“And you may ask yourself How do I work this? And you may ask yourself Where is that large automobile? And you may tell yourself This is not my beautiful house And you may tell yourself This is not my beautiful wife
Letting the days go by Let the water hold me down Letting the days go by Water flowing underground Into the blue again After the money’s gone Once in a lifetime Water flowing underground
Same as it ever was… Same as it ever was… Same as it ever was…” by The Talking Heads
I am 48 years old. I was listening to this song a week or so ago. I love the tune. And I remembered it from my early adulthood. Today, I think David Byrne was probably Buddhist.
I see Buddhist themes: letting go, willingly drowning into reality, surprising subterranean nourishment, endless questioning of assumptions, and the ongoing ordinariness of real life. In his typically-80s over-the-top style, I see Byrne’s acceptance of all.
I am learning about infinite levels of letting go. Barry may need to have a biopsy done because his PSA is so high. He wants me to tell him what to do. I steadfastly refuse. Now I see him possibly willing to allow his sponsor to tell him what to do, which may include the biopsy and maybe chemo and radiation. He wants someone to tell him what to do.
I have worked very hard the past few years to make him comfortable. And now I am seeing him, probably afraid of death (like most humans), to make himself very uncomfortable to make someone else happy. It won’t be me. It is his doctor’s job to suggest a biopsy and it is Barry’s to say yea or nay. It makes me very sad to see him possibly choose a painful way to go. I don’t see him as strong enough to endure the treatments. He is frail.
Of course, none of this has actually happened yet. But I am preparing myself for likely possibilities. The other day, the morning after a blizzard, our satellite reception was still gone. I had recorded some shows from OWN, which he could watch. I put one on and asked if he wanted to watch it. His response? “If you do!” I said, “No. I am going to eat breakfast. What I want to know is whether or not you want the TV on.” The answer was affirmative, but I had to clarify the question and put the responsibility where it belonged—on him.
I am learning to let go of my overly-developed sense of responsibility. There are just some decisions people need to make on their own and that I hope others allow me to make in my final days. Regardless of my investment in Barry’s comfort, I have to let him choose the hard way, if that’s what he wants. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but, regardless, I have to let go.
Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…
“I could never have envisioned what my second half of life has brought, nor could many reading this. I could not have conceived of my work as an analyst, writer, teacher, and administrator. As disparate as these roles may seem, they have one thing in common—the requirement that I work as a mediator, a go-between, an interpreter. It is my vocation to work with complex material and simplify it, make it intelligible, translate it, communicate its values. Apparently I was born into service of Hermes, the god of in-betweens, or hermeneutics, and knew it not.” James Hollis Amor Fati, The Love of One’s Fate Winter 2015-2016 Parabola Magazine
This really resonated with me. I, as well, feel like a translator. I am good at explaining algebraic concepts to intimidated college students, for example. I am good at translating complex ideas into easily understood prose. I believe that I have something of genuine value to offer this world, if I ever exit this caretaking phase of my life and enter the workforce in a serious, non-dabbling manner.
The world needs go-betweens. The world is also full of us, but we go unrecognized for the most part because people do not see us. They see their opinions of us, their own projections.
The concept of intermediary is simple: someone who understands both sides or categories of people they are speaking to. Such people understand that most human categories are simply linguistic conveniences: good for making distinctions but not actually real.
Let me give an example. Back in 2012, it was a hot August night. I was channel surfing. I stumbled across the Republican convention. I watched five or ten minutes. My jaw dropped to the floor and I started laughing. I had never seen so many old white people wearing cowboy hats in my life—in Minnesota! Why was it so funny? Because I don’t live in that America. I live in a world with whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. A world with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. A world with straight, gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered folks. A world with wildly overlapping and fuzzy-at-best categories.
Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with being older, white, or wearing cowboy hats, for that matter. But if everyone you know is older and white and wears a cowboy hat, you do not live in the real world. Period.
Some of these categories are pure fiction. The “one drop” rule determining who is black is a perfect example. I have a brother that married a bi-racial woman. He did not know that at the time, but when I saw her standing next to her obviously bi-racial brother, I knew. They have two children, one of whom is a young man looking exactly like his dad. My nephew is pasty white, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and is a “quadroon” by antebellum standards. He would be classified as “black” and taken into slavery back in the day. The racial categorization of people is more fantasy than reality.
