A while back a friend inquired, “Has anyone asked you any stupid questions?”
After the conversation, I was still left lingering on the thought. In general people make statements and ask questions which may come across as stupid, when really it’s with good intentions or out of complete ignorance. I know I am guilty of this at times too, we all have been there. When it comes to sensitive topics, these stupid questions can come across as insulting and evoke strong emotions. Fortunately, I’ve been able to brush off some comments and find the humor in them. There is always one question I get stuck on and don’t know how to answer.
“How are you?”
This usually simple question has a much different meaning to it when people look at you with their head already tilted to one side and a worried frown on their face. My mind frantically looks for a reasonable reply and I wonder if I should state my mood right in that moment, or an average of the past day or week? I give a thoughtful pause but really it’s to internally criticize my own response before it escapes my mouth. I don’t want what I say to be too positive and have someone judging me for being happy or too negative and risk they might think I’m not handling things well.
“How are you?”
Does someone really want to know it’s a struggle to drive in the car alone with your thoughts at times, that for some reason those are the moments when the regrets become their strongest? Is it okay I have had fun days full of laughter and smiles when I have been present in what’s happening in front of me? Should I tell people there are lapses in time when I have been completely numb and have proven to be ineffective at everything? When is the appropriate time to say I haven’t been able to keep myself together when my daughter is full of sorrow and I cannot possibly fix what she needs fixed? Is it unhealthy for me to have times when I think I am accepting and other times when it is unreal, it didn’t happen and it’s not true? Do people want to know I can be fine one minute and completely loose my mind in a sobbing mess all while washing dishes? Is it alright to tell someone “I was great until you asked and made me think about it”?
“How am I?”
Dad passed four weeks ago today, how I am is existing moment to moment. Sometimes I am good and sometimes I am really not. There isn’t really a consistent progression of things getting easier, one day may feel less emotional and the next day feels as raw as the day he passed. The truth is I don’t know how I am doing, I know I am doing the best I can and things will be okay.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6 and don’t want to know tiny details of the story, do not read. Be warned it may not be appropriate for younger audiences or maybe just not in place of a nap!?
We live just a few blocks from an AMC movie theater and pass by it on almost a daily basis, so, on almost a daily basis Parker suggests in the sweetest possible tone, with her held slightly tilted to the side and cheesy grin, “Mom, we could go to see a movie.” She’s only been a few times; based on how she suddenly becomes a boss lady explaining where to wait in line, where to go and what to do, you’d think my four-year old is employed there.
Yesterday I beat her to the punch and surprised Parker with a mother/daughter day date to the movies. Daddy may have felt a little left out, though, saving on his ticket, snacks and paying matinée prices equates to huge savings in theater dollars. As we waited in line to buy tickets she reported we needed to go look at the posters on the wall to pick a movie, not understanding the movie had already been chosen.
Happy for the movie theater adventure.
“Big Hero, remember with the kid and the robot?” I reminded her. She and I had been watching previews for Big Hero 6 for weeks, always pointing out the scene where the kid packs the robot’s fluff into the armour and it all bursts back off. Parker accepted, only slightly annoyed to not get to choose off the wall yet still happy to be at the movies. Against my desire to be frugal, I bought her an overly priced snack pack. A few puffs of popcorn, a small cup of lemonade and bag of fruit snacks (my fruit snack loving kid claimed “I don’t like these,” refusing to open the bag). Parker played with the motorized leg rests, ate popcorn, giggled at previews and mumbled undistinguishable babble between them in order to hear me hush and reiterate we have to be quiet in the movie theater.
On my lap, still smiling before the movie.
A soon as the lights went out she crawled over to my lap where she snuggled in for the remainder of the movie. In hind-sight maybe I should have looked into what the movie plot was and made an informed decision about whether my spontaneous activity was an appropriate one. Instead, there we were and there she witnessed the death of Hero’s brother. And by witness, I mean in the Disney sense, where the character walks off and you know what happens without explicitly seeing it. Even though I’m positive Parker has seen other shows where death has occurred it made me wonder if she understands it differently now? If maybe the method of walking into a fire was more emotionally stimulating? I was slightly resentful considering she doesn’t even have a sibling to relate it to but when the death of parents occurred in Frozen she didn’t even blink… Granted it was just built into a catchy little tune inviting the construction of happy winter creatures.
