May 3, 2011 § 26 Comments

Always in the present moment

Yesterday – like everyone across the country – I woke to the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. At first I was rather shocked. And then I was the opposite of shocked. “Well,” I thought, “I guess they finally found him.” When I looked up from the New York Times seconds later, I just felt empty. I felt full of emotions. I felt a bit lost, close to tears.

There is a line in James Joyce’s The Dubliners that reads: “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” I have lived most of my life this way, a short distance from what was happening to me. There was my body doing things and saying things, and then, there was that something inside of me, which refused to participate, which was leaning against the wall, its arms folded over its chest or its fingers plugged in its ears. Pema Chodron writes: “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.”That was my thing: bolting.

When you have children though, bolting isn’t very effective. I still try mightily, but it just doesn’t work. Yesterday, Oliver woke up in a bad mood and stalked into my room, demanding to stay home from school. By the time we went down for breakfast, he was yelling at me. “I WANTED ORANGE JUICE!” he said. I plunked the cup of apple juice in front of him, turned on my heel, and stomped back up the steps. “MOMMEEEEEEEE!” he cried after me and I came back to my body, still in pajamas. Still wearing glasses. Teeth still unbrushed. Oh, I thought. Here I am. Where did I just go?

It is startling sometimes what is required to stay: it takes everything you have sometimes to do absolutely nothing. To put down the armor and surrender.

By the time I returned downstairs, only seconds later,  Oliver and Gus were screaming at each other across the dining room table. My turn. NO. MY TUUURRRRNNN. I caused this, I thought. This is my own doing, my own inner world manifest here, at this sacred spot in our home. The newspaper was there also, with Osama bin Laden’s face staring up. This too is our doing. Our undoing.

I told the boys to put their hands over their hearts. I put my hand over Oliver’s heart because he is the one who gets most upset. “Pretend your nose is right here,” I told him, stealing something from Karen Maezen Miller’s book, Hand Wash Cold. “Breathe right here, into my hand.” We stayed there for a few seconds, Oliver and I. (Gus had his hand on his throat and was upside down on his chair, singing.) “What does it feel like when you do that?” I asked Oliver. “It feels like coming home from school,” he said. He laid his cheek on my arm.

How the world can change on a dime. I sat my unbrushed, pajama-ed self down at the table and watched the boys eat, take their cereal bowls into the kitchen, climb up to the Lego table and build together. I stayed.

After I dropped Oliver at preschool, Gus and I went to Trader Joe’s. We bought bread and spinach. Bananas and berries. Ice cream and vitamins. The entire time I fought the urge to cry. To bolt. It took me most of the morning to figure out what this feeling was. I realized it was fear. It was grief. It was despair. On September 11th, 2001,  I lived more than a short distance from my body. I was going through a breakup with someone I should never have been with in the first place, and for some reason, those dysfunctional partings seem to be the most painful. I was in a stressful job at a San Diego advertising agency. I was 28. I was lost. Like just about everyone, I had family and friends who worked on Wall Street. I didn’t know my brother didn’t go to work that day, that he was asleep when the planes hit the towers and woke up thinking there was an earthquake. Like just about everyone, I buried that day until yesterday.

Yesterday I just tried to not bolt. By trying to stay, I realized I am afraid of what has already happened. I am afraid that September 11th is going to happen again, that once I relax about the whole thing, the world is going to end. Because that is what happens. You relax and the baby starts screaming from the backseat of the car. You get a call from the school. You get a call that someone you love has cancer. You watch as your son falls in the ocean, even as you are running with your hand outstretched. You hear the news that a plane flew through a building. You hear the news that the enemy is dead when you aren’t even sure who the enemy is anymore.

I went to hear Karen Maezen Miller speak at a small yoga studio in Georgetown on Saturday. At the time, I thought she gave a good talk. It was worth going to. Afterward, I got a smoothie and went home. Only now am I aware of what she gave me – the basic instructions for how to stay: Don’t leave. When you do, come back. She echoed what Eckhart Tolle said: “In the present moment, we are always fine. We can always handle it if we stay right here.”

Later on Monday afternoon, the boys started yelling at each other as I was in the kitchen, peeling oranges for a snack. My hands were sticky and I felt that familiar annoyance rise up like a flame. I started to rush in to them, but wiped my hands first. I took a breath. When I walked into the living room, Gus was crying and Oliver was holding all of the Curious George books. I knelt down and listened to them. Without my saying anything they worked it out. The tears stopped. It doesn’t take any longer when you slow down, I am finding. Bolting can sometimes take much longer than staying. Sometimes, bolting can take decades.


