Queen Anne Hill - Seattle, Washington
The end of May, 2012
A shift from Moab, Utah, to Seattle means a shift from the high desert of Canyonlands to damp, cool Puget Sound; from 7,000 feet to sea level; from cracked, dry skin to mold under my nails; from pinon pines and cactus outside my door to roses and fuchsias in my garden, and from one set of friends and neighbors to another. The shift usually requires some mental and physical adjustment.
But I’m a little more discombobulated than usual this time because my 75th birthday happens next Monday. I usually avoid the birthday thing, but my wife and family and friends are going to celebrate the event, and I am free to come or not, as I choose. I choose to attend, of course, but my mind has been sorting through the years and memories - both awake and asleep.
That explains the gap in writing for this journal. Far more than I expected or intended, I’ve been absorbed in the past, wandering around in a state of nostalgia and confusion. But I’ll not bore you with the details of an accounting that has meaning only to me. Except to say that I am stunned by how many people are still brightly alive in my mind, when in fact, most of them are dead and buried.
Those are the facts of the matter - on this last Tuesday in May, as I write.
What follows is, of necessity, more fiction than fact.
“Hindu,” said Harry Hapgood.
That’s the answer he gave to an inquisitive lady.
It was a combination cocktail party, pot-luck, and small-talk event.
The lady was mingling about to ascertain the religious categories of those present because she thought it might be nice to offer a blessing on the food and drink, and she wanted to be inclusive in her liturgical efforts.
“Hindu,” repeated Harry, in response to the lady’s raised eyebrows.
“Well, you don’t look Indian,” she replied.
At this point Harry should have explained that he was kidding, and had just said the first thing that popped into his mind, as often happens when asked an unexpected question.
That’s what he should have done.
But he didn’t.
Harry’s mind seemed to him like an ongoing garage sale, and he sometimes put stuff out on the curb without thinking about it.
And then someone would come along, find an odd piece, and was willing to buy it.
And this lady was clearly a buyer.
No doubt in your life you’ve encountered mildly-irritating, earnest, well-meaning people with a sense of humor as thin and fragile as bathroom tissue. The kind who go about the world just asking to have their leg pulled.
This lady was one of those.
So Harry pulled it.
“Well, actually, I was an Indian in a former life. We Hindus believe in reincarnation, you know.”
“Yes, everything goes around and around in an eternal cycle of life. Another expression for it is the scientific law of the conservation of matter and energy - nothing ever goes out of existence, it’s only changed and recycled.
There’s no exit, only another ride.”
The lady stared at Harry.
She wasn’t going away, but she was at a loss for words, moving her lips silently like a goldfish in a bowl.
And Harry still had a firm grip on her leg.
He had seen her in town recently in workout clothes, carrying a yoga mat.
So he broke the stalemate.
“You are involved in yoga, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes, I do yoga religiously - three times a week.”
“That’s a good word - ‘religiously’ - because yoga is one of the most ancient practices of Hinduism. And I know you’re a vegetarian - that’s very Hindu. And you are a believer in non-violence because you said you can’t even kill bugs. And I know you’re very respectful of cows, too. Because I saw you wait for several to cross the road on the way to the ranch. And you’re very tolerant, or you wouldn’t be talking to me. You must be a Hindu and just don’t know it.”
“But, but, but . . . I’m not Indian - I’m a Jew.”
“Maybe in this life, but in a former life you must have been Indian.
Or else you are unconsciously preparing for being an Indian Hindu in your next reincarnation. There are clues. Being Hindu would really be something to look forward to. You’d look really classy in a sari with a red dot between your eyes.”
She stared - her mind seized up by too much complex data all at once, her lips doing the goldfish thing, and her leg still in Harry’s grip.
Unable to stop himself, he went on.
“Being Hindu is a great thing - it’s the world’s oldest religion - going back about seven thousand years - and there are a billion of us in this world and trillions in the great circle of being. Cool, don’t you think? A lot more Hindus than Jews. When the Rapture happens, the Christians are going to heaven forever, but us Hindus just get another ride on the merry-go-round.”
“Maybe I should talk to my rabbi about this.”
“Good idea - but he might find it a little odd - not very Jewish.”
“Maybe not - he comes to the same yoga classes I do.”
“Ah, another Hindu - an Indian, coming or going. We should form a group, maybe build a small shrine somewhere and do puja together in anticipation of the future.”
“Do you pray or meditate?”
“Yes - every day.”
“That’s puja. You’re more Hindu than you know.”
“But, but, but . . . I’m Jewish.”
“Actually it can work out. I know there are Jews who are also Buddhists - because there’s no real contradiction, just complimentarity. They call themselves JewBus.”
“I’ve heard about them.”
“Well, then, maybe you are a JewHu.”
Harry scrambled to get out of this - to let go of her leg.
“Look, they just put out a fresh bowl of guacamole.
Would you like some?
Guacamole is OK for Hindus and Jews - it’s vegetarian.
We call it MexiHu food.
This looks fresh, but you have to be careful.”
“Well,” said Harry, “I saw dandruff in guacamole once.”
The lady had enough - she pried her leg out of his grip and walked away.
Leaving Harry wishing he could be a fly on the wall of her rabbi’s office when she came for counseling . . . and wishing he would be called on when it came time to bless the food. He would have sung that old Hindu hymn,
“Om, Om on the Range.”
Smiling, Harry helped himself to the guacamole.