Last Sunday I was jogging my slowish move-the-chi jaunt through my neighborhood when up ahead I noticed a little boy on the other side of the street, running with all his might down his driveway, and then, with just as much force and momentum, slamming on his sneaker-footed breaks and lurching to a stop at the precise line where his driveway became the blacktop of the street.
The boy’s trajectory caused him to sway out over his feet and then snap back. As I drew closer he ran back up the drive, turned around and bolted back down… stopping with the same Roadrunner deft, the only thing missing was a cartoon “boing.” He was maybe five or six, blonde, and muttering to his stopped cold feet, “Don’t go in the street. Don’t run in the street.”
The sun fell softly through the greening trees and as I passed, the boy was trotting back up the drive to try again, my neighborhood blurring and blending with everything from the street where I grew up to Grover’s Corner where Emily could just as well have been standing there, unseen, wistfully watching the boy practice staying alive.
I ran away from home when I was about that boy’s age. But I was forbidden to cross the street, and so I could only circumnavigate my own block, eventually sitting like Ferdinand under a leafy tree (although it was Dutch Elm and not cork), eating the little lunch I had taken for my journey of great crossing into unknown freedom from parental tyranny. I was not yet crossing.
When I was nine, I found myself trapped under a slimy dock in a lake in the woods of Wisconsin. I could see the sun slanting through the slatted wood, but there was no hope of air in the sloshing wet. It was terrifying, caged by elements that were my master. Eventually I made it out, but carried the fear of drowning powerfully with me into my life. I was not yet crossing.
I would submerge myself into the tub and hold my breath: one minute, two minutes… nearly three. I imagined myself the reincarnation of Houdini. And later, when I lived in New York, I swam most days in NYU’s pool, continually going into the water until it no longer held the living memory of nearly drowning… it became a true memory, a conscious memory. Lap after lap I thought I was crossing, but I was not yet crossing.
The I Ching, a treasure and a wisdom text, can be understood as a primer on time—on sixty-four variations on time that emerge into being through the gates of Creative and Receptive, materializing out of the unfathomable and timeless. The I Ching’s final snapshots of time as we, in our lives, experience it are: already crossing, and not yet crossing. Transcendent harmony is to be found in already crossing, while not yet crossing circles back into the beginning again. But really they are all contemporaneous; we are all contemporaneous, even across all our articulated moments.
My oldest son is starting to think about colleges, but he is not yet crossing. We go to college, we work, we love, we parent, we launch, lose and die. We cross this and we cross that, but we are not really crossing, not yet.
In Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the young Buddha crosses back and forth on the ferry. Even he is not yet crossing. Later he sits beside the river next to the ferry boat guy, hearing the river both laughing and crying. He wakes up alone. Now he is the ferry boat guy. Now, finally, he is already crossing.
If we, together, can hear the river laughing and crying, if we dare to love in the here and now, in the conscious face of lovely impermanence… perhaps we too may be already crossing, or at least, to borrow from Wallace Stegner, we may, by virtue our very connections, be already crossing to safety.