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It's Nelly's World

Greener Grass

alec vanderboom


I finally found peace. Or at least for the duration of the eight-CD set I did. As soon as I switched on the ignition, for those many and dreaded car trips that always split the day into shards, the car was flooded with the very substance of peace. It came in the form of the milky, sober intonations of Eckhart Tolle's voice reading the absolute sense and logic of his hybrid Buddhism.

It is simple to judge a book by its cover, and his books had previously seemed to be that most loathsome and easy to ridicule variety, "self-help," that at which the intellect police snort before tossing onto the garbage heap along with chick lit and Snow Falling on Cedars. But I had been wrong. Of course. As wrong as the ignorant always are before being hit with the force of truth. Now I know that contained in his credo--Now is the only time there is--was the only thing that could matter. I wish I could let you hear it now ("the eh-go-ick self," that trickster wretch who leads us astray again and again--half-whispered in a Germanic accent). It makes you feel good about life, just settling into the calming air filling the interior of the car. It makes you feel good about all that you lack--because you really lack nothing.

It took a while to go through all of them, during the multiple twenty-minute trips to the dump, the library, the bus stop. And while the discs were with me (for too long, no doubt angering the lengthening list of library patrons who had put holds on the New Earth set while I drove all over Ulster County with them) I was able to conquer my persistent, strenuous wishing. Every time something upset me, whether my child losing something, my dog running away, my possessions breaking or tearing, my prospects dwindling (that one always seems permanent to me: there's never going to be another chance! my egoic child cries, though it's funny that it never seems to work in reverse, where I believe my enlarging prospects will remain better forever), I said to myself: That's okay! They don't matter. They are not me. They are not my life's purpose. My ego wants me to believe they're important, and I mustn't give in to that damaging whiner.

Although I knew dear Eckhart would have been disappointed in me, I secretly felt a little proud when I did so. I could let go of so much! And in such a short time! My, what a quick study. Full enlightenment seemed only weeks away--why, just a little more practice, and I will be there! I would no longer care about anything. I would never again be imprisoned by worry. Not about the years reeling by, pulling me by the hair; not about the want of things, which are never quite good enough so that I must want more.

The thought occurred that I should buy my own set: I was doing well so long as I kept listening. But I worried that finally I might tune my teacher out, after so many replays. I would become bored, on the seventh hearing, with having to think so hard about sorting out the real feeling from the egoic feeling. Right from wrong; right from wrong, like those boxes we give to babies so that they might put the plastic triangle into the triangular hole, where only it will fit. So much to correct! And I might just want to listen to some classic rock on WDST instead.

Then, they went back to the library. Back, to go to the next eager student, the next vaguely unhappy person wanting more--not more stuff, at last, but more peace. And while they were getting happier, I--I was going back.

I went back to where I was. Back, and back, through the years, to my original packaging: dissatisfied. Oh, happy in bursts, certainly: grateful for them, the ability to feel happinesses and even to call them by name. I still made lists, on an almost daily basis, of all the gratitudes I felt. But then I dreamed.

I was walking through the front hall of the house I grew up in, the only place I think of as "home." I passed from the door of the kitchen (first going by the powder room, off a short hall onto which the back staircase also let) into the heart of the house. It was a place of passage, naturally. One did not linger there, for it was transitional. See, house as metaphor. There I glanced at the nineteenth-century portrait in a gilt frame of some English personage in uniform whose name on the plate was spelled "Peirson." Underneath the painting was a three-drawer chest in which we stored family pictures, baby books (mine blank after the first page, testimony to tired parents and second-child status). I looked left, up the staircase. Then right, to the leaded-glass door of the library. Beyond, the living room. And in my dream, I heard myself think: There will never be a place as perfect to me as this.

My longing returned anew, CDs a vapor carried away by the wind. When I had company over last week, and there was no place to sit for drinks, we stood awkwardly since there had been no room to put a table near the couch in this imperfect house. Two days earlier, the sump pump had broken, followed quickly by the furnace (again) and then the fireplace door's glass, irreplaceable because old and painted in a way that gave this place one of its few touches of charm.

I realize only now that the pattern on the glass reminded me of the diamond-shaped leading in the windows of that other, lost, house. It was like losing it all over again.

Desire is the problem. It is the devil, urging us to walk into the fire that will consume us. The rocks that will splinter the hull, while the Sirens sing on.

I put in my request last night. Whenever they are returned to the library, another CD set will be laid aside for me, my name on a slip of paper stuck between the discs that, when played in the car as I drive, will teach me that the loss, too, is not as I had feared.