Sunday, February 20, 2005

Dim Sum: Heart's Delights

Rest is such a fragile thing. I can need it so badly and be just on the verge of dropping off to sleep only to have the phone or doorbell ring. The brevity of that interruption is often just enough to leave me wide awake yet still exhausted. I have been struggling for rest for three days in a row, now, and have not been able to catch up. At least my three day-old sinus headache seems to have abated somewhat.

I would not mind the interruptions if they were not so outrageously mindless. Today, I had two separate phone calls. The first was from a fax machine and the second was a wrong number. Yesterday, a friend dropped by without notice and rang my doorbell over and over as if he were a teen trying to irritate someone. I almost screamed profanities from my bed to ask who the hell was ringing my doorbell and why, but I raised my blind briefly instead and saw the friend’s car in my drive. By going to the cold wintry door without a shirt and barefooted and while holding my head over the pressure behind my right eye, I hoped that he would quickly get the message and excuse himself, saying something like "Oh! Did I wake you? I am sorry…." Every possible sign was there for him to read.

I had forgotten that he isn’t a Southerner. We know the rules of engagement down here. If you see someone in the state with which I presented myself to the door down here, you know to excuse yourself, just as someone who asks "Can I bring my children?" and who is greeted with "Well, you can," knows full well that the children are not really meant to be invited. So my friend stayed around for forty-five minutes while I tried adjusting the pressure from my thumb over the pressure in my sinuses to stop the pain. Neither the pain nor his visit would stop. Eventually, I had to say, "Well. I need to go back to bed," and I was able to close the door and lock it behind him. I could not, however, get back to sleep and the headache held on through the night until I awoke this morning.

I had made a previous engagement to join my friend Ben Kudler for dim sum lunch on Guess Road and dragged my body from bed to get ready for lunch. I was still fighting the pressure and pain and decided it was time to add one more pill to my daily regimen of between 30 and 40 pills. I had some Tylenol with codeine left from a previous medical event and took one of my last four of those coveted pills. The caffeine of my morning coffee is now diluted too much to be of significant help and this Tylenol was the last hope for me. A nice, steamy hot shower and a spritz of Afrin and saline helped open up my sinuses a bit and I awaited the onset of a codeine fog to help with the pain.

We arrived at the restaurant where we are well-known by the staff. Today was a busy day and it was half an hour or so before we were seated and had our first dish delivered. Once a few bites of turnip cake had gone down, life started to feel a little bit better. Soon, the shrimp dumplings, shrimp noodles, baby bok choy in garlic sauce, and other delicacies started to arrive and we ate while having a nice conversation.

Ben is a relatively young man, which, regrettably, makes me a relatively old man. I have a twenty-one-year advantage over him where age is concerned, so I can claim a lot more experience in a lot of ways, not all of them good. When I think that I had already lost my virginity by the time that Ben was born, I find strange the difference in our ages, but I like his company. It is quite possible that I was infected with HIV around the same time that Ben was born.

Where Ben has my deepest admiration is that he has just returned from two and a half-years of work in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa. While there, he worked to educate about prevention and transmission of HIV and AIDS. I would like to think that my situation in some ways encouraged his adventure to Mali, but I think that Ben was inclined to be a giving-soul before he met me. Either way, he has my admiration for being willing to take the much needed message to Africa, a continent that is being decimated by AIDS. Ben returned to his alma mater, Vassar, a couple of weeks ago to deliver a presentation on same-sex relationships in Mali, West Africa, to the gay and lesbian organization on campus. I am proud of Ben for being a leader who shares his experiences with others who need to hear voices of encouragement and experience.

During lunch, I asked Ben if he could think of any events where he has known for sure that he had experienced bliss. He thought about it for a few minutes and answered that there were moments when mountain climbing in Mali when he felt something nice, sitting on the mountain, overlooking the nearby village, and that there were other moments as well. It seemed, though, as if he had been at a loss for words or for such moments, at least. In a moment of consolation for being much older than him, I realized that with age has come a quantity of experiences of all kinds in my life. I can count deep sadness as well as intense bliss in my life. I had to live 45 years to be able to say that. I also can say that both are gifts.