And, today, you cannot assume anything. I have seen articles about gay Muslims trying to get along with their families. And black Buddhists. And Arab Christians, because they are likely to be Antiochian Orthodox and not Muslim like everyone assumes. Most American Buddhists today are white and middle- to upper-class, and former Christians. That white man you are looking at just might be on his way to being a roshi.
This creates some paranoia among the people that do fit the stereotypes, and rightfully so. Conservative Christians lead the fear parade. For example, I have a friend with two lesbian sisters. Everyone knows they are gay—except their extremely conservative Christian mother. Why bring it up at family get-togethers? Why argue? What’s the point? One of them even lives with her partner. Are they honoring their mother by not arguing with her, or simply not seeing her as worth arguing with? Also, some Christians want to keep terrorists out of the country, which is perfectly understandable. However, with the Syrian refugee crisis, is it truly possible to make sure only the law-abiding Christians enter? (Antioch is in Syria and Syria used to have far more Christians than it does now.) The point is simple: you can’t tell by looking.
Authenticity is an issue. For example, I understand where Hollis is coming from to some extent. I can hardly believe what my life looks like in its second half. My choices are perfectly authentic, for the 25-year-old Cindy. I am married and not working. Externally, I could be any wife of a retiree. But I am also Buddhist. With an MBA. My life will not feel authentic until I enter its next phase, if I ever do. I am honoring choices I made over twenty years ago. I am trying to see things with a new perspective and set myself up for a decent future, one that I no longer assume I even have.
This moment is the opportunity. We cannot let our fear run our lives. And we need to listen to everyone, not just the people that look like us. People like me fit into greatly diverse and surprising categories. We have a lot to offer. Can you see me?
As a Buddhist, I have seen as many different variations as there are in Christianity, with extremely different emphases. Some variations, including Pure Land (I think, but am not absolutely certain of), emphasize “other-power.” There is even a series of articles in the new Tricycle about the plusses and minuses of the self-help movement. One title is “Your life is not a self-improvement project.”
This issue may not sell well. I would easily guess that the majority of Western Buddhists are former Christians. As such, we have seen the hazards of “waiting on God” for any real change to occur in our lives. We have heard the pat answers of “you just need to pray about it and trust God” and “Let go and let God” too many times to count. Our response? “I am doing something far more radical than what you are suggesting: I am taking responsibility for my part in the situation. Your life might change for the better, as well, if you tried likewise.”
Am I suggesting that I have all the answers or that I am in charge of everything? Not at all. I just know that, for myself, I have to have as clear a conscience as I can. I need to know with absolute certainty that I have done everything within my power to change a situation for the better. I cannot take responsibility for things outside my control. I do the best I can and only then do I let go. I believe that the Universe (“God” or simply observant humans) is paying attention.
For example, I am trying to sell my house. Yes, I have prayed to the spiritual realm. And I put it on the market. And I have buried a St. Joseph statue in my lawn. And I am making improvements to my house for the past year. And I may even chant about it. This is no either/or proposition. I need to know that I have done everything in my power to move my life forward. I am doing what I can to leave Michigan. Period.
I refuse to be a good, little victim. I feel like I have spent my whole life being one.
Is my life one big self-improvement project? In some ways, yes. I do not deny it. We all need help making our lives better. Others are more likely to help us if they see us making the effort to improve our lot. I know that I am much more likely to help someone that is doing all they can to fix a situation than someone “waiting on the Lord.” None of us is perfect.
It was Shunryu Suzuki that said, “You are all perfect as you are; and you could use a little improvement.” Amen, Roshi.
The holidays are coming up quickly. Perfectly kind and wonderful people are going to expect me to act like I have always normally acted—the way the old Cindy acted. They loved the old me.
For example, last week I got some photos of Barry’s grandsons through the mail. Jeff’s (Bailey’s ex) parents sent them to me with a nice letter. They naturally want to know how Barry and I are doing. I have no idea what to say.
This past year, everything basically collapsed, sometimes simultaneously. My car had problems. A BB came through my living room window this past April. I had a questionable mammogram. The TV died and the satellite receiver died. Barry has had BPH and low thyroid, if that’s an accurate diagnosis. He has a nodule on his thyroid that is causing him to cough. I stopped being able to repress anything. And then there’s the seeking of respite care so I can take care of the house. I’ve gotten various things done to the house, an ongoing project because Menards keeps messing up the order. And, as a cherry on top, an actual bullet went through our new living room window into our new TV. What are the odds of our living room windows being shot at twice within six months? I put the house on the market and someone came and looked at it.