Parker tried to initiate a conversation in the silence of the movie theater to explain the scene, I did my best to validate the need to talk about it and told her we would have to wait until after the movie (also buying me time to come up with an explanation of premature death by fire in four-year old speak.) She appeared to enjoy a lot of it chuckling at the silliness of the robot and then covering her eyes at scary parts. Again, I know she has seen scary parts of movies. Villains, witches and monsters are not foreign to this child, yet something about the bad guy in a nightmarish mask was more fear provoking than any she had seen before.
Near the end of the movie, whether from the lemonade sweetener wearing off, the fact we had overlapped would-be nap time with the movie, or the build-up of action and emotion, Parker was sobbing. She reminded me of the women trying to hide their bawling in a full movie theater during opening night of the Notebook, trying to be quiet while fighting the urge to wail in agony. The movie had broken her down and she could not take anymore, by the time I had filled my hands with our belongings to walk out the action was over, the rescue had occurred and the movie was wrapping up. PJ had calmed down and thankfully re-tuned in to see the happy ending.
We walked out of the theater holding hands, tears still streaming as Parker remarked “I did not like that movie,” and I feeling less of myself as a mom for subjecting my child to the terror she suffered. She couldn’t verbalize if it was because she was scared or sad and what it was that bothered her. Later in the evening she spoke with Daddy about our outing to the movies. It was funny to hear her recap of the plot and comment she didn’t like it but would see it again with Daddy. “It was just out of control,” she told him.
Lesson learned… Impromptu trips to the movies have greater implications for young children, what is seen can’t be unseen, plan wisely. I bet she stops asking me to take her to the movies, though.
A typical Monday usually starts with hitting snooze. Lately, by the time the alarm sounds, I have already been alert and consciously dreading the days events ahead. Mentally trying to psych myself up to conquer the world. My mind looms over the tasks of the day, appointments scheduled, people to contact, issues to deal with and the limitless amount of illogical distractions associated with middle management. I hit snooze again and sometimes even a third time doing the exact opposite of what I encourage others to do and stress over all the improbable situations that may potentially go wrong.
With my body aching, partially due to not taking care of myself physically and also from the toll my emotions has taken on my body, I roll out of bed and begin a hurried preparation for the day. I stand in front of my closet aimlessly waiting for pants and a coordinating top to leap off the hanger, inevitably I settle on an outfit and sluggishly shower and dress. My hair and make-up routine go quick and end with a “Well, good enough,” attitude because my mind is already consumed with imaginary conversations I will have to have later at work today.
The best part of my mornings are rousing my sleeping beauty for her day at pre-school. Amazingly the child who always pops out of bed ready to play in the mornings every Saturday and Sunday chooses Mondays to try to sleep in. We rush to get dressed. This can be taxing for a four year old who wants to express her own independence and pick out an outrageous wardrobe or one which doesn’t suit the weather and can easily spur an early morning tantrum. Breakfast in itself can even cause frustration when the oatmeal is too hot, the milk spilled from the cereal or she only wants bacon when there is no bacon. As she is headed out the door with Daddy there can be up to four times we have to stop for something else forgotten… The share box, the water bottle, a sleep sack, the leotard for ballet class today, oh and don’t forget the folder…
Today has been different. This morning I woke up refreshed and not stressed about what lies ahead in a department I am responsible for and yet have no control over. This morning I was free of the dreaded conversations, problems and people who had previously consumed my life. This Monday I was able to be excited about the projects and organizing I have neglected in my house for eleven months. Today I was able to be the first instead of the last to pick my daughter up from school and cherish a mid-afternoon dance off. This afternoon I was able to grocery shop earlier than 5:00 when we typically battle a child’s growing dinner appetite, and instead thoughtfully plan out some weekday dinner meals I will actually have time to prepare. Today I was able to write a blog post, something I haven’t done since I started working full time last fall.
I took a leap of faith last week and quit my job. It was not planned nor was it a method I would have chosen. I quickly came to realize despite the stress, my dedication to the position, to the team and the community I was working with; the corporation did not appreciate my advocacy or questions and it was best we parted ways. The uncertainty of what it means to be unemployed in society at this time is concerning and I am optimistic about how my path lead me to this and I know my purpose will be fulfilled elsewhere. So I can happily say, this is the best Monday I have had in a long time.
My Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City. I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.
Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism. I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion. Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.
Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows. As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon. The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian. Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot. According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.
I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day. The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging. The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming. I have wanted them gone since the first sighting. After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off. I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away. On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them? Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.
Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence. I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link. Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance
The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.
towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of. It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.
Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true. I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate. My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies. Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do? And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants. I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor. Then a few ants on the floor. Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.
In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life. Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life. This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.
I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer. The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard. All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead. I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”
Buddhist, I am not. And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.
Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:
Who would volunteer to go visit a prison? Hardened criminals, manipulative and egotistical minded individuals locked away from society for good reason. Those people behaved badly and did things they knew were wrong, they knew better and should be punished. Why would anyone volunteer to go visit a prison?
I would, and I did go. For me, I don’t carry the typical view of Americans incarcerated like the description above. From years of working with youth, I have watched children learn from violence, addictions and unstable environments. I have seen them removed from their homes and placed in worse conditions in some foster-homes and group homes. I have noticed the pattern of getting in trouble with the law starting early in life when kids don’t have proper role models. I have observed the discrepancies which take place in how youth are dealt with based on race and socioeconomic backgrounds. I have been disappointed by the influence mental health has on effecting behaviors which get ignored in the judicial system. I don’t judge youth as being bad seeds, I can see the good in them and understand who they have become is a reflection of what they have been through. They way kids think, speak and behave couldn’t be any different. They honestly don’t know ‘better’ it’s the only way they know how to be.
It’s easy for us to have pity on children and have sympathy for the situations they have been through. Why does this stop with children? We accept kids don’t know better, and somehow by the age of 18 magically people should now know right from wrong, how to handle anger or cope with stress, how to create a substantial income legally or who to trust not to lead you down the wrong path? It’s hard for me to buy this, if their circumstances were different I know their actions would be different too.
In America we have established a system of ridiculing, harshly judging and locking up victims of unfair circumstances. Victims of abuse, addiction, trauma, poverty, learning disabled and mentally ill. Justifying the incarceration of hundreds of thousand non-violent offenders. Encouraging wealthy investors to build prisons and profit off the contracts to incarcerate some of America’s most oppressed population. This is occurring at such alarming rates we are leading the world in locking up our citizens.
From a class I recently took, volunteers were invited to attend a prison and visit with the inmates as a celebration of Vesak, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. (For my first story on this click here.) On the day of the prison visit I felt nervous, not in fear it would be dangerous, it was more related to how I would manage my own frustration with the prison system and maintain equanimity through the experience. It wasn’t until I showed up for the ride to Leavenworth when I found out we would be going to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Department of Defense’s maximum security military prison. According to Wikipedia: Only enlisted prisoners with sentences over ten years, commissioned officers and prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security are confined to USDB. As I would later hear from the inmates, this is the most dangerous prison in the United States since all of the inmates are trained to kill.
To me, this visit suddenly took on another level of social justice problems. These inmates were more likely to be incarcerated for violent crimes, yet I still hang on to the notion they are also victims of their circumstances. Being in the military trains them to be violent, asks them to go to war and causes them to witness unimaginable trauma. It is impossible not to be effected by these circumstances, and many individuals are mentally unprepared to cope. The military has seen a substantial increase in the rates of domestic violence, assault, murder and suicide in the last ten years – directly related to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countless enlisted men and women joining the services to serve and protect their country end up with their lives ruined by war.
On the drive to Leavenworth I road with a fellow classmate and talked about gardening, TV shows and travel. We shared our anxiety about what we were going to see and I confided I desperately wanted to know the circumstances of each of their crimes and what lead to them, even though I knew I wouldn’t ask. We presented our id’s at the gates to Ft. Leavenworth and caravaned with other vehicles through the base up to the prison. It seemed to be the furthest possible location on the grounds passing officer’s homes, army barracks, a cemetary lined with identical and symmetrical tombstones, down long winding roads, dead-ends and finally approaching ‘The Castle.”
