It was because Wesley thought he was about to die that he decided that he wanted to live.
For weeks he was telling me that he has arrived, achieved, or accomplished enlightenment, depending on how you look at the process. But Wesley has been looking for enlightenment as long as I’ve known him, about 20 years. Every few years he thinks he’s found it, but he’s always wrong—for if he had found it, he wouldn’t have to keep reading those awful books on how to achieve enlightenment.
Each tome is more convoluted and contrived than the last—contrived to hide the real truth, I mean. In the first place, everyone knows that truth can’t be found in a book. Truth comes from from living and in moments of grace when you least expect it. When you stop relentlessly pursuing it, demanding answers of a God who may or may not exist—and just lay back in a pool of water under a summer moon—it arrives. Just like that. Truth.
And how do you know it’s there? You just know. It’s as though a spirit has laid on the blanket beside you and whispered in your ear, “Look no further, I am here.” And suddenly you are one with the soft wind, the rustling grass, even the light of the moon.
But Wesley misses moments of grace like this because he is so busy poring over these books, which are quite literally driving him insane. He knows it. We all know it. He can’t stop himself and so he reads and drinks, drinks and reads. Gallons of gin-and-tonics in a week’s time with maybe only a candy bar or two for nourishment, if you could call it that.
After five or six days of this, he begins to lose control of his mind and says things like: “I’ve got it! I understand everything now.” After which he talks at length about compassion.
“You don’t have it,” I tell him. “If you had it, you wouldn’t have to keep drinking. And you would be silent. People who have got it don’t talk about it all the time. They have a stillness inside them that speaks a far greater truth than all these ramblings you go on with day and night.”
Wesley pours himself another drink and informs me of his great truth: “The truth is that we have absolutely no control over anything.” He laughs uproariously, a technique he has adopted of late to try and pretend he is not a miserable as he is.
“Bullshit!” I light a cigarette. “You have control over whether you take the next drink or not. To pretend you have no control is just to avoid taking responsibility for your own life.”
At this point, Wesley drifts asleep with his drink in his hand while I meander around my own sense of reality. I pour myself a strong shot and down it. I look around my living room, which is alive with chaos. I read a new-age book one time that said that “After the chaos comes re-birth.” This has not been true for me. After the chaos comes…more chaos. I pick up books and papers and stack them up in little piles, much like the foster child who has been moved from place to place and seeks to gain some control in his life.
We sleep like two mismatched bookends and awaken at the same instant to bright morning sunshine streaming over the objects in my room. My sleeping dog, Mallory, opens one eye and surveys the room. My two cats, Boots and Solange, leap out of the window and race towards the kitchen and breakfast. I prepare coffee and the warm smell wafts out into the room. The gin is gone so we sip our coffee and watch a cardinal flit about in the oak tree outside. The sunlight has an ethereal quality to it.
I stand and bow and fold my hands together: “Namaste.” Wesley responds in kind and we prepare to take the next step on our journey to enlightenment.
Whatever the hell that is.
Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”
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