Everything looked very alive when they lived at the house. Between their contagious smiles, the almost non-stop traffic of folks coming to visit or confer, the teachings that were given in the grand room, the hundreds of shoes lined up outside the front door — the colors and banners and cheer —
He parked in the driveway for months at a time. Lived in his vehicle. Was it a VW camper? Something like that. The quintessential hippy dippy vehicle that you could live in. Parked in Mrs Tzaddik's driveway.
She doesn't use the word boyfriend, of course. For her, the word is paramour. A much more Sephardi word. My word sounds so — well, banal. And there was nothing banal about any of it.
Tibetan lamas upstairs. Paramour parked in the driveway. Yeah. It was the 1970s outside. Berkeley. Most likely you could have guessed that time frame.
He'd been a lawyer. A very good looking guy. Still is, actually. But he dropped out. I think the goings on of 'our' generation just got to him. Why should he bang his head against the wall in law, when society was changing right before his eyes?
The tzaddik would come home from a hard day's work, with the New York Times tucked under his arm. He'd unlock the door, and walk through the house to the back and into the kitchen. There would be Mrs Tzaddik's boyfriend cooking up macrobiotic soup.
"Hello, tzaddik," he would say (though not exactly). "Come sit down and have my soup!"
And the tzaddik would sit. And have soup. And read the New York Times while sitting with the soup at the dining room table.
My memory of this is vivid. I have no memory of Mrs Tzaddik at all in this scenario. Was she even there? But my memory is really of two men who've made very different choices.
The boyfriend chose the hedonic life. Why shouldn't there be pleasure? Why shouldn't he partake? Why the incessant labor? Why not just cook soup?
The tzaddik chose engagement. Commitment to the service of others. Encouraging them. Helping them achieve their goals. Without judgement. Mentoring them. Pointing them in the direction of funding. Of collaboration. And always it was about the arts. Bringing creativity into the world. New projects. New works.
The boyfriend was a piece of work.
Eventually, Mrs Tzaddik had had it with the boyfriend in the driveway. And she tried to shoo him away. He was not terribly receptive. I remember it as taking years.
The lamas told Mrs Tzaddik that the boyfriend was a great lesson for her. She explains that according to Tibetan practice, each individual receives his or her own Teaching from the lamas. The boyfriend was hers.
Does that mean that they responsible for this? For the paramour who wouldn't go away when bidden?
What she got to learn from her Teaching was patience. Endurance. Commitment to trying to make a change.
They had traveled together. Mostly to South America. And Europe too. When, after many years, she finally got rid of him in the driveway, there was nowhere else in this country he really wanted to be. He fled to Mexico — and stayed. Maybe in someone else's driveway. Dunno. But he reappeared on the telephone instead. And still wouldn't go away.
Patience. Endurance. Commitment to making a change.
He visited not that long ago. Same charismatic smile. Same glow of macrobiotic health — although he said he wasn't that healthy.
He wanted to come back, he said. Calling fairly incessantly. Again. He's ready to come back.
Forty years of this!
Patience. Endurance. Commitment to making a change.
She told the caregivers not to hand her the phone any more. When he calls, that is.
In Aikido, they talk about forty-year techniques. Fifty-year techniques. Practices that seem so simple, you just do them every day. But they're not yet right. You practice and practice — and only get a glimmer of what is really there, the potential of the exercise, the lesson, the Teaching — at the end of 40 years. And even that's just the beginning.
Just the turn of a wrist. The stroke of a blade. The cut. The chop. The throw. And you do it over and over and over again. A hundred strokes a day. A thousand. And each stroke is different. And each next stroke an opportunity to learn to do it differently.
That's the lesson of Mrs Tzaddik's boyfriend. The opportunity to say no differently. To send him on his way. Get him out of the driveway. Get him out out out of her life. Some kind of integrity. Holding your own and not caving.
I'm not judging it. No. No, this is her call. It's always been her call. Her practice. Her forty year technique.
She's getting it. Learning it. It's not like you ever master a technique like this. You just keep practicing it. A hundred strokes a day. A thousand. With proper breathing to go with it.
And each day she gets a little stronger. She walks a little further each day. Her spirit reawakens. Each day, her memory resurges.
Tibetan lamas in the house. Lessons they would offer. Healings, if you're paying attention. Forty year techniques, or more. But only if you practice. That's what she was given — an opportunity to practice. Pour la longue durée.
The red and gold are gone from the house. The whole thing's shades of gray. Her hair is white — and so is his. The tzaddik's gone away. The blinds are drawn. The lights are low. The energy's calmed at last. And then — a gift an angel brought. A mighty French horn blast.