Consider the case of a mathematician, in this case My oldest brother, who is (a) halved by an illness, (b) stilled completely by it, and (c) reduced to ash. Trust me, he would be the first to note that finally He finished his travels at 0.00416666667 of what He weighed for a long time. I bet then he’d spend Weeks poking into what else weighed exactly that. I’d get a terse note with a list in his meticulous ink: The cardinal on average weighs 0.992 of a pound, And the long-tailed weasel weighs exactly a pound. A letter like that is exactly like a zen koan, I think. It’s as much a door as a statement. Let us consider That we have all just now received this terse letter. It sits there grinning on the table next to the coffee. I don’t know about you, but I am going to dive into The whole weasel question. We have so little time, And there’s so much to be discovered. I want to be Able to be conversant about this the next time I see My brother. He’ll want to know. He’ll have missed A lot of time that could have been devoted to these Things, and someone has to carry the ball, whether It’s weasels or cardinals or cancer. How mortifying It will be if he asks me about something, and I have To say I didn’t pay attention, man, and he will stare At me with that laser stare and not even have to say, And what was it you did instead of paying attention?
Brian Doyle is editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, and, most recently, Chicago, a novel.