"I Want to Know Them All"

"I Want to Know Them All"

Editor's Note: Houston Wood was one of the first real "hippies" I met when I moved to San Francisco in 1970. He was a fellow student at the California Institute of Asian Studies (now C.I.I.S.). Though a straight man (now paterfamilias of a family of five, I believe, though I must confess, I've lost track of his whereabouts), he exemplified for me the openness and celebration of diversity that was central to the Countercultural thinking of the "flower children." He was fascinated with me as a former monk and as a gay man; and, through his interest, helped me to see the consistency of the two roles and to understand the spiritual and mystical roots of my sexual identity. The following piece Houston wrote for me in a sort of gesture of highly etheralized homoeroticism -- the sex never actually occurred and I was never ordained to the priesthood. But it is a wonderful statement, I believe, of the myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.


The night we first made love we lay awake touching and laughing about our touches till nearly dawn. I rose soon after sleep finally caught up with us to celebrate mass. A's dozing image visited me as weary but cleansed I recited the sweet liturgy. Church affairs kept me from my room until early afternoon. A was gone. He'd left the bed neatly made and had folded the bedspread halfway, inviting me to nap. Full of his kindness, I climbed in and discovered this long note under my pillow:

Brother in God, From the two of us, the one of us, I passed softly into a dream (puny name for our deeper worlds!). Floating above the bed, I looked down on your shining sleeping face. Your lips puckered and grinned, as if you knew I was watching but did not want to spoil my fun by opening your eyes. I glanced about your room to share a conspirator's smile with the spirits I knew must always be watching you here. "I want to know everyone in the world," I exulted to them and at once the warm luminescence of the shadows glowed full awake and I flew beyond your room toward a welcoming multitude so large I knew it contained every soul on earth. There was such a scrumptious swirl of colors there, of ages, fashions; of rich and poor; beautiful and powerfully homely. I glided one to another, always with a mutual peering and interpenetration of eyes, a glimpse of their kernels, of them into mine. Brief discovering and clean delight. After a score I realized I was to be carried to each, three billion, and gave a thought command to your spirits granting me my wish, to slow down, to allow me time to know each person better.

My wish was granted and I began to embrace them, deeply and completely, before moving on, ever moving on.

My flight was still too swift. I could but begin to establish something rich and unique with one when my body glided to the summons of the next. Slower yet, I ordered. And it was so. Now I could dawdle and even share some conversation before cruising on.

Thus I passed through perhaps a hundred: bushmen, Frenchmen, Bedouins, gypsies, children, the old and dying, and though the pace yet seemed hasty, I accepted it until a new desire came over me: to go back and revisit some I had already met. Old friends, a respite from the ever new.

The wish produced its fruit and so after every fourth or fifth new person I was flown back to an old one. And these familiar faces, with their sweetly remembered bodies and voices, were as enchanting as the new, sweeter even than they had been when first we'd met.

Slower yet, I called at last, wanting to share days with many that I found, to pause long enough to caress and make love to others.

I began to deliberate with each one how long I would tarry. To will my way back to particular others when their imagined faces warmed my memory.

But it was wearying being so completely in control. I constantly had to think and judge and decide: who, how long, when. And though I asked and tried to gauge the desires of my friends, I knew I was not always choosing well. So I willed away my control. Let them come and go as they themselves choose, I said, and suddenly I found I had returned to the familiar earth-bound time rhythms, except I knew there would be no end, no death, until I had satisfied my dream and knew them all.

I began taking time out from my friends and lovers, old and new, to rest and rejoice with but myself. It was like visitng my oldest friend. I reviewed my loving past, fantasized my sweet future, returning always to the present of others fuller of appreciation for them and for myself.

As I returned so refreshed one time I watched the people drawing near and recognized yet another flaw in the game I'd created. All came to me at their own pleasure, to be sure, but they were still uncomfortably under my will. It added an alien desire to them, a part of me and my pecularities. It stripped them of a portion of their own uniqueness, of what I most desired to know, so this attitude too I willed away. Now some would never come, would never want to meet me. Others would come in anger, or to use and exploit me. No matter. I didn't want a world where everyone had my desires. And, there were enough who came as before, a full infinite lifetime's worth, and all were now entirely themselves.