§ 26 Responses to Stay

  • Lindsey says:

    This takes my breath away. Period. You’ve taken the contents of my heart and expressed them gorgeously. Thank you.

  • Julie Daley says:

    I’m so glad Lindsey pointed me to this post. It is beautiful and real. Thank you.

  • Christa says:

    I read this a few hours ago and still don’t have words to express my appreciation.

    I’m with Lindsey – you somehow took what has been swimming around inside my heart and translated it in a way that I haven’t been able to. Yet.

    Thanks, Pamela. Just exquisite, this. And the photo of your boys!

  • Theresa says:

    Wonderfully written. Thank you.
    It has been difficult to “stay” with the past two days. But I’m glad that I have. The world needs people who are willing to make that commitment – it’s the only way change is possible.

  • Juanita says:

    Wow – a powerful and evocative post. Exceptionally well-written.

  • Meg says:

    Followed Karen’s link. So glad I did. xox

  • Kathryn says:

    Hi Pam – Longtime lurker, infrequent commentor (as you know!) But I couldn’t let this post go unnoticed. The best thing I’ve read all week. For real (and I’ve read a lot!) Thank you for the time and effort you put into this and all your posts…

  • There’s nothing short about a short distance. There’s nothing small about small. There’s nothing good about a good talk. or bad about a bad day. But to see any of that, you have to stay. I’m glad you came, and I hope you stay.

  • Laura Gaunt says:

    This is gorgeous. Thank you for writing it.

  • Colleen Fleming says:

    Followed Lindsey’s link to here. I love this-and practice staying whenever I remember even though my nature is a rolling stone, nomad, gypsy. Thank you for you beautiful words.

  • Ari says:

    Thank you for this!!

  • Kelly Simcoe says:

    So beautiful!

  • Kate says:

    followed karen’s link as well, really great. i’ve been thinking about bolting for the past 5 years, who knew I was so trendy? 🙂 i should save my time, and stay…

  • Robin says:

    I know just what you mean.

    My son called me the other day with what he thought was a dreadful confession: that sometimes he felt like he was outside himself – maybe just lingering nearby.

    Me, too, sometimes! I told him. I also told him that his feelings weren’t really that uncommon. I illustrated it with a few stories of myself. (I would have pointed him to this post, but I hadn’t read it yet!)

    He was quiet for a really long time – I actually thought maybe his cell phone had quit – and then I realized that my big old 25-year-old was crying. With relief.

    I think it was the best “thanks, mom” I ever got.

    So, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, I want to pay it forward. Thanks, Pamela.

  • Meg Casey says:

    This held me spell bound–a perfect piece of writing raw and beautiful and polished and clean. Thank you.

  • […] friend Rebecca’s musings about Osama bin Laden and the surreal reactions to it all. And this beautiful post from the newly discovered Walking on My hands. Also, I can’t get the show “Pregnant in […]

  • Pamela, much wisdom here. You perfectly expresses the connections between the layers of emotions-experience that unfold, connections that often go unnoticed. Clearly 9/11 was not just that moment in time. It infiltrates our psyches. That is true of small events as well, even if they’re only blips on the screen of our awareness. Learning to stay can help us see them, work with them and find the the sweetness of “coming home from school.”

    Beautifully written, beautifully lived. ~ Mahala

    (Found you via Karen Maezen Miller. Grateful.)

  • rebeccakuder says:

    Really beautiful. It helps to know others are feeling things this deeply.

  • Christen says:

    Wonderful. Thank you so much.

  • Sarah says:

    Lindsey linked to this on Facebook. I had a moment so I clicked through. And there I stood, one foot in the back door, one foot on the porch, entranced. Completely wrapped up in your moment, your world, as if it were my own and precisely because it so very much is.

    There were some lovely words said about you this weekend as I shared company at Kripalu. It took me some time but I put two and two together…this post and you! It equals much more than four.

  • Amy at Cypress Sun linked here weeks ago and I’ve just now clicked through. I am so glad I did.

    Because your writing is beautiful. And because I am learning how to stay, too.

  • May Goodies says:

    […] :: What happens when we don’t bolt. […]

  • mb says:

    stopping by via sweet sky. this is intense, and beautiful, and i relate so much to it.

  • Monica says:

    brillaint. all i can say right now. i needed this too.

  • I have written before about leaving, bolting, flight. This writing helps me in several ways. I appreciate the wide view, the insight into bolting in general and how that affects our lives, and the challenge to notice it and resist it. But I really connect with the dirty, nitty gritty challenge of every day life with kids bickering. I love the thread between Osama bin Laden’s death and the curious george books in your living room. When writers like you help me see these connections, I believe change can occur in the world.

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