Ben asked me when I had experienced bliss in my life. I could think of a few moments. One was when I had gone deep-sea fishing out of Key West, Florida, and there were only two of us on the boat other than the crew. At one point during that day, I looked out at what looked like an endless, tranquil sea and felt a definite sense of deep contentment. I was where I was supposed to be and it made me happy to know that.

Another time, I had traveled to Quebec City to see the presentation of a Cirque du Soleil production of "Dralion". When I walked into the tent that housed the circus, I looked down to find my seat, and when seated, looked up to find magic everywhere around me. The attention to detail in the set was amazing and I found my eyes were tearing up and that I could not inhale for fear of sobbing. That may well have been the most compelling moment of bliss that I have experienced.

On the other hand, I used to live in the woods of northeastern Orange County, North Carolina, on a ten acre lot overlooking three convergent creeks. The power company had cleared a path through the woods and had left a lot of brush on the ground that I had been systematically clearing up and burning. On one wintry night in particular, heavily burdened by the news of my own HIV infection and by the decline of friends who were also sick, I had built a huge bonfire. As it burned, I listened to music and eventually went into trance. While in trance, I found myself instilled with the deepest sense of peace and serenity that I have ever perceived. Suddenly, I felt/heard/experienced the message that "It is OK. No matter what it is, it is OK". I could feel the ultimate peace that some might attribute to the presence of God and I am convinced that this message from within my soul was given to me by some Truth.

I understood in an existential way, that if I live as if all is OK, even when I am convinced that things are not going as they should, I am living well. If I remove expectation and take what life offers, knowing that the Universe doesn’t make mistakes, then how much better my state of mind. That one night, I felt true bliss and have been trying ever since to get back to it. It is easier to approach that feeling with each year of my life. My recent trip to New Orleans with the crew of 1 Giant Leap, the meeting of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and his family and friends, the sense of belonging that all of that brought to me have helped me understand that sensing our rightful and true place in the infinite has something to do with bliss.

As I sat by that fire and let that feeling of bliss wash over me, I looked up into the sky above me. Just as I did, I saw a shooting star explode directly overhead. My partner of the time had seen the light of the explosion reflected off the frost-covered ground and asked "What WAS that?" I think it was another one of those cosmic exclamation points that come along to point out what is important.

Having gone back in time and in my mind, I was soon back to our dim sum lunch and the discussion of bliss. The taste of baby bok choy, turnip cakes and shrimp noodles are pretty darn close to bliss when you are hungry and your head has been aching for 3 days. Our delicious lunch finished up, we left the restaurant and eventually returned to my home, where Ben took his leave for the afternoon.

I wanted to sit down and do some writing, but the need for sleep was soon overwhelming. I could not hold my eyes open and my head was screaming for me to relieve the headache that was returning. I sacrificed my afternoon to the headache and climbed between my sheets. Luckily, I got enough rest, finally, to temporarily clear my headache and to reflect on this day and the gifts of life.



Anonymous Ben said...

I'm honored to be part of your story...and am proud to have you as part
of my story right now. As you said the other day, I'm very much
accustomed to having you in my life right now and hope that'll continue
for a long while...

Moments of Bliss- I'm going to reflect upon this and try and continue
to open myself up to more moments of calm, of zen, and "it's
mattger what it's OKAY."

A quote that's been hanging on my bedroom wall for a long time, from a
Jewish prayer:

"One thing I ask of Adonai- that I seek: To Dwell in Adonai's house
all the days of my life. To envision Adonai's pleasantness, and to
reflect within the palace."

Even though I'm not religious and all the Adonai (meaning "the one,"
signifying the monotheism of the religion) business is a bit much, but
I like the idea of being in the present, enjoying the pleasantness, and
maybe it's the gay man in me- but I want to reflect within the palace.

your disco-ball friend,

Ben xx

2/21/2005 11:50:00 AM  

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