We entered into a quiet building about 7:15pm and climbed a staircase to a front desk manned by two guards in combat uniform. The lobby felt like a high school with lockers, restrooms and a seating nook overlooking the dense wooded area beyond the parking lot. We each had to be cleared with a background check ahead of time and present our identification to get a visitors badge. Our group of 15 people were escorted by another guard, entering only a few at a time. One giant glass door slamming locked behind us so the next giant locked door could open. After the breeze way another guard with a baby pimpled face asked if the first guard would need assistance escorting us to our meeting room. I was sure these two finished their varsity sports, attended senior prom and put in resignation at McDonald’s about 12 months ago before heading off to boot camp, completely unaware of the commitment they had made and how deeply it would impact their life.
We walked down a long corridor, passing metal doors with small glass windows to other wings of USDB, it reminded me of entrances to different sections of the state mental hospital where I used to work. There were some inmates passing us in the hallway, none were handcuffed or escorted, and I got the impression I wasn’t in danger being there. We entered a room, about the size of a classroom with two long tables set up for us to eat and visit. The prisoners we would be visiting were already in the room and waiting spread out amongst the folding chairs. I shuffled in shyly with the other guests, waiting for instructions which never came. Eventually assuming the responsibility to find a spot to sit down and introduce myself to those around me. My classmate and I sat down next to each other for some security and comfort. We overly smiled and shook hands with the prisoners across and next to us and then felt the awkwardness sink in unsure of what to talk about. I bit my tongue to prevent the question of “What did you do to get here?” from blurting out.
At the start I was painfully conscious of my body positioning and every word I uttered into conversation. We shared how each of us started taking the Basics of Buddhism class, both those from the outside and those from within the prison. We related on why we started a meditation practice and how the practice was going. The prisoners shared the need for meditation to help calm their minds down, cope with emotions and come to terms with being at USDB. During dinner I felt by apprehension fading and my body relaxing. Two of the prisoners I had met were born in other countries, one joining the Navy from his home in California and was last stationed in Hawaii, never imagining he would end up incarcerated in Kansas.
Another prisoner I spoke with told me about being from the East coast, stating he quit college half way through to join the Marines. He had been enlisted for almost a decade, traveling the world and completing three tours to war. We discussed the paths of life, influences which shape us and how everyone makes mistakes. “It would be boring to be perfect,” he remarked, “No one is perfect.”
“Everything is perfect,” I challenged his view. I explained my perception, nothing could be the way it is now without everything else which fell before it. Perfection is neither good nor bad, it is just as it should be. We couldn’t have been at the table meeting each other in USDB had any circumstance in his or my life been different leading up to that day, not good or bad, just perfect. The veteran agreed and said he has become keenly aware of situations in his life, choices he has made and what has lead him to where he is at right now. He feels it is exactly what was supposed to happen and put him in touch with life again. We talked about people who are aware of their past, intention and purpose.
“And then there are the floaters,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I was a floater for a long time too.” From the discussion I took that a floater refers to a person who is existing with indifference to themselves and the world around them. Someone who is oblivious to their impact or lack of impact on others. Individuals who don’t carry attachment to relationships and situations, rather busying themselves with getting by in life without thinking or place value too highly on material things.
There are victims of crimes and then there are the criminal victims of circumstance. Their actions are not legal and are not to be condoned, yet our judicial system is not creating a healthier society. The problem will continue to perpetuate as long as there are floaters unaffected by what is happening and stay disengaged from these conditions in society. We need to help each other wake up to stop judging criminals, change the criminal system and correct the errors which lead individuals to do bad things.
If this post peeked your interest and you want to learn more, here is some recommended reading:
A few months back the baby crib came down and was replaced with a toddler bed for my growing tiny tot. Then a few weeks afterwards the realization set in, too many growing up changes happening too soon and Parker was not accepting them all. A pack and play was assembled next to the toddler bed for sleeping and temporary reassurance. The pack and play remained up for both naps and bedtime, while the fancy new toddler bed sat lonely, only getting an occasional hop, pretending to put Mommy down for a nap or movie time cuddles.
Despite the obvious lack of space in the confining pack and play, Parker chose to sleep there and didn’t try to climb out until this week. She casually walked out of her room following a nap one afternoon, so I promptly set her back into the pack and play to demonstrate how she escaped. Swinging her leg over the rail and onto her toddler bed as a step down, she proudly showed how she braved her long limbs into her escape plan.
