, no matter what I was doing, and I'm glad to be here at school. For one thing, meditation is easier. When I was away for the holiday, I had to find time to do zazen once a day on my own. It was good to be able to walk into the Meditation Hall Saturday morning and sit with other people again.
But as good as it is to have organized meditation periods and scheduled meals with other people, I kind of like not having those things, too. Sunday is still a free day, except I sometimes still have cleaning chores to do. So, yesterday, with nothing particular to do and no particular time to do it, I slept late and wandered downstairs for pumpkin bread muffins around ten o'clock.
And I bumped into a stranger.
She was coming out of the Bird Room (where the muffins were) as I was going in, an older woman, mostly Asian-looking, with black hair shot with silver. She smiled when she saw me, this really amazing, welcoming smile. She was wearing a bathrobe over flannel pajamas. I'd never seen her before in my life.
"Uh, can I help you?" I asked, stammering a bit. See, the things is, strangers don't usually come to campus. Prospective students come to the Office, but not any farther than that, and if somebody has a visitor coming they usually say something about it ahead of time. Strangers don't just go wandering around unannounced. And nobody comes to the Great Hall in pajamas--it's community space. Of course, by "may I help you" I meant some version of "who are you and what are you doing here?" though I kept my voice friendly, and of course I'd help her if she needed it. But she ignored any such subtext.
"Oh, I'm fine, thank you. Are you a student here?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied, guardedly.
"Oh, good. It's a wonderful place. I don't come here as often as I'd like." There was no help for it. I was going to have to just ask.
"I'm sorry, but--who are you?"
"Of course! I'm Susan Monroe," she held out her hand to shake. "Greg's sister."
"Oh! Hi! I didn't know Greg had a sister."
"Of course he has a sister! Me! He just doesn't like to talk about himself, and I suppose family counts as part of himself."
"I didn't think Greg liked to talk about much of anything," I told her. I liked her a lot better now that I wasn't worrying about how she got in my house. She laughed.
"That's just to make him seem smarter. You know, everybody says something wise now and then, but we all talk so much it's camouflaged. Greg only talks when he has something wise to say, so everybody thinks he's enlightened."
"Isn't he though?"
"Enlightened? Oh, I don't know, maybe. Don't you think everyone might be enlightened already, it's just that some of us don't know it?"
I couldn't help smiling back. I still hadn't gotten my muffin, though. I was just awkwardly standing there, letting this woman commandeer my day.
"Listen, I was just going outside. Why don't you come out with me and tell me all about the school? I'm sure you have a unique perspective on it. Everybody does. Isn't that fascinating?"
"Can I go get my muffin first?" I asked her. She laughed again.
"Sweetie, you can do anything you like."
So I got my muffin and some coffee and we went and sat outside on the porch together. The day was cold and bright and lovely, and I told her all about how that view had looked in summer, how the animals had moved across the fields grazing inside their portable electric fences, how birds sometimes came to bathe in the fountain, how Charlie and his team had spent days and days and weeks weeding and trimming and digging in order to make the gardens look like nobody took care of them at all. After about an hour, I heard the door open again and turned. It was Greg.
"Are you holding students hostage again?" he asked his sister. "Daniel, you do know you can leave if you want to?"
"Oh, of course he knows it!" Susan replied. "We're just having a chat, aren't we?" Although, truth to tell, Greg was right. I'd been having a good time, but I felt glad to be freed of Susan's friendly little spell. I smiled at him, nervously. "I believe you have some reading to do? Susan will be here until mid-day tomorrow, if you want to catch up with her again." I accepted the dismissal and hurried off to get my book. Before I left, I looked back at them, brother and sister, now sitting on the white wicker couch together. They did look a lot alike. Greg looks more Anglo than Susan does, and of course he's taller,but they have the same lean, spare grace and pleasant, oval features.
Greg was right. I had to get back to my reading. I'm a bit behind, from the holiday. I'm working on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek now, and really getting a kick out of it. I think I'm going to ask for my own copy, so I can read it again later. I'm liking this project, liking all these books I'm reading. The one thing I didn't understand was why I'm supposed to write about these books. I mean, here I am writing these summaries like Charlie asks, and I don't even know if he reads them. I don't hear from him. So, the other week I asked--I wrote a note on the bottom of my summary, just asking if he reads these things. When I picked up Pilgrim I got an answer, tucked into the book like a book mark.
Yes, I do read these. I enjoy reading them. But you're not writing them for me,
you're writing them for you. You'll be more aware of your thinking and your learning
if you write about it. You may also find it useful to have a written record of your
responses to each of these books so you can consult your record later. I will
return your reviews to you at the beginning of classes, or you may wish to make your
own copies as you go. Happy Thanksgiving.
Well, alright then.