I came home from a late lunch with my sister and grabbed the dog, put on my hiking boots and headed to the park. The smell of skunk hit me before I had even parked my car, Skunkalicious I cried out as the dog sneezed and snorted. His first and so far only encounter with a skunk was a direct hit to that sensitive snout. Also the first time I realized that smells are a gas. DUH. And can permeate under closet doors. My whole house stank like skunk for a month. We head off across the hard packed snow. He flies past me like a snowboarder passing a lazy skier, spraying snow on me as he slides up behind me and then veers around. It seems like it will be slippery, me in just hiking boots, not really designed for hard pack snow, but I am careful and do not fall. I find myself feeling leery on the cliff edge and bark at the dog to come as he edges out to sniff some random flotsam. Then it is his turn to hesitate as we head out over what is normally cracked limestone; the big cracks are mostly covered with the snow, and only a few people have ventured onto this trail. I guess he remembers his fall into one last summer. He follows closely on my heels now. And as soon as we pass that area of fallen rocks that signals the return to root strewn woodland trail, he skids past me and runs ahead. The path I have chosen or more accurately we choose jointly, since he is the one that led me off the path I had intended to the Cliff Trail in the first place, has a lot of uphill climbs with flat areas, with only a long down slope at the end. It is a strenuous walk in the snow. Normally I am full speed ahead on these trails, wanting to burn as much energy as I can. I am walking slowly though today, savoring the fresh air,the brilliant sunshine, the long shadows of the trees and the sounds that are so specific to hardwood forests, birds, squirrels, snow dripping and plopping, creaking wood and the crunch of my feet on the path. I come back again and again to this idea that working out in a gym is not for me. I find myself now thinking that I really don’t care as long as I am healthy and free enough to just do this. How easy the cold air and snow seems, when it is experienced with such abiding pleasure.
I woke around 630 in the morning first time in several days that I didn’t wake much later. I obviously had needed to catch up on some sleep. I am wide awake. I go downstairs and start a pot of coffee and some oatmeal. I see that crow on the back lawn. I feel kind of bad because I found the suet feeder buried in the snow, an obvious attempt at theft from some creature, yesterday I resurrected it and hung it from the shepherds hook, and watching her now, I realize she cannot reach it. I will have to try and remedy this today. She is wary of the squirrel who tries to get to the suet but gives up and instead goes to the black oil sunflower seeds in the feeder, hanging upside down to reach them. I call the crow a her because she is slender looking and graceful, another crow lands beside her, he is bulkier and thicker. I imagine them as a mated pair.
I watch her taking two steps towards the feeder and then looking up at the squirrel, two steps more, and eventually she is right beneath it and leaning way back with her body away from it, she darts her head forward and takes a peanut, and jumps back again. Again now she has three peanuts stuffed in her beak and she flies away. I let the dog out and the squirrel is scared away from the feeder. I stand now coffee in hand, peeking through the curtains. The squirrel returns and then so does Ms. Graceful Crow. Again she heads for the peanuts, this time less wary. She again flies off and this time I open the back door, I don’t want the squirrel eating all the sunflower seeds. After a minute the squirrel goes and starts taking peanuts one by one, caching some in the snow under the cedar trees, and going off and caching others someplace else. I hope the crow is watching to see where he has hidden all the peanuts.
After an hour I look out again and the entire one pound bag of peanuts is completely gone.
Who will vote to impose term limits? Who will vote for the members of Congress to take a pay cut? Who will vote for Congress to take a hit in their retirement benefits? Who will vote for Congress to lose some of their health benefits? No-one. We elect and reelect them again and again and again. Why? Is it ‘better the hell you know than the one you don’t’? What power do we the people have against them? Only this the power of the vote. But I only have power over my own local representatives, and the rest of humanity with its IQ of less than 100 do they even realize what benefits the members of Congress extract from the stones of our labor? Squeezing blood from our muscles? They dare to complain about having to work the week of Christmas while the rest of us work right up until Christmas. And while I am looking at pay cuts and increased medical costs and closing of schools has one member of Congress made any sacrifices in these economic times? I remain doubtful. As long as members of Congress have the power to vote for their own benefits and rules and regulations we will remain here helpless fools. But how do we even change it? Ask them to vote to actually give power to the people?
When we take a man like Jesus Christ, and elevate him to the level of a God we are removing his humanity. When we take a man like Adolf Hitler and call him evil incarnate we are removing his humanity. But we humans are capable of both acts of pure light and pure dark, of acts of the worst and the best of humanity. To be human is to be in this great spectrum of all shades of darkness and all tones of light.
On December 21st, the shortest day of light of the year we celebrate our families, our friends, the love we have for each other, for it is love that sustains us in the darkest of days. It is love that lightens the darkness of our souls and nothing more, the year begins again, as the light of the sun shines incrementally more each day, does love wane with the passing of the dark? Do we love each other less on June 21st? Why do we not celebrate June 21st in the same way? A celebration of the separation between us. My daughter said yesterday that we are all zombies really shambling though life in quest of something we cannot get. Is it love? Is it brains? We say that people are like sheep they just follow along in the slipstream of others, doing what they do until something stronger pulls them along. Sheep are innocuous really but Zombies not so much, but zombies represent the darkness of humanity, the true darkness people will say is evil, is other, is not us, but it is us. It just is. We will act like zombies too, in order to fit in, in order to not be eaten.
