The residents of the Mansion say they are grateful to me for bringing Red to them, and Maria as well, but the truth is that I am grateful to them for letting me into their lives. Red and Connie are valentines, I think, they have come to love one another in a pure and simple way. Red gets to heal and connect, which he is drawn to do, and Connie opens up her heart and memory to a dog, when life does not give her many more opportunities to do it herself.
I often wonder why I am drawn to this work, and it would be lovely to think of myself as selfless, people say the nicest things to me about it. But I know life – and people like me – are more complex than that. Sitting in Connie's room today, watching this ballet of affection and comfort between she and Red, I realized how peaceful the place was, how quiet it was, how accepting and sincere everyone there seemed to be.
It is, unlike the world outside, a world beyond argument and judgment.
I kept wondering why that was so, and when I came home, and heard and came across the arguments raging online and in the news about whether a Senator's tears were real or not – I wanted to cry myself at how low we have fallen, that we should fight about this, one way or the other, that we are so addicted to argument we no longer even remotely grasp what it is we are really fighting about.
I can't imagine arguing about this, I do not understand what it could possibly matter to me, or how I could possibly know and wish to spend valuable minutes of my life fighting about it. Isn't life and time more precious than this. Ask the Mansion residents, they know.
How low have we fallen, how low can we go? Is there a bottom to this? There is for me.
Are our lives so empty and hollow, I wonder, that we have nothing more fulfilling and meaningful to do?
We are drawn somehow, if we are not strong or careful, into this vortex of eternal and endless argument, and while the Mansion residents are no saints, and are very human, and squabble and complain from time to time, I realized that this is the world I have been thinking about. A World Beyond Argument.
It is also a world beyond judgment. In one sense, the residents have lost everything – homes, spouses, friends, dogs, ambition – they are beyond judgment and complaint. In another, they have gained peace of mine, safety and help, they are freed from much worry.
They practice their own faith of acceptance and simplicity. Their lives, are by dint of necessity, simple and spare. They have money and pressure behind as well. They are keenly aware of the value of time, they know they do not have a lot of it to fritter away.
When you come to the Mansion, they tell me, you are admitting that you can no longer care for yourself. You are letting go of many great weights.
Connie said she did not want to impose on her children any longer, so she came to Mansion in October. "I had my life, they had the right to have theirs," she said, as she stroked Red. That is one of life's most profound decisions, it shrinks almost any argument to it's justifiably small and useless size.
The residents of the Mansion are at the very edge of life, they have so much time behind them, so little time ahead of them.
They have left behind argument and ambition and the arrogance of thinking we know whether another person's tears are genuine or not, or caring – go on Facebook and shake your head at the number of people fighting passionately about this, right now and far into the night. I found it chilling, a hopeless scene straight out of Dante, not the world I wish to live in or even wander through.
Maria told me tonight that she could imagine living in the Mansion if the time came when she could not care for herself.
There is no family to care for us when we can't care for ourselves, she said. This surprised me, made me sad, and guilty, I felt responsible, as men often wrongly do. If I had been able to save or keep more money, she wouldn't have to worry about that, but then she corrected me.
She said she wasn't worrying about it, she thought it would be fine, it was a peaceful place where people treated one another respectfully and also had their space and privacy. A place to be cared for, when you could not care for yourself or wish to intrude on the lives of others.
There were people to talk to, people to help. A park to walk in outside, the town right nearby.
I hadn't though about that, in that way, institutions have always seemed to me to be something to avoid.
But it is true. I am living beyond argument in my own life, argument is not a useful or productive or creative way to live. It seems to harden belief and close minds. It resolves nothing. It kills thought. In a marriage or relationship, or a classroom, arguments can be healthy, necessary. But they are not the point, and they cannot be endless and hurtful and forever angry and unyielding.
This idea has become one of the most important ideas of my life, I have been edging towards it for some years. It is a great spiritual boon, and a preserve and nourisher of creativity. No one who argues can really be creative, there is simply no available space left in one's consciousness. The Gods of Creativity do not reward an angry head, what is inside comes out, one way or another.
Some time ago, I stopped arguing my beliefs online, in e-mail or messages. My thoughts stand or fall on their own, they have the right to live unchallenged for longer than it takes to type a few words on a keyboard. They have the right to live. The people in the Mansion listen and watch.
I have counseled several friends lately about how to find peace and meaning in times that are so angry and disturbing sometimes. They can't seem to stop themselves from arguing, they feel it their moral duty, and they are outraged. It feels like an addiction to me. How do I survive it, they say, and do my work?
I am no seer, and no therapist, I tell them. I can only say what I believe. People who want to break away from this thinking have to do the long and hard work of it, and most people can't or won't do that, I know that. They want to fight about whether a politician's tears are real or contrived.
The Mansion residents have helped me to understand how to do this, as does even one day in hospice work. I believe in a World Without Argument, a Post-Argument World. A world of speaking my truth, and of silence and space and listening. I thank the Mansion residents for helping me to get there.