Friday, April 27, 2012


my A to Z - every day of the challenge I will find a word by flinging my finger into my American Heritage Dictionary and then riff on it. The posts may be essays or poems or stories or memories. Who knows what will happen when we give Serendipity her wanton way?

Xenon - n. Symbol Xe A colorless, odorless, highly unreactive gaseous element found in minute quantities in the atmosphere, extracted commercially from liquefied air, and used in stroboscopic, bactericidal, and laser-pumping lamps. 

oyyoyoyoy! What to do with this word? Then I see in my American Heritage Dictionary at the end of this entry - for yes, it does go on to tell me even more stultifying details - the word is from the Greek and it is the neuter of xenos, stranger!

Why couldn't I get this guy to respond to me? I'd noticed him the first day he came to the retreat. I knew I wasn't there to find a romantic partner but as soon as he'd wafted in to the meditation room all the women's eyes were on him. He was tall and seemed to move in the meditation room as if he had no weight at all. He was dressed simply in draw-string linen pants and a loose tunic, his hair a pale honey colour hanging down to his shoulders. I'd never seen him in town - he must have arrived at the retreat from somewhere far away. We were still in the silent part of the retreat. that means we were only to use what is called functional talking - 'please pass the tofu' and 'I need to make a phone-call to my babysitter' - that sort of thing. You know when people are all together and quiet they seem pretty damn interesting. Maybe cats know something we don't. I'd been on these retreats before and knew that it was easy to make up a story about someone who wasn't communicating - a story involving how wise and witty and wonderful they are. Then, on the first day of non-silence, that story dissolves as their voice lets you know they are simply human like you and maybe a bit more neurotic.
This guy seemed different. It was the way he moved into any area, whether it was the meditation room or the dining hall or even when we doing our rota after the noon meal. He seemed to take up no space but to simply insinuate himself the best he could. Men usually don't do that in my opinion. Go into a room and notice how much room a man takes up on the couch as opposed to a woman. Men sprawl, they spread, they conquer the room with a nonchalance that is three parts entitlement and one part plain ignorance. Don't get me wrong - I'd like to do it - feel comfortable taking up more room than I do - not feel like I'm constantly accommodating everyone around me. But let's face it, I'm not going to.
Back to this guy - he wasn't small. Not small-boned and although he was tall and graceful, he was carrying pounds- he wasn't a sylph. Only you didn't hear him coming even if he had his outdoor shoes on - you didn't feel like he took up the oxygen or the psychic space or anything at all. The only space he was consuming was the space in my mind and with hours and hours on the cushion he took up way too much of it.
The silent portion of the retreat came to an end and I looked forward to seeing how right I'd been about various people I'd been assessing - OK OK - judging - as I sat. I was right about the woman with the elaborate blankets at her cushion - she was bursting to talk and tell anyone who would listen about all the amazing insights she'd had. I was wrong about this man I knew slightly from a coffee-shop we both frequented - he had looked rather goofy but was well-spoken and obviously an academic in some field or other.
It was the noon meal before I got a chance to interact with the man that had taken up so much of my thoughts. I approached him in the line-up to get our food. I was tentative but I wasn't going to leave this retreat without connecting with him.
"Hi, my name is Jeanette. Where are you from?"
He didn't respond. Didn't turn his face towards mine. Just kept moving in the line towards the tempeh, rice and vegetables. Maybe he hadn't heard me.
"Hi! I don't think you heard me. My name is Jeanette and I'd like to meet you."
What was with this guy? No response at all. I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of the staff members coming towards me. What now? I wasn't being pushy - just human. The woman gestured to me and drew me away from the line. Her voice was low and gentle.
"Jeanette, Xenon won't talk. He doesn't ever talk. He comes to the retreats because he likes to spend time with others not talking. He'll be leaving after the noon meal."
I felt flushed with embarrassment and wanted to leave the room but I made myself go back into the line.
I chatted quietly with the person behind me, a nice elderly lady from another province. She looked at me with tremendous kindness and after a few exchanges offered "I noticed what just happened. It's interesting isn't it, how we can sit for a week trying to calm our mind and then throw it away the first time we are thwarted?"
I laughed and grabbed a bowl of food. I was going to go outside to eat, away from others, and think. Quietly.


baygirl32 said...

Another great post!

but I have to ask....a nice elderly lady from another province - which other province??

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - What a fascinating character study! You've made me curious - really curious. And I love that insight at the end.

Liza said...

Hmmm, a week trying to calm my mind. Now that sounds rewarding!

Carol Kilgore said...

When you commute every day, you really notice how much space most men consider to be theirs.

This is great. Now I want to know why Xenon won't talk.

Happy Weekend!

Shannon @I Survived and Now I Run said...

Clever story and use of your word...great reading your post. Visiting via A to Z Challenge

Francene Stanley said...

Xenon--the stranger. Yes, a good-looking man will draw you out of meditation in the flick of awareness. Haha.

Jan Morrison said...

baygirl - haven't a clue as this is fiction!