May 3, 2011 § 26 Comments
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.