Today began with a bruised feeling, a soft brokenness, a heartache. Maybe it’s the sunshine, casting long streaks, promising warmer days. Maybe it’s the fatigue from being sick, my eyes struggling to open and take in the bright day. Most likely it’s the miracles.
I carry mindfulness around with me like a small smooth stone in my pocket, fingering it all day. Everyone is screaming at me, fighting over the pink cup, and I reach inside, feel the smooth surface. Be mindful. Be here. Yes, even now. I get down on my knees, cleaning spilled something for the eighteenth time, and I feel the ache on the hard floor. Be mindful. Be here. Yes, even now. Sometimes I clutch it, my knuckles white in frustration. I want to scream. Be mindful, goddammit. Be here. Yes, even fucking now.
Half way through the day yesterday I started to forget. When I told Maya that I thought I’d lost my way a little, she said to me, “You forgot to be kind.” Yeah, well, you forgot to be sane. You forgot to not cry over every little thing. You forgot to not bully your brother and sister. I wanted to yell, “It’s your fault I’m angry! Can’t you see? You guys are driving me to the brink!!!” But her little eyes reminded me that she’s four and not thirty-four. Her wild, unbrushed hair (I just didn’t have it in me) reminded me that I’m the grown up, I’m the mom. I pulled my shoulders back and took a deep breath. Be mindful, don’t be mean. Be fucking mindful.
But that’s not quite right either. Mindfulness isn’t gritting your teeth and clenching your fists to reality.
It occurs to me, my trying not to get mad is not mindfulness. But it does remind me. At fifteen I was living in a dorm with mostly middle and high school kids. There must have been about eighteen of us “brothers and sisters” living in that dorm run by an extremely immature dorm “dad” who allowed a great deal of teasing, pranks and practical jokes. He pulled one himself that left me sleepless for weeks. Well, there was a group of boys who had picked me as their victim. Every meal, every hang out time, every homework hour, they would gang up and pick on me. They’d tease or not pass me food or take things from me. They’d just surround me and provoke. I struggled to keep it together. I did what I thought was right. I stayed quite, tried not to fight. But eventually, they broke me. After weeks of teasing, I finally went to one of them and pleaded, please, to stop. He said, “It’s just so much fun to watch you try and not get mad.”
And here I am, again, with my teeth gritted in the face of insanity. The sweet song of these three birds is annoying the crap out of me. My hands are clenched. Be mindful, dear mommy. Be mindful.
Frederick Buechner wrote, in his first memoir, Sacred Journey,
“The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from.” He then pointed out that, “the rich man is so effective at getting for himself everything he needs that he does not see that what he needs more than anything else in the world can be had only as a gift. He does not see that the one thing a clenched fist cannot do is accept, even from le bon Dieu himself, a helping hand.”
“But, soft! What light from yonder window breaks?”
But, soft. Grace. Compassion. Love.
Compassion is defined as “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” To me, Grace is that moment when we gift someone with our compassion. Our we gift ourselves. We have to start there. I have to start there. Deep awareness of the suffering of another only comes from suffering and the awareness of our suffering.
But it’s oh so scary, opening that fist. It’s oh so scary to feel the whooshing immensity of our own limits, our frailty, our fear. And it’s particularly scary for me to open myself to “le bon Dieu” or even the energy that comes from others’ thoughts and prayers. I don’t like the idea of being sucked into something emotionally, of being convinced by feelings. I want something to be true or not true. I don’t like uncertainty or ambiguity. I don’t want to open my hand and find nothing. Or maybe the real fear is that I’ll find something.
But I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of needing to be right. I’m tired of trying not to get mad.
So, I’m letting go of the stone. And I’m trying to build a small bridge in my heart, to allow the passage of grace.
We had to take Zoe in for a test the other day. When I had initially learned about it, I was filled with fear - not at the results - but at dealing with the procedure. I was fearful of how badly it would go - forcing a tired two-year-old to do something she would assuredly hate. But, as the day began, I unclenched my fist. I sent a message out, a whistle in the dark, to friends and family asking for thoughts and prayers. Do I think people have power to control things? No. Do I think, if there is a god, that it is affected by prayer? No. But I am, it turns out. All through the day, as we went through the test, I thought of all those family and friends and all that love, surrounding us like a little cloud. I opened myself up, softened to what was in front of me, and tried to not bring my own preconceived ideas of how I thought it would go. Each step, when I thought it might go badly, I imagined myself letting go, opening up, releasing the stone.
And you know what? It went perfectly. It might have anyway. That may have been what would have happened all along. But instead of being this ball of nerves and stress and worry. Instead of flipping out when Marco had to leave and take a phone call. Instead of trying to rush us along, stressed about what was coming...I just kept opening. The miracle wasn’t Zoe, it was me.
So, I’m bruised up inside today. When you’re open, the immensity of existence is hard to bear, it aches in your chest. Gratefulness pricks at my eyes.
I’m not going to get it right a lot of the time. I’m going to forget to be kind. Often. I’m going to clench my fists and get angry. But then I get to feel the release, as I open them back up, soften my heart, see those poor little four-year-old eyes looking at me. See my poor little sad self trying not to get mad, and give a little back rub. You can do it, little Heather.