I was seated on a tall aluminum stool, in the middle of a high school gymnasium, at three in the morning. I wore a silk beanie on my head from which there stood a single aplomado falcon feather, pointed straight up like an antenna. My eyes were closed in concentration.
Hafiz was seated opposite me on a stack of encyclopedias he had built just outside of the circle at midcourt. In front of him stood a collapsible table he was using as a makeshift desk for the occasion. He was taking notes on parchment with a feather quill pen, and, as I had observed earlier when my eyes had been open, studying me periodically over the top of a pair of burnished bronze wire frame magnifiers that he’d perched on the tip of his nose. In his free hand he held an old stopwatch, the mechanical type they would have used to track the progress of Olympic runners around a cinder oval after enduring trans-Atlantic passages aboard a coal-fired steamer. It was silver, with two ridge-edged knobs and a beautiful glass dial.
Outside, the night sky was a blackened violet canvas, speckled by stars that dotted the space as if they had been thrown from a can into the vast expanse. Maybe you swung that can of star seed across the heavens. Maybe I did. Maybe we did. Maybe it was our Friend. Is it not the same…? Through a double-door in the corner, I could hear the muffled transmissions of a chorus of peepers.
I took a breath and exhaled. I was spacious and filled with delight. I rested my elbows on my knees, assuming the pose of a double-fisted Thinker, (the version of the statue that didn’t get made), and took another breath. My heart felt like a gently flowing stream. My mind apprehended how good and pure this moment felt, and through sheer force of habit began to analyze its conditions, seeking for the determining factors it might identify and, in the future, control. One thing led to another at the alarming pace of thought, and it was done… A question arose about what it would be like to be in this gym alone, without Hafiz, and I latched onto it. There was the slightest sinking inside of me, a twinge of concern about that eventuality. Just as it was about to carry me away, the space overhead erupted with a volley of piercing falcon screams.
I haven’t told you yet about the Poet’s alarm system. Up in the rafters, just beyond Hafiz and his rickety desk, roughly twenty falcons were perched, vigilant and statuesque, watching every movement within me with the same intensity they apply to the surveillance of vast fields whose least motion may betray the furtive transit of mice and moles.
Hafiz clicked off the stopwatch, inspected the gauge, looked over at me and winked. “Three minutes, forty two seconds and seven tenths,” he said. “Very good. Which?”
“Future isolation,” I said.
I let go of the silly thought about being alone in a gym, without Hafiz, at some indeterminate point in the future, and the glum feeling it had provoked, and let myself expand once again. My heart filled up and my mind wandered. Scenes whirled past. I imagined a bright future. I pictured myself as an accomplished composer, and a concert hall full of inspired symphony fans, and a spacious home that overlooked the water. It felt wonderful, and then my mind reminded me of the job I would return to in the morning, and of various failed endeavors, of how little time I had to compose after working, of the symphony I hadn’t even written yet, and of how far out of reach the vision seemed to be given my present circumstances. That sinking feeling snuck in…
The falcons let loose immediately. “Two minutes, ten seconds, even,” Hafiz said. He shot me a questioning look.
“Lack… or specialness… I don’t know,” I said.
We continued for hours, all through the night… I imagined becoming extremely ill. I imagined random acts of violence. I imagined a world full of people I couldn’t trust. I imagined failing to reach my dreams. I imagined failing to try to reach my dreams. I imagined failing to understand my purpose. I imagined the type of life I could endure indefinitely, knowing at the same time that simply enduring was not the answer. On and on it went, and one by one the obstacles within me to remaining in a state of peace were identified and discarded. The falcons leapt upon the slightest of breeches to spaciousness and Love as if they were vile intruders. Early in the morning, as the sun rose, I was exhausted and cleaned out, and I sat in dumbfounded bliss.
I was hollowed. And holy. And happy. I had filled with a delight for what is…
Hafiz hopped off his pile of knowledge and came over. He took the silk cap and feather off of my head, and held my face in his hands.
“Give up this suffering forever,” he suggested, “and why don’t we go and get some coffee.” He was illumined by the sun that poured in through the open double-door.
I nodded, and instantly twenty falcons leapt into the air, swirled past in a cloud, and funneled through the doors, hurtling up into the skies.
We hold on to so many things. There is such powerful encouragement to let them go. I was going to say something else, but I remembered you already knew that, too.