the last couple of times i saw john and had good one-on-one time with him we were engaged in spiritual discussions. not talking about religion (he was a devout catholic and i am not), but spirituality — why we’re here, what it’s all about sort of chats. it was a treat to have someone to talk about these things with — i could go out on a limb with loose, airy words and ideas and he knew what i meant and shared my questions and concerns. he didn’t peg me as some hippy dippy new ageist or a remote intellectual. it wasn’t politics, philosophy or religion that we talked about … it was hard to put a label on it and we never did.
we started sharing book recommendations and the last time i saw him, he gave me a copy of thomas merton’s the seven storey mountain. i opened it a few times and tried to get into it but it is so thick and intimidating, and i am not a huge fan of roman catholicism or organized religion in general so i was admittedly skeptical. now i am definitely going to rededicate myself to the task of reading it, and see what it’s all about. i knew the name thomas merton because they have a whole section on him in one of my favorite bookstores where most of the literature is buddhism-based. in reading about thomas merton today i came across this interesting bit of info:
- merton was a keen proponent of inter-religious understanding, engaging in spiritual dialogues with the dalai lama, thich nhat hanh and d. t. suzuki.
the last time we had dinner, the night he gave me the book, we got into a chat about the future. we had both been through college, grad school and early manhattan career life together and had both come to similar states of disillusionment. knowing you can be as accomplished and successful as you want, as rich as you want … but for what? we tended to dwell on “what it is we are meant to do.” he was very clear on the fact that he had found his love and purpose in sara and the kids, and that one day when the kids got old enough they hoped to build a school in latin america, or something along those lines. his only motivation was to live up to his potential and to leave the world better than he had found it. it wasn’t for the glory. he hated to receive praise and recognition. it can seem intimidating to know a person like this … his goodness a reminder of one’s own faults. but john did not show off and he did not judge. he had all kinds of friends from all walks of life and he loved them all as individuals, for who they were — he didn’t judge anyone. john was genuinely interested just in knowing them and being a good friend to them.
john asked me if i was serious about writing, whether i wanted to be writing books and movies and stuff like that, and if not that then what? i said i didn’t know … that part of me is attracted to it but i that i felt like i lost my ambition and didn’t want to do shallow work. but then i admitted that i was/am afraid of failing. i remember so clearly him saying that i should just go for it, that i had nothing to lose and what is failure anyway? i said i didn’t know what it was i wanted to go for. that was the problem and he said he could relate. i care about art and creativity and new ideas and just want to be able to discover, express, live, make stuff and have fun. i know there’s a way for me to do that, i know i can and will do that. in the interim … how best to pass the time? we talked about the difficulty of having patience, of how hard it is to let go and let things develop when we’re so used to having direct, ambitious goals and going after them.
now that he died I don’t think the conversation is over. i think it will go on and on and while i am bummed not to have him here to hash it out in person, i know he will always be a part of me … deep in my heart and spirit and those dark corners where only the very best of friends come to visit and stay.