All of this has changed me. Into what, I am unsure. I have found out the hard way whom I can and cannot trust. My parents have been fabulous. I needed to get back on my anti-depressant. The iffy mammogram removed the assumption that I would outlive Barry. I have had to let go of old friendships that no longer match who I am. I have been rejected by the insurance company that I have only made one claim upon ever, proving the worthlessness of their wares.
Basically, I can only rely upon my parents. That’s all.
What I miss and need the most are assumptions. Without the assumption that I will outlive Barry, it has been difficult to muster up any motivation to do anything. I now believe that everyone needs assumptions, even if they are false. To have an untrustworthy car has made me paranoid about every little thing on the car my parents gave me. To have “friends” that expect me to act like a normal human while my life implodes is not helpful.
I would like to come up with a normal-sounding response, but I’m not sure I can.
One thing that has kept me grounded is Zen. There is a world of silence and simplicity. Sometimes, I have access to it; sometimes not. However, I am not sure I can get to that world while in the midst of trauma. So this is the sequence: trauma occurs, I do what is needed to cope while my feelings are numb, and eventually my feelings thaw and come out in odd and seemingly inappropriate situations (because my response has zero to do with the current scenario but is rather attached to an event days, weeks, or even months earlier). To get re-grounded, I do Zen and allow whatever feelings I have to arise in as trauma-free manner as possible.
How do I authentically behave like a regular person when I have no idea who I am anymore? My most basic assumptions are gone. I am paranoid about everything: my car, my health, Barry’s health, the house, you name it. I have no security. I think everyone, to some degree, is in this boat, but they have enough assumptions (even if false) to cope. My pretenses have been stripped from me. I understand that I am incapable of taking care of the house and Barry simultaneously.
I’m not who I was, but have no idea who I am now. Fruitcake and festivities, anyone?
My life has been crazy and a tad dramatic lately. My house getting shot at (even if unintentionally) was a wake-up call. Given the BB gun shot six inches from my head six months ago, this was a jolt. So I’ve been dealing with the insurance company, the window guy, etc.
I went to the blessing as usual Monday night. My New-Agey friends were there. A couple of them, Linda C. and Denise, were genuinely concerned for my physical and spiritual welfare. They contacted a medium/earth-based cleanser/healer and contributed to her giving my house a remote reading this past Wednesday evening. They were concerned enough about me to help out financially. That means something.
After the cleansing, the healer called me and gave me some instructions. One of them was to put into the ground a jar with some items representing protection and three pointed objects. The weather was wretched: cold, windy, rainy, and basically nasty. Linda went to Denise’s and got a little statuette (?) of Shiva the destroyer and Linda herself contributed the jar, five cloves of garlic (three for the jar and two for cooking), and three pointy screws. I dug the hole and we blessed these odd objects for their purpose of protection. When I offered to take her out to eat out of gratitude, when said she had errands to run, but that she would love to hang out, go to the New Age bookstore, or any number of things, “because that’s what friends do.” ( I almost cried.)
I am so grateful. OMG. To stand outside in the icky weather (the nastiest of the season thus far) is a big deal to me. She did not have to do that.
I have a new friend, at least one.
I am in a spot now where I have to evaluate everything in my life. The friendships I developed in my twenties do not necessarily fit my life today. Letting go of the old has made some room for the new.
And then there are my parents. This past summer, I don’t know what I would’ve done without them. It seemed like, every time I turned around, they were pulling out a new TV from their trunk to give me and Barry. They will be reimbursed from the insurance company. What would I have done without my mother’s mad skills in the home maintenance department? I know nothing. She has used all of her brain cells in that category, as opposed to my none. It reminds me of how Einstein’s wife had to go to the university where he worked and walk him home because he didn’t know the way. They have been a huge resource.
When I start to have time for myself, I want to help others in the way others have had to come to my rescue. The jar, screws, and garlic cost just about nothing. It was her willingness to help (even verifying with the healer that I was burying it in the proper place) in the windy, drizzly weather that meant everything.