Now, I have to say I have been ambiguous about the use of the pack and play. In a sense it’s nice to restrict her movement when it’s time to slow down and fall asleep. Although the structure became an obstacle in her room to manuever around and it was intended to be temporary in the transition. I have been ready whenever she was and her climbing out seemed to be the obvious sign it was no longer necessary.
As much of an explanation can be comprehended by a two-year old, she heard it while I disassembled the pack and play. “It’s time to use your big girl bed now,” I told her.
“Why not?” She asks, as this is the standard response for questioning even when the ‘not’ part doesn’t fit in. She appeared bothered, as if the folding boards thinly covered in foam and synthetic material was the most comfortable sleeping arrangement possible. After some convincing Parker was more excited about the impending night back in her new bed.
Bedtime loomed closer, I felt my nerves rising. Would she stay in her bed, would she fall asleep and would she stay asleep through the night. No matter how often I try to prepare, it’s impossible to predict the behavior to expect from a toddler. Our nighttime routine stayed exactly the same and when it was time I laid her down just as smoothly as I had the previous night in the pack and play. Momentary success as I closed the door and wished Parker sweet dreams.
I continued my evening downstairs until nearly an hour later I could hear her footsteps, then the door knob and then her chattering. Back upstairs I went, preparing to set a strict tone of needing to stay in bed.
“I not sleepy Mommy,” she pleaded to me with her big brown eyes as I escorted her back to her door. “I stinky Mommy,” she said with more urgency. “I need to go potty, need to go potty,” she said rapidly as a final distraction before I silently steered her back into her room. Climbing into bed she reiterated “I stinky Mommy.” I knew she was using any tactic possible to delay going to bed, and I also figured while I was there I should check her claims to be sure. Against my wishes I switched on her lamp and asked her to stand up to peek in the back of her pull-up. Sure enough, she needed to be changed.
Parker was delighted to have a captive audience now, she released her delirious inner comedian while I laid her down to wipe her clean. She sang The Wheels on the Bus using different tunes, voices and tempos with each line. I did my best to contain laughter, knowing it would only encourage her more. I couldn’t keep from smiling at her ridiculous state and was relieved to have my face in the shadow of the light so she couldn’t see my response. Parker went back to bed easily and sang herself to sleep.
All this week we have been redirecting her back to bed, though each night seems less and less. We also have been getting up several times during the night to bring her back to bed when she comes into our room after we have gone to sleep. The second night in her big girl bed I woke up early in the morning to find her laying between us, oblivious to when she arrived or how she climbed up, although from her mummified sleep I knew she had been there a while. Since I was exhausted from the frequent wake-ups the night before, I fell back asleep before having a conscious thought about needing to move her back.
The next few nights were more of the same. Redirections to go back to her own bed, and carrying her back to her room after we had gone to sleep. One early morning my husband awoke when he heard her door knob and from his position in bed he had a clear view of her charge from her room to my side of the bed. My recollection of the event was a terrifying jolt from my peaceful slumber by an excited tot, exercising her new-found freedom from the confinement of a pack and play.
In Kansas City a crowd gathered at J.C. Nichols fountain to share their concern about our food industry with fellow residents and to join in with millions of others marching today in protest against the GMO giant Monsanto. Here are some pictures from the days event. To learn more about Monsanto and the dangers of GMOs click here or begin your own internet search for the truth, you won’t catch it on any television broadcast.
In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased the question to my mom in this way. As if any mom would plan on their offspring going to prison, a law-abiding, mid-western, suburban mother of three adult children with no criminal history might have an immediate stroke at the image of their beloved going to lock-up. So I quickly backtracked to explain, “Only for one dinner.”
Llama Chuck teaches my Basic of Buddhism class and facilitates Buddhism for prisoners too, once a year he gets to invite others to attend a dinner with the prison participants. He mentioned this outing for several weeks at class and encouraged people to sign up to come. I had considered it, thought it would be an interesting experience, though I wasn’t sure it would fit in my busy schedule of motherhood.
