I walked down the steps into my gym’s large hot tub, ready to continue sinking into the zen state I was in from a restorative session. The water’s heat and movement took but a few seconds to work the magic I had hoped it would.
An older Asian man was sitting across from me, having just changed sides of the hot tub to face away from the other guy sitting in it. I smiled as I sat down and gently closed my eyes. He smiled back.
I sat for a few moments and opened my eyes. The man was looking at me and the intensity of it was palpable.
He smiled and said, “Do you want to hear why old men die?” His think accent and gentle but excited demeanor made me curious.
“Sure!” I smiled and closed my eyes and began to listen.
And the man began to tell me about the Good Word of Jesus Christ. He reminded me how the meek will inherit the earth and how there will be no more death.
I was initially surprised and a bit annoyed, but continued to rest and smile with my eyes closed. Having a stranger share that particular Good Word is unusual here in Portland, but I wasn’t going to have it override the earlier intention I had set to rest, restore, and receive.
“Do you want to live forever?”, he asked me.
I opened my eyes slightly, smiled, and shared the truth: “I’m not sure.” (I had spent the last few months while fallow thinking about the seasons, life, and death and how each has its meaning and place. To remove death would break the cycle and I’m not sure I would want to live forever. Part of me is tied up into the cycle, just as water is tied into the identity of a fish. What does it mean to be a fish without water?)
He wasn’t prepared for that response. He started to say something, stopped, thought for a few moments, started to say something, and stopped again. My intention was neither to engage nor to rudely shut him down; I closed my eyes restfully and found a comfortable, no-effort position that kept my head above water.
I’m not sure what his inner journey was for the next few minutes that he remained in the tub. Mine, though, was a reflection of my history with religion, spirituality, philosophy, and mindful living. Of the last few decades of scholarship, learning, experiencing, practicing, accepting, rejecting, distilling, and incorporating parts and wholes of the last three thousand years of cultural traditions, including the one he was sharing with me and its opposite, western scientistic atheism. Of how embedded the words he spoke were in my DNA, such that I could finish the sentence after hearing four words and roughly locate them in some New Revised version of the Bible. Of how, just that morning, Angela and I had a rich conversation about the worldviews of spiritual mediums, Taoist metaphysics, and Enneagram followers.
I thought about how, ten years ago, I might’ve answered his question the same and still yet smiled, but it would not have been to practice non-judgmentally receiving his wisdom and intention; it would more likely have been me baiting him into some absurdity that I could illuminate and leave him “educated.” And how it feels better to be where I am today, though I still have have plenty to learn and practice.
The last stop in my reflective journey was the most entertaining. It occurred to me that, with his age and background, he may have spent just as much time and energy (or more!) traveling the world of wisdom and picking at his spiritual navel as I had. This insight made me appreciate all the more what he was sharing with me.
Amidst these thoughts, I sensed my elder teacher begin to stir and leave the hot tub. I opened my eyes and smiled at him again.
“Have a great day. Peace and love be with you,” I said sincerely. He searched for a reply and settled for “You, too.”
The only other thing that I wish I would’ve said was “Thank you.” By having the courage to share Hope with me, he gave me a chance to not only truly receive his intended Word, but to practice it and many others.