Meditation — Shimmer

You stand
across from me
in this grassy field
while silence
like spilled ink
in the space
between our bodies.
The clouds
are afraid to move.
I hold my breath
and so do
the mountains
and the squirrels
in the branches
as you
clear your throat
to say
good-bye, forever.
And even then,
the alphabet
when you speak.

Silent Lake

Nine summers ago I was invited to spend some time in the picturesque town of Gananoque in Canada. We rented a log cabin with access to a large lake where we would wake up to the song of birds and sleep to the rhythm of crickets.

Every morning, after coffee and cigarettes, we would walk down to the lake and get into a small boat to paddle our way around the lake. There were so many nooks to discover.

From the small pier outside the cabin you could see the other side of the bank. A majestic forest stood there, beyond the mirror-smooth lake.

One day, in a moment of nature-loving solitude, I decided to take the boat out by myself and spend some time alone in the serenity of the middle of the lake.

As soon as I got there, in the middle of the lake, and I was equidistant from all its banks, I experienced a new kind of quiet as the water absorbed whatever sound escaped from the thick shrubs.

It was early afternoon and nobody was at the river banks. I was alone.

Oh shit, I was alone.

Suddenly I remembered a scene from a movie I saw as a kid, and imagined a huge dark shadow passing under the boat. Then I imagined that some alien tentacles would come out of the water and pull me down into a watery grave. I imagined monsters coming out of the water and into the boat, then back into the water leaving behind some of my bones floating in a pool of my blood.

I quickly turned the boat around and rowed as fast as I could back to the pier. I ran up to the cabin and joined my friends. They wondered why I was back so soon, and I said it was too hot to be on the lake.

That day I learned my lesson:

No matter what beauty surrounds you, if the darkness is inside you, it will always wait for you to be alone.

Aztec Lava; a humiliation

On a beautiful spring day in 2012, I entered an authentic Mexican restaurant in Toronto and ordered a burrito. The waitress asked me what sauce I wanted on it.

There were three sauces, of increasing intensity. I don’t remember their names, but the spiciest one was called Aztec Lava. The name itself should have been a clue, honestly.

I asked for Aztec Lava on my burrito. The waitress calmly and matter-of-factly said, “Don’t take that. You’re a white boy.” My friends and I laughed.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m an Arab, we eat spicy food.” I said this while recalling eating fresh spicy peppers or the red “shatta” we have with falafel. “I’ll take the Aztec Lava.”

“No problem,” she replied. “Just to let you know, you will have to pay for it even if you don’t eat it.” That’s a second clue that I missed.

The burrito arrived covered in a light green sauce. I took a small bite of it and immediately felt the deepest pits of hell open up inside my mouth.

Sometimes, when you eat spicy food, your mouth becomes accustomed to it, and the next few bites become less aggressive, and eventually you just enjoy the heat.

Not the Aztec Lava on this burrito though.

It was so spicy that it was bitter. It was so spicy that it eliminated all taste buds in my mouth. I couldn’t pick up on anything from the burrito. And it wouldn’t calm down. No beer, no milk, no water could stop it. Oh, and the tears!!

I managed 1.125 bites of the burrito and then stopped. The waitress, upon picking up our plates later, gave me an I Told You So glance. I avoided eye contact.

I have not, since then, ever tasted anything as spicy. Nor tasted that level of humiliation.

The Married Man

In the winter of 2012, a group of us was walking back home one evening along a busy street in Montreal. We passed by a small pub where two men were standing outside having a cigarette with their beers. No smoking indoors there.

As we approached them, one of the two men shouted to us in excitement. “I got married!” He lifted his hand up to show us the ring on his finger. His drinking buddy gave out a semi-enthusiastic “woo-hoo!”

My group of friends returned the “woo-hoo” as we walked along, but I couldn’t do that.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I walked up to him and give him a big hug through our thick winter coats. He hugged me back nice and un-embarrassedly.

“Congratulations, man!” I said. “All the best to you both.”

I joined my group of friends and we continued on our way.

Not only was I the only married one in the group, and therefore understood his happiness at getting married.

But at that moment, watching a man stand with one single friend outside of a pub, in the cold, calling out to strangers that he got married… that made me realize something.

It isn’t only sadness that is heavy to carry on your own. Sometimes, even joy itself means nothing if you cannot share it with someone. Even if it’s only a stranger.

The swings — a meditation

Remember when
every day
was a new one,
the next moment
was just the rest
of right now,
and the passing
hours slipped
quietly into the past
when we weren’t looking?

Some days
we conquered swings
and slides,
other days we lost
to thunder,
and no one
was keeping score.

The Secret I Never Asked To Keep

In one of the summers of long ago, the one in which I was 19, a surreal thing happened that still visits me from time to time.

I was standing at the street corner catching up with my cousin, who I had run into on the way home. He lives just down the street, but even then we’d run into each other instead of making sure we met regularly.

As we stood there chatting, one of the neighborhood junkies approached us. He was maybe in his late 20s, and he always had red nostrils. I remember him as a menacing figure whose reputation in the area was one of trouble. And now here he was walking over.

“You two, come with me, I wanna show you something,” he ordered. My cousin and I walked behind him. I felt uneasy about it, but my cousin was with me and he’s a tough, street smart guy, so I wasn’t too worried.

We walked behind him down a nearby alley to his grandmother’s house, where he lived in a small room on the upper floor. His room had a wooden staircase from the outside of the house, so he could go in and out as he pleased.

Soon enough, we were in his bedroom. “Sit down,” he said, pointing to some chairs in his room. We did. He sat on his bed and opened the small drawer next to it.

He pulled out a ball of aluminum foil, put it in his lap and unrolled it. Inside was a black substance. He then pulled out of the drawer a hollow Bic pen, which he used as a straw, as well as a lighter.

At that moment I realized what was going on.

He put lighter under the foil and held the flame there until a thin white line of smoke danced out of it. He used the straw to inhale the smoke. He held it in, then exhaled it, and repeated the process twice more.

Meanwhile, my cousin and I sat in complete silence, watching. “Listen to me both of you,” the guy interrupted. “Drugs will kill you. Don’t you ever do drugs, you hear me?”

I don’t remember what my cousin did or said, but I remember just nodding speechlessly. What could I possibly have said there?

“Alright, now get out of here,” he commanded us. As we walked out of his room, he called us back. “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you,” he added. I had no doubt it wasn’t a figure of speech.

To this day, I have no idea what happened there, or why. But I feel I was invited to be a witness to someone else’s silent inner struggle. As if he needed someone to verify his existence and understand his suffering.

I’ve not seen him since that summer, so I’m not sure where he is, or if he’s even still alive. But in many ways, in my mind, he definitely is.