I blame it on Alexa. She must have set my alarm for the wrong time. I wake up knowing it’s too late to get to the footbridge in time to hear the bells chime the hour. I put my sandals on, muzzy from my nap, and head out into the warm wind of early evening. The water in the creek surprises me each time I see it, and I wonder why I am not walking beside it every day until it’s gone. I talk to a raven on the sand, watch the moving water, stop on the bridge and look down at the falls at the concrete drop, still loud from the snowmelt but no longer thunderous. On the way home I hear a frog begin to croak. “Oh,” I ask him in my head, “are you lonely, too?” The question surprises me like the water surprises me. I stop on the path. Am I lonely? I feel a subtle ache, a kind of longing. A little lonely, yes. This morning I woke up with thoughts about being left out. Maybe that has stayed with me. But I’m glad, too. Content, quieted, grateful. While I stand there sorting it out inside me, other frogs join in, six or seven voices, a companionable chorus. It makes me grin. I cross the street, and a raven wings toward me. Is he the same one I spoke to earlier? He lands beside me in a fan palm, and I stand still in the middle of the road. Between the frogs and this bird, I no longer feel alone. And because I’ve stopped before I turn the corner, I hear the bells, after all, tolling the half hour in the late dusk.
It’s crazy hot. I’m dripping with sweat but reluctant to go inside. I’ve become attached to reading Natalie Goldberg and doing my “morning writing” on the patio, even on days when morning becomes late afternoon. Today she talks about being lonely, how Katagiri Roshi says we must stand up in it, not let ourselves be “tossed away.” I think of Bernardo. I saw him on the creek path last week. He told me how lonely he is, how women won’t engage with him because he is not wealthy, because he is short. I talked about how we often don’t get things we are too attached to wanting. It’s the way the universe works. I used my writing contests as an example, how I may be too attached to wanting to win. But my heart went out to him. Today my horoscope says that empathy is underrated but much needed, great for actors, parents. Teachers? Writers, too. But it isn’t always an easy gift. Empathy hurts. I know deep loneliness. Maybe without knowing I learned to stand up in it. I made my peace with it. Bernardo hasn’t, I don’t think. He’s hoping someone will come along to make it go away. It’s why I’ve always felt uncomfortable in our exchanges even though I like him and enjoy our talks. I sensed this, a kind of energetic grasping. Of course, there’s a hunger for connection, for physical closeness, too. It’s different from loneliness but a close cousin, all fruit of feeling alone in the world. Feeling connected to the planet helps. I miss walking every day for that, for the big picture connection. But even here in the courtyard I have my mountains, our palo verde, the birds, the moon, the wind that picks up now as I write, wanting to be included on my list. I feel lonely, yes, but not like years ago. Bernardo’s is a deep ache. I ache for him, for all of us, stumbling along being in bodies, saddled with the illusion we are all alone and separate, our odd human condition. We fumble, tumble into each other, mudballs all—stars inside us.