A Narrow Passage
A narrow passage opens, as Donald Trump lean in towards the Western Wall. There, from between the stones, comes a somber voice, suitably framed in a dark cloud.
“There will be hell toupee,” it says.
And it is hilarious.
Trump leans in piously, his man-meringue topped with a borrowed yarmulke. Leonard Cohen, from the grave, looses his line about the killers in high places saying their prayers out loud. They’ve summoned up a thundercloud, and they’re going to hear from me.
Yes. There will be hell toupee.
But who knows? Who knows what will come of this narrow passage where we find ourselves? There’s a Gurdjieff story: his students, all exasperated by the same bore, the same boob-joke teller, dessert-hoarder, hot-water-waster, nose-picker, come to see their teacher in despair. Please, O Great One! Please send this one away! We can’t take it! Our plans for righteousness are being trampled and made a mockery of! The guru smiles in his ever-wise way, saying, My children! This one I have invited specially to join us, for he trains you as no one else can.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to talk about Those People, Over There, who can’t be bothered to stage a revolution, when the government’s so openly despoiling the poor to glut the rich. Which “those people”? You mean me, sitting here at this green mesh picnic table, with bleeding hearts and rhubarb thriving nearby, writing about a narrow passage? I’ve got other shit to do. Same goes for my pals, taking dictation from the Muse as assiduously as I am. The lady with the toddler, walking to the library? The person flying the noisy me-rocket overhead? All of us are merrily not-making revolution. Many of us are approaching whatever form of guru we have constructed in our lives, and humbly asking that the nuisance go away. But it won’t. Here we are, in our narrow passage, and there’s not a lot of room to pretend, from in here.
A long time ago, a former Buddhist monk from New Zealand, briefly my lover, taught me a Jewish song that says something like:
All of the world
is just one narrow bridge.
We must cross
and above all is
not to be limited by fear.
I thought it was incredibly beautiful, and I sang it to myself a lot, in the months after I left my job in Hong Kong, when I was traveling alone across the breadth of Asia, in search of a monastery to join.
I still think it’s beautiful, and the shape of it has changed a bit. Yes – the narrow passage. Yes – the crossing. Yes – the fear. And also now, so much curiosity in the face of fear. When do I back down? Why? When do I throw together some scurrilous photoshop job, and chuckle like a mad hyena? When do I say, wild horses could not drag me to do this stupid thing you are proposing, and when do I broadcast my own invitations to stupid plans, far and near?
The narrow passage, in other words, is broadening as I accept that every role and part of its landscape is worth exploring. Every place and role is open to me, in due time. The concept of “narrow” changes. Likely, there are only a couple of parts of the play that are calling to me in at any given moment. But this doesn’t mean that all the rest is somehow other, or irrelevant. I do my part. I am aware of the other parts, as we dance together, as we know how.
Oh, why not? Here's another Elliot-story. This week, I took Elliot and Chloe up to the woods, under heavy rain, for an afternoon romp. I had put in contact lenses, and was enjoying fog-free peripheral vision. Then, at the last possible moment, a deer turned towards the deep forest, and took off with Elliot in explosive pursuit of her pretty white rump. WHY? I fumbled the collar-zapper-remote, missed my chance, and he was gone. I felt the closing, even then, of a narrow passage between the end of this walk, and my arrival in Thetford in time to facilitate Contemplative Movement Practice with my friend Rebecca. There followed about an hour and a half of wandering, calling, driving around, checking at home, and wandering some more. I went to visit the wild orchid blooming by the trail. I talked with a kind lady, who sympathized with the plight of befriending large, fast, goofy dogs. And finally, I came home to find Elliot soggy, lacerated, full of burdock, and limping badly in his front right foot. I called my Rebecca, to tell her I’d found my beloved fool, and that we were headed to the hospital. I called Timothy to tell him the news.
There opened a new narrow passage. Here we are, sitting in the waiting room with a couple whose elderly dog is very sick. Here’s a delicious granola bar, with a morsel for your poor sliced snout. Here are kindness and mutual concern, time suddenly opening from one shape into another. Elliot and I are waiting in one room while I eat Danish cookies and he drinks from a disposable bowl. We are waiting in another room, while I flick ticks off him, onto the floor. Here comes Timothy, introducing himself at the reception desk as “Elliot’s dad.”
The doctor arrives, and her assistant skillfully slips what she calls a “nose cozy” over Elliot’s snout, to close a narrow passage where he bites everyone (let God sort them out) and runs for the hills. Orthopedic dog-exam: maximally extend and compress all possibly compromised joints, to see if dog yelps. No yelping. The assistant holds Elliot close, even though he reeks of a fine new spritzing of Skunk.
Nothing broken. Whew. As for the long cut on his nose, it’s clean, and not too deep. I find a puncture wound in his haunch, which merits some shaving and cleaning, and some antibiotics, but not much more. So: rest, pills, more cleaning. Minute by minute, Eliot looks happier and more himself. He is prancing back and forth between Timothy and I, in great smiling, wiggling arcs, barely able to contain his joy. The narrow passage of a stabbed, lamed, skunky, frozen, blinded dog closes, and a new path opens.
Here we are, with a relatively modest $126.50 to pay for this adventure, and a sound dog to bring home.
Here we are, eating soup made from cream and potatoes Timothy brings home, and asparagus grown in the beds I dug in when we first moved here.
Will there be hell toupee? Of course, and for everyone. But also, ever so much more. Mornings in the garden. Sparkly sweaters from the thrift store, and miraculously unharmed friends. The Western Wall, the narrow bridge: they will be here to contain and to witness it all.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now