And for some the light does not shine with the truth. Just the simple fact that we have the word reprobate – one condemned by God with no hope of salvation, or predestined to damnation. God then by this definition throws some into the pit of darkness before they even have a chance to live. So if there are others in the darkness, who are condemned for no known reason, can those in the darkness not band together and show God that despite our eternal damnation, we will be good people? But now embrace this darkness, for here there is no hope of salvation, and waiting for the lantern here in this darkness is futile. What is there to fear? The only predator in this darkness, is humans.
I find myself trying to figure out what to say when that inevitable question comes from a potential date, not that I am expecting one anytime soon. I find myself trying different ways of saying it, in the end I know that I will say what I say when I say it. Maybe in some way I am just trying to summarized it for myself. Put it in a little box and put it on a shelf in an attic where I don’t have to look at it or trip over it, the problem being I guess, that I cannot just throw it in the dumpster. It is a part of my life that I cannot walk away from or deny. What do I say?
Then today I found myself in exactly that situation, not a date but with people who did not know my story. We were eating lunch together and we were talking about being responsible for our children and the difficulty of raising children and maintaining a strong relationship. It was me, the TA who informed me last week that she was obsessed with Steampunk, did I know what that was? HA! and the other TA who is a very attractive man whom I like very much (married with a pile of kids). On several occasions we have had some pretty intense conversations and I have had a feeling of his respect for me. The conversation turned to the idea that when you are married you do what you can to keep the hearth fire burning, to honor your vow, and to hold up to your end of the bargain because that is what is to be done. They both turned to me then and said right? I was in my mind’s eye like a fish mouth, lips moving up and down with nothing but air bubbles coming out. But I handled it I think well, a good practice for -this is what happened and I am okay with it now and I don’t wish to dwell on it. I said I wouldn’t know because I would have thought it should be that way but I was not so lucky. I admitted fault to some degree, but admitted also that I was blindsided, T-boned, that no one but he saw it coming. This TA guy said that he is a man and he feels that he had to fulfill his commitment he made his vow and he will stick to it. I just followed with saying I too believed in the commitment of the relationship, but sometimes you don’t have a choice, and the ex is happy so what can I do, it is what it is.
I found what transpired next to be why I am writing this, because for me it represents a shift in my perspective, a healthy one. The guy said, you say “he is happy”, but life is what it is, and I suggest he may live his life with some very big regrets, because I see who you are and you are a good person, you are alright, you know you are alright. The alright was said in the way of you know you are the kind of woman a man would want to be with. I don’t know how to describe it but it was clear as a bell. I smiled at him then and gave him a cursory hug and said thank you, that means alot. But I also realized inside myself that I didn’t really care anymore about whether or not the ex had his regrets or not. All I care about is that the box is shelved, and that I am “alright.”
This boat, I paddle myself, along the long winding river. For me I think it is a journey up river, to the headwaters. Challenging, but not impossible. It is finding pleasure in this journey that I sometimes really struggle with, finding joy even in the hardship. This is a lesson I am working on. I find sometimes that Zen Buddhism is almost too esoteric for me, sometimes I just want to sit and meditate, I do not want to contemplate a koan, I do not want to have a discussion with my teacher about where I am in the journey. I just want to stick my paddle in the waters and chop and chop. Left then right. When my arms tire, I want to rest awhile in the easy pools, or perhaps bask on the warm rocks in the shining sun. I know that I must manage the rapids, even when I am tired, I know that there will not always be warm rocks to lie on. I know that sometimes it will be raining or snowing despite my own wishes for a warm sunny day. This is the journey. One moment at a time, one day at a time. Ever moving, ever changing. My boat upon this river.
This day, this solstice day. I sit in front of a large group of parents, teachers, administrators and students. I instruct everyone to find their quiet place, find the quietest place inside you. Take a breath in and as you breathe out, breathe out peace to the whole entire world. The room is so silent I can hear my heart beating in my chest. I wait one breath, two breaths, three. On this day, the shortest day of the year, we will do the Sun Salutation, a greeting to the sun. We stand and go through the poses one by one. And at the end the small group of children and I bow Namaste, to the light inside of all of you. Later, as we wait for a late arrival. I lead the children in more yoga to keep them busy. I look out into a forest of wobbling bodies, sink your one foot into the ground. Root it in. Raise your branches to the sky. We are trees. They laugh as they sway in the wind.
Later I will go to chant at the Zen Center. I want to sing to the world on this auspicious day. This life is a journey. I renew. My year begins today. As the light of day lengthens. I paddle left, right, left. The water eddies around me. I think it might snow.