Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Benjamin Franklin's Birthday

Today is Ben's birthday. It is also the actual birthday of Martin Luther King, but they changed his to give us a longer weekend, just as they changed the birthdays of Lincoln(Feb. 12) and George W.(the good one- Feb. 22) and ultimately consolidated them so department stores could have sales.
I have long celebrated this gentleman, knowing the lights wouldn't turn on without him, there would be no place to mail my letters, go for free borrowed books, and this country would have had a much less spiritual base-- yes, that's right. He was a spiritual man, a Rosacrucian(sp?) who believed in Reincarnation. I was sure he and the other Framers had come back during Nixon's time rather than simply whirl in their graves, to clean up the mess and get the country back in shape in time for the Bicentennial. And sure enough, the bad guys were toppled, and the republic endured. (I wonder what they're doing now, or if they've thrown up their ghostly hands in despair.)
Yesterday was Don's birthday. I always used to make a three-day celebration out of it. Don, the 16th, Franklin the 17th, and on the 18th, Cary Grant, my three favorite guys. I got up yesterday morning no longer looking for him-- close friends know that for years and years he was a presence, sending signs, feathers-- it's a long but really good story, ask me and I'll tell you sometime-- but I figured that by now Don had moved on to another assignment besides watching out for me. My own deep but somehow not abiding faith has been shaky in recent times, since there were no arms around my country or me, my brainpan has been empty of real inspiration (in-spire, to breathe in) and no good has come to the planet. Evil flourishes. Scary.
Still, I got up and determined to do something to make the day special, so drove to the Lake Shrine at the Self-Realization Center, turned on the radio instead of listening to the pop CD in Mandarin(am studying the language, to no great effect) I play whenever I drive. And on the radio that moment came "Afternoon Delight", the big hit from the '70s by the Starland Vocal Band, beloved friends of mine. So I got a kind of buzz from that-- a carom shot reassurance that there was love in the universe, something personally uplifting to me slated in for playing by some celestial disc jockey. I mean, when you're a person who looks for signs, they can be anywhere.
Then I got to the Center-- it was a very chilly day, and I walked around the lake-- beautifully landscaped with tropical flowers, the occasional word uplift set into a rock, some ashes of Gandhi, (who defined President as 'Chief Servant', yeah, yeah, yeah) a kind of Mark Twain minature riverboat set into the water. I remembered how heartsore I was when I walked those grounds some years ago, what pain I was in, because I wanted so badly to be in love again, and had chosen unwisely. Heartsore. That is the right word. So I sort of delighted in the truth that I was no longer heartsore. Then I stopped at the little fake landing where you can feed the mallards and swans that patrol the lake. Two Japanese girls leaned over the edge, and frightened at the enormous size of the cod(coy, I think they would have been in Asia) fled the platform, even as I tried to assure them it couldn't come out of the water and get them.
There were three little sections in a kind of pew-like wooden seat, and like Goldilocks, I tried each one, warming myself in a slash of sunlight. When I moved all the way to the right, a chill wind blew up my sweater. So I moved back to the middle, and thought, aha, symbolic even when you sit on a dock-- probably Jack, my Jewru(named that by Don) was right, and the only way to keep your balance is the Middle Path, as Buddha would counsel. But it's hard-- moderation is so demanding.
There's a little chapel on the grounds-- during the course of my spiritual quest I had danced for a few years with Self-Realization-- and Don, who was amused and sometimes a little maddened by my searching, but always indulgent, had stood still for that one, too. And I saw the six saints that they have depictions of at the front of the altar: besides Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder, and there was my particular favorite, Lahiri Mahasaya, a genial-looking bald fellow, his eyes half-closed from smiling. We had bought a little painting in Mexico; when we brought it home we realized it was the same face, so Don used to pass it and greet it as 'Larry,' And then, because of the squinty-eyes it would trigger Don's Rhett Butler impression, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." He did terrible impressions. Such a funny man, but he did terrible impressions. So it made me smile, all the way inside, just seeing that picture in the chapel, remembering how funny Don was.
The resonance of Loss. There is no sadness to his having left anymore, it was so long ago. Jack had a baby girl when Don was dying; she's going to graduate college this year. He would have been sixty-eight. I think he would have hated that, because what he was really about, besides sweetness, was being young. My pragmatic friend Ann, a lawyer, who was really mad at him for dying, said "It would always be tragic because he was so young." But all that remains that is tragic is that he didn't get to see his grand-sons; not that he didn't live to become old. I saw Diana Ross on Letterman last night, and terrifyingly, she is trying to be who she was, wild young hair, undoubtedly extensions, her voice gone, hardly able to lift her arms to the place where she loved you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow. Sad, really. Sad is sadder than tragic.
But I do hope the better things we dream and imagine might be so, and Don's on some High Assignment, making the Afterlife a better place. Maybe he has more power now than he did when he was living in LA, when everything was show business bullshit, and it wasn't what a man was that counted, but what he did. Maybe he is part of a brigade(Ben leading) that I pray is revving up up(?) out(?) there to fix this beautiful country that shouldn't die young.