The yearlings and the masters are back from the Island.
It's curious, I can actually see the difference the trip has made for the yearlings in the way they move, the way they interact with each other. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing. Part of it is a new confidence in some of them, but it's more than that. Finally, I realized that before, most of them seemed subtly oriented towards senior students and faculty. If I approached a group of yearlings, most of them would turn towards me slightly, as if they all assumed I might tell them something they needed to know. I saw them do it with all of the more experienced community members. Now, they don't do that anymore. They pay more attention to each other. It's as though before they were guests in our home, and now we're renters in theirs.
I never noticed such a transition before, though I remember that when I was a yearling, the trip gave us a greater sense of being a cohesive group, of having a "we" that we shared. Maybe I didn't see the transition from the outside before because I'd been on the trip and, to some degree, watched it happen gradually.
It seems like a lot to happen in just two weeks, but it felt a lot longer than that for me, too. I really missed June--we hadn't gone that long without seeing her in, well, I think maybe ever. Not since that day we played with the lights in grad school.
I met the vans when they returned and we made something of a scene. Bennie, this year's other one-hit-wonder, said "Hey, June, before you get a room, help us unpack." But basically I think they all think we're a cute couple--not that I need anyone else's approval, but it's nice to be accepted, to be found heart-warming and amusing.
While June unpacked, I noticed something odd. It's hard to recognize people in street clothes if you normally see them in uniform, are not where you'd expect them to be, and are mixed in with a crowd of similarly dressed people, but one of the people unpacking personal gear looked a lot older than everybody else....
"Greg! I didn't know you went on the trip!" I said.
He turned, saw me, and stepped out of the crowd to talk to me.
"I missed you, too," he said, rather sarcastically. I think I blushed. You'd think I'd notice that someone I know was just not there for two weeks, but evidently not.
"Sorry," I muttered. "Why did you go? I thought staying behind was your vacation?"
"I took my vacation," he explained. "Karen had charge of Zazen for the week, just like normal. Charlie convinced me to travel this year, before I get too old to enjoy it. We spent most of our time hiking together. The man is a goat--he's not that much younger than I am, but I do believe he had to slow down for me. I'm glad he did so. I'd never been to the Island before, and what he told me about it was very interesting."
A stab of jealousy. Greg had taken my place. But of course I hadn't really spent the trip hiking with Charlie since the year he trained me. It's not really my place.
I hid my reaction, but I think Greg saw. Saw it and accepted it and ignored it, except for a very slight, fond, amused twinkle. There is very little about humanity that surprises Greg or makes him uncomfortable.
Since then, the summer semester has begun. June has new classes, I have new iterations of the same classes I had before, and Rick and I had lunch with Charlie the other day.
The weather was nice, with the new spring green continuing to darken towards summer, so we took our food out to a little gazebo near the Dining Hall and had a kind of picnic there. It was not exactly a social gathering. Very little that either Rick or I do is ever purely social, and nothing that the three of us do together is. It's not that we don't enjoy each others' company, it's that I never forget that Charlie is my teacher, the way I sometimes forget with Allen or Kit. Rick and I both sit up a little straighter when we are with him, at attention.
We chatted about this, that, and the other for a bit, mostly about the progress of the perennial beds around the gazebo, and then Charlie looked at Rick expectantly.
"I haven't made any useful progress," Rick admitted.
"Why not?" Charlie asked.
"I just don't know how to love, I guess," said Rick. Remember that Rick has been assigned to love a human being, a thing he finds difficult. "I thought that maybe I can pick somebody I at least like and 'fake it till I make it,' but I can't imagine doing do without the other person noticing. And if I do not tell them what I'm doing and why, they'll be confused, and if I fail, they'll be hurt. And if I do tell them what I'm doing...I can't imagine anyone taking kindly to being the subject of a homework assignment in love. I have thought all this over carefully, and I remain stuck."
"To work until you are stuck is progress," asserted Charlie. "To be sure you are stuck, to have exhausted all the options that you are aware of, as opposed to simply giving up, is very impressive."
"Falling gives you better balance?" suggested Rick, quoting one of Karen's sayings. It means that you learn when you push yourself through the point of failure.
"In part, yes," Charlie acknowledged. "Your point of being stuck, the problem you are having, is compassionate...."
"It's practical," said Rick, correcting him. "I don't like having people upset with me. It's inconvenient. I know what upsets people. I may be heartless, but I'm not brainless."
"I'm not so sure you are heartless. You do love."
"Yes, just not humans."
Charlie gave him a quick flash of a smile, then lapsed into thought.
"What would you do if I were hurt or threatened in some way?"
"You?" Rick asked. "I'd try to help. But...."
"Do you care about my welfare and happiness?"
"Not inordinately, but yes. But...."
"Do you enjoy my company? Think I'm worthwhile?"
"Then love me."
"Yes, me. I already know what you're doing, so it won't be awkward. If you succeed, I won't be surprised. I will forgive you if you don't."
"Forgiven or not, I don't want you to be hurt."
Charlie looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Well, yes, that is the problem to committing to love anyone. I will trust you."
Rick sat there, slightly open-mouthed, for a few seconds, looking like Charlie had just asked him to pilot the Space Shuttle, or something.
"Thank you," Rick said, at last. "What do I do? How do I start?"
Charlie nodded, as he does when someone asks a good question.
"Consider my welfare and my happiness in everything you do. You do not have to please me--loving actions may sometimes displease me--but consider me. And take that class, The Art of Listening and Love. I don't think it's met for the first time, yet."
The Art of Listening and Love was one of Greg's classes, when I took it, in my third year as a novice, but Greg is retired, so I don't know who is teaching it now. I should ask. June is taking it now, too.
Charlie had finished his cheese sandwich. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief (he never uses disposable napkins), and stood up.
"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me." He never takes a very long lunch break, and that afternoon I understand he had annuals to plant.
"Charlie," I said, "what about me?"
He looked at me and considered for a few seconds.
"Wait," he said. "Next week, I think."