We weren't even finished with our first course at dinner tonight before one of my good friends here had, after several months' rest, taken up the question of why and how I should be working my way toward marriage right now. It's an old conversation between us; we've been having it, sometimes with quite outlandish embellishments, since at least December. It's possible that tonight was the first time that she's come out and told me that I'm just plain wrong in my perspective on my own life. It's kind of a shocking thing, to be told, by someone you like, that you're wrong. A strong sense of my self-delusion creeps into some space behind her eyes when she gets onto this subject with me; I can see her thinking that I'm fooling myself with my talk of being really, deeply, fundamentally satisfied with my life the bulk of the time.
Ever the teacher, tonight I tried again to explain to her why I'm not going to do anything compromising in order to guilt someone into wanting to be with me. What? No one's suggested this kind of thing to me...ever, really. Ever. What's always fascinating to me about these conversations, when I remember to step back and watch them happening (in a kind of out-of-body experience), is that they're really about a change in generation. For me, it's actually possible (though not in every way desirable) to imagine a life without a spouse, without a family of my own. If you've been reading me long enough, you know my take on these issues; I hope I don't flatter myself when I say that I think it's pretty nuanced and well-conceived. For her, a person's claim that s/he can have a whole life without a partner sounds like nothing more than, again, self-delusion--even though she talks (and means) a big feminist talk, and even though she is obviously, audibly proud of my strength and independence. "Don't you want someone to share your happiness with?" the person sitting next to me asked, trying to find a way to mediate between the two of us. "I have lots of people to share my happiness with," I replied. "Just because they're not my spouse doesn't mean that I'm all alone in the world."
The whole thing started taking on these strange funhouse-mirror dimensions and contours. Suddenly it was as though the first four months of this year, with all their very particular hopes and betrayals and inexplicabilities, had never happened, even though this friend and I have dissected them together in many sharp ways. She knows, for instance, that I've now decided that I'm too old to waste time with people who don't have their own shit together. I've got my shit together, and I've worked hard for that. Why should I waste my time trying to get other people's shit together? Yet somehow, over dinner, we seemed to have regressed to "he's a keeper" talk. To the talk of desperation, in other words. There was some mighty projection going on at our table all of a sudden.
And then, somehow with only a couple of seconds' worth of intervening conversation, a visitor from Japan told us that his new daughter's name is Sarah (though I suspect that the spelling is different), and that he and his wife chose her name because of its old, old Sanskrit meaning. Roughly, he told us that in Chinese (and leave it to formal dinner to ensure that one comes away with only half the specifics of any story--so that I wonder, did he say Chinese? did he say Japanese?) Sarah means that a person will never become ill, because the Buddha always sat under a tree named (in Sanskrit) Sarah when he spoke, and from there, the name developed to what it is today.
I have no real way of checking up on this story, and no real interest in checking up. What I know is that the idea of my name's having something to do with an overspreading tree under which deep teachings were made--well, that idea came just in time during tonight's dinner. I know what I'm about. I know how, as I advise my students whenever I can, to take myself seriously--as my self, my self of integrity, but also as the self that nurtures others.
I suppose that next time I should just say, "Oh, for God's sake, stop it." If I could learn how to say those six words with conviction, I suspect that a lot of the small amount of nonsense in my life would clear away.