Class seven was about Equanimity and The Eight Worldly Concerns. Equanimity is the power of the mind being able to experience change and remain unmoved. As a mountain remains stable through snow, wind and lightning; equanimity can maintain the mind through trauma, accidents and emotional pain. In the Buddhist perspective it means accepting things as they are and not how you want them to be. In the moment of crisis it would be difficult to engage my Buddha mind even though I understand the concept. What is more challenging for me to grasp is how you can accept circumstances of the world and avoid apathy, indifference or detachment. How do you care, without caring to be truly identifying with equanimity?
The usual rhythm of the class discusses the chapter and then breaks into smaller groups to talk about discussion questions. The question of the day related to situations where equanimity would be best utilized and asked “How do you feel about inviting pain into your life?” No one in our group admitted to masochism and struggled with the term inviting pain. Once we agreed to think in terms of accepting pain as a part of life our group shared different sides of the spectrum, one individual reporting she avoids pain by keeping people at a distance in her life and not maintaining relationships while another woman stated she has noticed being ultra sensitive and feels she is in pain more than necessary. Our discussion turned to opportunities we do “invite pain” when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations like helping struggling friends or volunteering. Spending time working at a soup kitchen or with hospice patients could be a way to practice equanimity, accepting things as they are without being apathetic.
At the end of class Llama Chuck reiterated his invitation to prison stating it was the last day to sign up. Going to prison sounded like a practice of equanimity for me. I am angered at the prison system in our country and the rate of incarceration for petty and nonviolent crimes, and because of my feelings towards the system I have detached myself in many ways. After his closing people began gathering their belongings. In that moment I knew it would be an opportunity to practice caring without caring. I needed one final push to nudge me all the way in to my decision. I looked forward to a classmate who I had socialized with for the last several weeks, a Spanish teacher at a local college. “Do you want to go to prison with me?” I nonchalantly inquired knowing if she denied I was not signing up alone.
“I don’t have to teach a class that night,” she thought for a second, “Sure.” And within seconds we were jotting our names on the sign-up sheet. (Sorry Mom, I’m locked-in to attend the prison dinner but I am not going to lock-up.)
The prison dinner is later this month and I will try to multiply my meditation practice to prepare to be equanimitable in prison. Afterall I am only going for a few hours as a guest, equanimity as a true prisoner would take much more strength of the mind.
The Warrior Dash is a 5K race with various obstacles along the way including hurdling fire, crawling through mud and climbing ropes. In Kansas City, this years race happened to fall on a weekend after a week with several inches of April showers so the track was extra muddy. The weekend remained overcast and the temperatures unseasonably cold. And while no running activity is ever appealing to me, a group of friends convinced me to do the dash last year. It turned out to be a ridiculously messy adventure to which we all agreed we might need a little more conditioning to actually appear somewhat fit to do it again.
What was I thinking – I don’t run, I thought as my friend Jeanne tried to cheer me on and push me to not stop until we got to the next obstacle. Never in my life did I think I would be pleased to fall into a pit of mud or go wading into a murky pond, yet on that day we were like pigs on a farm needing relief from the heat. Toward the end I was so exhausted I could hardly push my body weight over the logs I was attempting to hurdle, just as the fit and fast people from the next wave time effortlessly leapt past me. Jeanne pushed and pushed me until I finally convinced her to run ahead and I’d meet her at the end/ As soon as she was out of sight I pondered if anyone would notice if I laid down to take a nap on the side of the track.
This year my friends all signed up again, and my best intentions to learn to run and build muscle for climbing, I did not prepare at all. Fortunately or unfortunately, I dropped my plans to participate after dealing with the flu days before hand. This year I went as a cheerleader/photographer, maybe next year I will be trained and ready to run. My fanatically clean friend called me up a few days before she was scheduled to run the Warrior Dash. She planned to run it this year for the first time and had an important question needing an answer.
“Do you have to donate your shoes?” Crystal, asked. While the answer is no, I explained most people do throw their shoes in the suggested piles after running. The shoes are cleaned up and given to charity, while registration fees contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. “I just got rid of all my old tennis shoes,” she stressed. Despite knowing the Warrior Dash was scheduled soon, she couldn’t control her compulsive decluttering.
“Well at least when it’s over you will have something to clean,” I optimistically suggested assuming this might appease someone who finds so much pleasure in cleaning.
