he's frailer now with the years. the athlete remains in the neck and face, but the rest of him is withered. a man of 6'5" at 20, he lost a few before he hit 21. says he’s about 6’3” now. as the bird flies.
name's phil. sits with a golden prayer bowl held together with silver duct tape. it was gifted him by an old friend; before the break. says “all the best things are gifts. right?”
tells about being in the 101st airborne. high altitude extraction in two man teams. did 17 live; in combat. for the run, you’re in the dark, blind, wearing an oxygen tank. you hear three beeps. altitude. area. jump. as the bay opens the sight of the horizon is breathtaking.
says he has two purple hearts. injuries sustained.
tells me about shannon his high school sweetheart; and the stuff they did together. how they used to dress up – wigs, makeup, costumes, colored contacts, ... to see rocky horror at the local theatre. after, everyone would meet up at the nearby denny’s. the whole lot a sight to see. all thinking "aren't we so goth." shannon got him into that. "i was a different person. you know how you go through phases?"
"yes," i say, "i know."
they went to high school in indiana. she ran the 1500; he ran the (slightly longer) mile. he'd always run back to talk to her on the warm down. they were also in band together. he played trombone; she played sax. trombone sat behind sax, so they would talk there too. they became best friends. his was always the shoulder for her latest heartbreak. finally he told her she should spare herself the grief and just be with him.
he joined the army out of high school and they were engaged by the time he was twenty. says he’s always had a thing for short girls. shannon was 5'2". his mom was short too. says shannon just felt like she fit. he could hold her all the way ‘round in his arms; and somehow that made him feel like he could protect her.
but they spent a lot of time apart these days. newly engaged, he visited her on leave that fall. her parents were arguing and she didn't like being at home at those times. so they went out to see rocky horror to get out of the house. then they’d go for the meet up at denny's after. all goth. but they never made it to denny’s.
walking past the wrong ally they were riddled with bullets. a random gang shooting. the worst had happened in combat was a shot in the arm and some shrapnel grazing his side. a purple heart each. somalia, bosnia, serbia... and this happens at home.
he was in a coma for his 21st birthday. october, 1995. shannon died at 20 on the street. he would eventually revive; but would never walk again.
he practices zen buddhism. tells me a story when i ask about it: zen buddhist and buddhist live next door to each other. each prizes his garden above all else. and each spends long hours in its service. one day the zen buddhist is visiting the buddhist and a single leaf falls on an otherwise leafless ground. the buddhist dashes off and ushers away the offending leaf. the zen buddhist is puzzled. he asks why the buddhist removed the leaf. he is told “so as to make it perfect.” still puzzled he asks "but is it not perfect as it is?"
phil seeks rigor in his practice of zen buddhism. he sees people who take bits and pieces and says it doesn’t work that way. says it’s like life; you need to take it all. life is all or nothing. you can’t pick and choose.
tells me he doesn’t meditate to withdraw but to take everything in. he closes his eyes and visits everything that is around him. appreciates everything; investigates everything; is one with everything.
of course, for physical disciplines, he’s a bit restricted in his practice... as a paraplegic in a wheelchair. “i’m not about to do downward dog,” he smiles. instead he says he does it in his head. says the brain’s what interprets the world anyway. so doing it there is as real as anywhere.
he visualizes himself executing his poses free from the ground, form by form, to a final full lotus perfectly hovering in the air. suspended. at peace.