But oh, I thought, these are but the ones alive as my body slept in Father Toby's bed. What of all the jewels of the past, and the future ones. I must go to them. And not as myself but as their contemporary, lest I disturb them in ways neither of us could ever comprehend. I must die and be reborn. I must have been dying and being reborn over and over throughout the ages of man.

And, I saw, I must not know it, not too consciously or readily anyway, unless those in the age also knew it. Else again I would not belong, not embrace them as I wished, human being to human being.

Oh, and to know all people -- thoughts flooded in upon me, complexities, multiplying upon one another -- I must know them in every situation, every moment of their lives. Not as it had been, merely when they were alone with me, but also when the two of us were together with others, every conceivable combination of others. And not merely from within my single perspective but from every possible perspective, from within the mind of every person they ever see or slightly know. And, of course, I must also experience them from within the swarming flow of themselves.

There must always be time for rest as well. Years, sometimes entire lifetimes spent with no other ones, learning only who one is alone, and what in solitude one may become.

And always this knowing -- the final insight which sunk me to my knees and brought the laughter of your spirits to my ears -- always it must come without simultaneous awareness of what is going on. My enjoying everyone from every possible direction must not be muddied by the remembrance that it is after all but myself in disguise taking the place of others in order to know them all, to experience it all.

Floating slowly above the patiently waiting mass I reviewed these discoveries and uttered a final wish I knew would at once be granted. So I might know everyone and experience everything, through your spirits, I ordered the cosmos: make the world unfold from beginning to end not once but an infinite number of times. Grant me a universe with infinite time breathing upon but finite matter. Every combination of events that can happen, then, will happen not once but again and again. Each time through I am to be placed within only one person but, eventually, will find myself in that person an infinite number of times, as with all other people. From man's appearance to destruction, the cycles will be in trillions of years perhaps, with each new stream differing from the previous one in but the placement of a snowflake, or the singing of a song, or the birth of a sparrow. One cosmic exhalation will be the exact replica of some other loop in every numberless detail up to a point when maybe man will blow up the planet or an extra baby be born or a screen door be slammed.

And I'll be there each time, every time, eventually experiencing every possible nuance and convolution the human brain is capable of experiencing. I'll be buried within one person, always only one, but in the event everyone. There, wherever, everywhere, I'll scratch out my life within them amidst all the other others fate leads me to see, love, hate or pass by. They'll be great suffering and pain in the cycles, long ages of darkness and aimless cruelties. And no matter how lost I become, no further wish can ever be permitted to rescind this one. No more changes at my will.

You spirits too must abandon the earth and watch only from above. So I and all the earth beings will never perceive that I live within every one, at once lost and at home. That is all by a choice I once made to will away my will, to fulfill my deepest desire. So each of my lives and each other woman or man's life will be with aloneness, with drift within a tension between their own imagination and that of those they meet. One's own experience always will seem to be opposed to the others. And some few will rely solely on themselves and find others a dreadful weight. And others will experience only as they judge, often wrongly, others would have them experience. While most will wash about in an in-between state, attempting the impossible of at once serving their own dreams and that of others. And whatever each person concocts from this melange will be him or herself, and real. Everyone will inhabit a reality they construct.

And every one's world will reveal truth, with no common grounds for a full conjoining among human beings. And in such a swarm no one will ever rise above their own dark alcove, no one will ever remember who they are and where they've been. Never have the slightest glimpse of all this. No one ever, except at extremely rare moments, when they love themselves completely and at once most desires to leave themselves. Extraordinarily rare, fleeting seconds of miracle and revelation. Like once in the lifetimes of some fated one of me who awakening in the bed of a new lover looks down upon their shining, sleeping face and finds themself looking back. And recalls in the ensuing swirl that they've been there before, sometimes from the side they're now on, sometimes from within the body of the lover. Weeps to remember they have been in everyone, have themselves caused all the pain and all the joy. Shall be in each again and do it again. And again.

Whereupon I'll collapse into sleep and live a thing called a dream where your spirits will interfere and reveal to me the giddy truth, which leaves me, once awake, able to scratch about it like this. Which readily dissipates the sublime fuzz, I'll discover, melts it into uncertainties and doubt, and so creates life's energy one more: I want to know them all.