“Oh no, that’d be too messy.” She reported her husband will be responsible for washing her tennis shoes after the race.
Okay, round 2 of snow in one week is unusual for Kansas City, especially in the amount of snowfall we have seen. Never again will I say out loud “I think we are done with snow for the year.” Because after the simple phrase was uttered from my mouth, nearly 2 feet fell, multiplying snowfall totals for Kansas City’s winter.
Monday night we were buzzed about when the storm should come and how much more could it really snow after last week. When I went to sleep there was only a few flurries and when I woke up it was white out conditions and another 10 inches of accumulation. The street in front and on the side of the house only had a few tire tracks, signaling most of the city rightfully opted to stay in for the day.
In our backyard a tree branch had fallen square on my daughter’s play house/slide and tore down phone lines with it. I feared they were power lines and quickly text my neighbor where the lines connected to ensure she had power. She told me her land-line phone was not working and her cable was cutting in and out. We made mention of the downed lines to the online city reports, though it’s unlikely we will see anyone out to fix it soon as there are still so many more people without power in the city.
This round of snow was heavier and more hazardous than last week’s due to the weight and wetness. It clung to the trees, sagged branches to the ground and snapped limbs over cars, houses and power lines. Roofs even collapsed from the volume of snow it was unable to withstand. This snow would have been much better for snowball, snowmen and forts too except I couldn’t convince anyone to come out and play with me.
I spent about four hours off and on throughout the morning shoveling my driveway, my deck and my neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk – it’s only fair since it was our tree to knock out her cable and phone, right? In breaks I would go into the house and plead with my two-year old to put on some snow pants and come play. She adamantly said no and I would go back outside again, hoping she would change her mind and want to come along. One time I even tried to force her into her winter attire which only caused a two-year-old fit and mommy failure.
My husband, also home for snow day, stationed our toddler at an open window in the living room. She stood on a chair supervising my shoveling job and jabbered to me loud enough for our whole block to hear. She had enormous burst of laughter when my snow balls hit the screen for her entertainment. And she called “where’s Harper?” to alert me when my only snow pal pup ventured too far from the yard so together we whistled for him to come back.
By the afternoon my body was exhausted and I couldn’t wait to nap along with my toddler. While she got a solid two and half hour nap I laid in bed where I could view the intersection outside my window. After only moments of relaxation I watched a car attempt to turn the corner and quickly halted in the deep ridges where only trucks and SUV’s had been able to pass before. Two passengers got out of the car laughing at their situation and tried to push forward and back, it was quite obvious with the spinning wheels and ammeter effort, neither the driver or passengers had been through conditions like this before. I went outside and offered my shovel then went to get my coat and helped push the vehicle on wards.
Further interrupting my nap, not long after, I noticed yet another car begin to drive down the same way as the other car and then reverse back to the intersection to get stuck. For a brief moment I wondered if maybe I should just shut my blinds and get some rest, until I noticed this was an older gentleman with no passengers so I went to get my coat. By the time I reached him an unmarked white truck with a plow on the front happened to arrive also except in his efforts to shovel a path for the man’s car he also got stuck. I provided the man with the truck with my shovel and while he freed his truck he explained he was only in the neighborhood to get to his son, I assumed maybe he plowed parking lots or private drives and did not work for the city. The older man explained he usually didn’t come down these roads and his usual street was blocked by a downed tree. He had to reverse back through the tracks to the intersection because another car was stuck and blocking his path further down the street.
Quickly everyone was back to moving and getting to where they needed to go, except the white truck with the plow I kept seeing after this. This generous individual might have made his way to see his son, then continued to drive through the neighborhood with his plow down to clear safe paths and intersections. I felt like cheering, hugging and telling everyone in the neighborhood what this kind stranger had done for us. After living in this home for four years I understand our neighborhood streets don’t see city plows for days after a storm, so this random act of kindness meant a lot to me and made an immeasurable positive impact on my neighborhood’s ability to commute safely.
With the streets cleared and the city resuming to normal, there is still some anticipation of conditions being treacherous as the snow melts and refreezes. And until my yard is a muddy mess of melted precipitation, I will enjoy the beauty of the snow-covered trees.