Saturday, May 30, 2009

legacy of Buddhism

Today, after 39 years in the newspaper business, Mike Hull will retire. A diffident Brit, Mike is not the sort of person to wave himself in others' face. As I have come to know him, Mike likes conservative Catholicism, World War II history, right-wing politics, John Wayne movies and a host of other things, no doubt, that I know nothing about. He dislikes doctors and thinks others put far too much emphasis on matters of health. But none of this inclines him to put himself forward and insist. He doesn't need to be right. He still wears a tie to the office every day except Saturday, when the glass-office mavens are not around, and he is courteous to everyone.

Mike is a decent man.

Today is Mike Hull's last day and last night he said to me, "It'll be strange not coming in here." For Mike, that was quite a statement -- laden with meanings that another might take some pains to detail.

Imagine: 39 years, eight hours a day for every work week, and now, well now ... now what? What a change, moving from a realm of longtime doing to the mixture of relief (the office really is vile) and uncertainty of not-doing. In thirty-nine years of doing, the habits anyone might assure themselves they had under control would gain a grip and somehow assert their control, moistening the soul as a misty day might ... slowly, thoroughly, quietly: As you grip, so you are gripped ... something like that.

No slick assessment can slough off the actualities. There are superficial habits, yes, but the superficiality is also living and profound...perhaps pleasing, perhaps disturbing in their grip ... a grip that falls away without any effort whatsoever. Mike is retiring from the newspaper: Now what? Mike is retiring from Mike: Now what?

It's the same for everyone, I reckon, but I do think that those who have a Buddhist practice (even a superficial one, perhaps), are luckier than most. Its superficialities of robe and text and incense and intense practice are, to those inclined, as 'serious' as 39 years on the job. But simultaneously, those superficialities are serious and moistening and living ... and answer sweetly (not intellectually or emotionally) when asked the question, "Now what?"

Like anything else, a Buddhism habit must retire and yet what was once Buddhism has the capacity to leave in its wake decent men and women like Mike.

As compared with others, it's not a bad legacy.

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