Last night, the night of a full moon, my younger son, 15, returned from a high school dance and told me that for the first time, he had kissed a girl ... a girl he had asked earlier in the week to be his "girlfriend" and she had agreed.
"It wasn't like kissing family members," he explained with a combination of sagacity and confusion.
He did not elaborate.
He didn't have to.
As he sat next to me on the couch and the two of us idly watched TV, he was positively brimming with wonder and excitement and delight and uncertainty. What did it all mean? What did it portend? It was wonderful and surprising and yet the moment he called it "wonderful," the confusions of utter novelty whispered. He had no reference points, no previous experience, no history to call on. And still ... woo-hoo!
It was like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall: Wherever he turned, it just didn't stick, somehow -- didn't fit, didn't allow itself to be contained or boxed up in a mind full of baseball and homework and family and video game boxes. He was floundering and foundering and yet was utterly clear: He longed to say it was "like" something else ("tastes just like chicken"), but there was no "like," no "something else." This was this ... end of discussion ... but who could stop discussing?!
And yet, sitting on the couch, it was not the same as the actual brand-new woo-hoo. Brand-new woo-hoo was then, was another time and place. Sitting on the couch remembering brand-new woo-hoo was a delight, but it was not the same ... it was like searching in vain to recapture what could not be recaptured. There was no choice but to let it go and yet -- like the rest of us -- he was damned if he was going to let go of a brand-new woo-hoo.
Once upon a time, I went to a Zen teacher to discuss a bright opening -- something so compelling and confounding, delightful and frightening, that I really didn't know how to process it. The experience had kissed me on the lips ... for the first time. It rocked my universe. He heard me out and then said simply, "Forget about it."
I felt as if my face had been slapped ... hard. How could I forget about something so compelling, so earth-shaking, so naked-making? I had felt as if the world had stripped me bare, opened me up like a kumquat, left me in its churning wake ... and all he could say was "forget about it????"
In retrospect, of course, I knew he was right. But he might also have said, more gently, "where is it now?" He could congratulate himself for being right, perhaps, but was he right? I don't know. I only know what happened and what he said.
I did not say "forget about it" to my son and I did not ask him "where is it now?" Life teaches such lessons without any prompting or effort. What is inescapable is no more or less inescapable just because it is called "inescapable." Life teaches such lessons ... it's just a question of whether anyone will attend to those lessons and find some peace within them.
Where is it now?
No one in the throes of woo-hoo or despair is likely to be in the mood for forget-about-it. Things were/are just too compelling. What was fresh and new and ungraspable is now sitting on the grocery shelf of the past ... delicious perhaps, but never exactly as delicious as that first kiss, that actual experience, that face-to-face horror, that naked-in-the-light actuality.
And yet life teaches it without any prompting. There is no living in the past. Or, if there is, there is always something vaguely stale and repetitive and inexact and somehow false about it. The past is informative, but can it compare with a kiss right now?
Moment after moment is just like that, I imagine -- kissing us on the lips for the very first time; leaving us without handholds or anything except ... this. It's not sexy or religious or spiritual or profound: It's just this, for heaven's sake! Moment after moment, this after this, woo-hoo after woo-hoo, horror after horror.
This very this.
No one can remember this.
But they sure as hell can enjoy it.