From Z to A: My Journey from Zen to Angels
Excerpts from my memoir
I’m on a bus from Oxford, Ohio down near the Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky border. The year is 1972. A copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind rests in my hands. The countryside rolls by in pastoral scenes of barns, the woods, and rolling hills. On a brief escape from my small town college dorm life, my usual schedule is filled with art, poetry, and non-mainstream academia. My college is progressive with a curriculum designed to attract bohemians. I’m serious about my new topic of study, Zen Buddhism. A boy I meet in Florida introduces me to koans and the brush paintings of Basho. At eighteen I’m feeling confused about the meaning of life.
The bus ride takes me further up into the rolling hills of Indiana, towards DeKalb, Illinois. With only some pocket money and a backpack, I’m hoping my friend-boy knows my arrival time. A man sits next to me with alcohol and cigarette breath. He’s barely coherent. I scrunch down into my seat leaning as far away from him as possible. He calls himself “Lucky” and talks non-stop about old girlfriends and lost jobs until he passes out.
The bus stops at a village straight out of To Kill a Mockingbird in rural Indiana. An old coke machine with its rounded edges and red paint stands next to a relic gas station. On impulse, I buy one. The thick glass fits into my hand as I scan the scene and drink the burst of cold bubbly brown liquid. Achingly old bungalows and stalwart homes rest in the town near a small park. Autumn colors play in color washes of oranges and purples against the skyline. As the leaves rustle, I’m so aware of the ever-present intrinsic feeling that never leaves. I’m alone and unfettered. I’m a wanderer, unattached, and unsure.
I think about my friend. He’s a CO, conscientious objector working off his time as an orderly in a hospital. He’s the one who tells me about zazen or “sitting” in meditation. It’s difficult. I squirm a lot. Will he know that I’m a fake? I don’t really understand what Zen is all about, but I’m attracted to him and to the other side of existence, to people with experience and worldliness.
As I turn the pages, I can easily relate to the riddle of life, because I’m so intrigued and young, yet passionate. I’m one of the “sentient beings” mentioned in the text; a white girl from the Cleveland suburbs who always has paint on her hands, walks across the greens at the college campus rather than using the paths, and is most often seen in jeans, faded blue workshirts and worn brown cowboy boots.
After two years of college in Southern Ohio I’m ready for a change. It’s either North Carolina or California. I know exactly four people in the Golden State. I pack my bags and set my sites on Oakland. My mother gives me her first husband’s old army trunk. He died in the war in 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge. They said he was operating on a patient when the hospital got hit. Mother saves the bulky olive colored army box along with his medals and the faded telegram announcing his death.
With his mystery and memory I fly away into the unknown at 19, green as fresh hay.
To be continued…
© 2013 by Susan E. Rowland all rights reserved