In the night the train whistle sounded closer than I thought the tracks to be; either that, or in the strange storm air the blasts carried differently, more greatly. More urgently: maybe the storm had left debris on the tracks and the train was giving alarm. At around 10 pm, however, I was already in bed and half-asleep, and I let the whistle become the property of dreams, rather than pursuing it with active imagination.
I’ve been back on the East Coast, in New Haven, Connecticut, for about three weeks now. The job I originally came out here for hasn’t worked out and I’ve spent the past several days working with the various pieces of my life, trying to see what fits together how, now that the anticipated pattern of things has fallen apart. It’s a puzzle with mutable edges and many relationships; and it seems to be coming together (again). In a conversation with one of my sisters, the inimitable WSSN, she said, “Sometimes things work out by not working out,” and I tend to agree. Although first plans have fallen away, I am nonetheless in New Haven in September, a beautiful season. I biked to the top of East Rock, looked out over the Long Island Sound, watched the indigo storm-clouds ruffle themselves over the Connecticut landscape, while that same landscape slowly turns ruddy with autumn color. And I am nonetheless amid and amongst the (faux) Gothic glories of Yale University. Corridors and cloisters, courtyards and crenellated towers. I went up into the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library with one of the curators yesterday afternoon, and ran my hands along the spines of part of their Buddhist collection, smelling in the beloved book-dust of millions of volumes, some barely ever taken out, others surprisingly well-used. Of the latter, an example is Leo Pruden’s four-volume English translation of De La Vallee Poussin’s invaluable French translation of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosabhasyam, a set I spent considerable effort acquiring for my own collection and one I treasure. Here it was in Yale’s stacks, and for a dense and difficult, and not entirely popular if critical corner of Buddhist philosophical development, it had an impressive check-out list.
Walking to Christ Episcopal Church—a favorite quiet place since I was an undergraduate—I saw a Catholic nun up ahead of me. Her black habit and white veil made me think she was Dominican; but in full traditional habit, it would make more sense if she were cloistered, and if that were the case what was she doing walking along Broadway Avenue in New Haven with a handbag hitched over her shoulder? That last made me pause. I’ve never known a Catholic nun to hitch a leather handbag over her shoulder. I looked more closely, noticing that the habit failed to fall in the straight lines I usually associated with habits, and that her veil had what looked like a lace pattern on the edge. Then I realized it was a woman in hijab, white, over a long full black dress, in front of me, not a Dominican sister. I shook my head. The old clues fail me, in remarkable and wonderful ways. That, and I need new glasses.
Mary Mother of God, dressed in blue and wearing a white veil that recalls Guan Yin and the woman in hijab I saw a moment earlier, occupies a dim corner of Christ Church. There was another man praying in the alcove when I arrived, and we sat barely a moment together before he left, genuflecting and crossing himself in the aisle. I noticed the light directed at the crucifix above the gates to the main altar hit a spot above Christ’s head, as if urging us to look beyond His passion to the blank space of the cross above Him. I read the scene in Dharmic terms, of course, that even a Bodhisattva’s career is oriented within emptiness, rather than bound strictly in suchness. The two balance once another, make each other possible at all.