Tracy has a thing she talks about sometimes—which I now think about a lot—that has to do with “holding two things at once.” We’re not always so good at it—we want things to be one thing or the other, to have some clarity.
The first time she mentioned it, she basically used “holding two things at once” as a definition of how religion works. Beyond the classic of relative and absolute, just as a day-to-day question, how do you hold the beauty of the world along with all the sadness, without letting either one go or saying that one is truer than the other? How do you accept responsibility for others when there are days when it feels like you can barely hold your own life together? For any kind of spiritual path to be alive, we have to move beyond the idea that we’re supposed to choose. Or even that we can.
Tracy’s book, My Year of Dirt and Water, came out just a few weeks ago. There are a lot of ways of talking about it, and I’m never sure which to choose. It covers the year I was in training the longest (when I was bouncing between Zuioji and Shogoji), so we were apart, with Tracy still living in Japan. It’s about her, us, Japan, the monastery, pottery, Zen, Alaska, aloneness, love, practice, and what it is to pay attention. It’s all those things, but in my mind, it might really be about this question of holding more than one thing at once. Being married while also being separated. Being whole while knowing that some things never heal. Moving on while seeing, clearly, that you’re always here, and that this is where you’ll always be. It’s beautiful.
I know no one else can read this book in exactly the way I do—until I saw a draft a couple years ago, I didn’t know much of what had happened during that year apart. I got to see myself through Tracy’s eyes, when she visited the monastery. It was at once new and utterly familiar, a momentary slide back in time. We’re not those people, yet when I watch them, I know them, and I know us a little better than I did.
Today is our anniversary. We’ve been married seventeen years, together closer to twenty. Along the way, she’s put up with a lot from this clumsy, struggling priest. She’s amazing. I am ordained in a once-celibate tradition; I’m someone with responsibilities to teachers and teachings and a community, all of which pull me in a hundred directions, and I know I fail in an equal number of ways, including sometimes failing her. Yet if I weren’t married to Tracy, who teaches me so much, I know I would fail in a thousand more. That’s part of what I hold. There is no this without that.
I hope some of the readers of this blog might enjoy Tracy’s book—for the Zen, yes, but also just for the honesty of it, and for the language. If you do, I hope you’ll let me know.