Great Tits (stop giggling!) are a rather small yellow and blue bird in England. We had a small flock of the happy and earnest birds in the vast back garden behind my and Troy’s first flat. One cold and wet May Bank Holiday, the family in our eaves fledged their 8 chicks. I had imagined the parents finally being unable to get onto the nest and with a tiny size 9 talon, shoved the babies out for a few minutes of peace and quiet.
Fledging is a normal process: after the babies are bodily kicked out of the nest, the parents fly back and forth to each of the babies and feed them. However, we decided the local cat population might be a problem… So when we found mama bird with an injured wing, we scooped all the Tits (I said stop giggling!) into a modified shoebox where they could dry out overnight and let them go in the morning. Catching the birds wasn’t difficult but getting them into the box without causing damage was a little scary: at one point one of the baby Tits (Oh come on! Don’t laugh!) hopped up Troy’s arm and proudly shouted from Troy’s shoulder. Our neighbour said that Troy looked like an Effeminate Pirate with a tiny bird on his shoulder! I wanted to get a camera but Troy was keen to get the babies all in the box. We poured handfuls of meal worms into the box and prayed as we set them onto the enclosed porch for the night.
First thing in the morning, Troy was on our porch and checking on the mama and babies. We still had 9 live birds! Troy flung open the front door and as soon as the box top was off, mama was off and out without a thank you. The babies, on the other hand, were more disoriented from their night in a shoebox. Troy found all but one… and then heard chirping from a shoe. The babies had been successfully rescued.
When I was at grade school, I used to glance at the younger children waiting for lunch and wonder which one was having the same experiences as me the year before. I would look at the pastel tiles on the walls, measuring out the spaces that I would inhabit. I was a scrawny child and didn’t take up much space. I used to look around and wonder where the younger me was.
When I moved to the “big kids” side of the elementary school – behind the main school drive and closer to the corn fields – I wondered if another me started school at that point: I would be someone who the younger me wouldn’t know but I would be experiencing the same things as her. It was as if I believed life was a squiggly line and that we would encounter ourselves regularly throughout each life. (I wonder what a squiggly line of children would look like?) Of course, I never ran into myself.
When my only sister came along when I was 12, I started to revisit the idea that I was spiritually linked with someone younger. Maybe the gap wasn’t one year but 12? However, as she grew up I saw her as her own person with her own motivations and goals. She is a wonderful woman. However, in many ways, she’s not like me. She’s not another me.
Now that I have nieces I again find myself wondering if I might encounter another version of myself. Logic dictates that there can only be one me in the physical universe at once. Why do I keep coming back to this circular notion? Is it because my idea of life isn’t just a matter of born, live, die and that’s it? If we are born, live, die and then repeat, then the universe can be perceived as a wheel – or the beating of a heart where the lifetime is one mere heartbeat?
How strange it must be to have that kind of perspective – to look back at lifetimes like novels in a bookstore! Each section noting the stories and lessons worth remembering. (?) Is it really useful to keep looking back? Or was the Buddha right in saying that we should only focus on what remains undone?
If I’m right in thinking that, after we die, we meet (again) with more learned souls. We go through what happened, what didn’t happen and what we learned in the previous lifetime. At that point we can rest for a little while or we can immediately come back. I don’t think we necessarily always come back as human beings. Nor do I think that we always incarnate on this planet – although it might be easier in terms of familiarity to regularly come back to the same physical space. (?) When we do decide to come back, it’s either to go over the same lesson again because we ourselves want to ensure the lesson stays with us, or it’s to encounter something new.
Not every soul comes to the physical plane. Those that do are brave. It must be quite a jolt to go from a knowing, compassionate and respectful environment to be trapped in the physical with only mechanical means of communication. It must be extremely lonely… Is everyone as lonely as I’ve felt?
Bearing in mind that we are all here to learn and to look after one another, I have tried to treat everyone with a certain amount of respect. Each of us is here for a reason. Each of us planned our life challenges. We all have to walk our own path – again and again. The trials of one lifetime are blinks of the eye if we are destined to live hundreds or even thousands of lifetimes. When I think of the Big Picture, this life, these concerns, this moment is of no consequence. All that matters is the lesson learned.
If I’m right in thinking that I chose this life for its particular challenges, what is the lesson that I need to learn? I grew up feeling lonely and unloved but never had a problem showing love to others. If I’m being brutally honest, the problem isn’t with my showing love and respect to others (I have plenty of people telling me that I’ve far too good at that.) but with showing the same to myself. (?)
Have I been making the excuse that I feel insignificant because of the Big Picture or because I cannot allow myself to feel compassion and respect in myself? Why wouldn’t I deserve compassion? I’m not a terrible individual. Would I not experience profound loneliness if I felt more at home in my skin? Would I not need to feel heard if I accepted myself with all of my faults and limitations? If accepting my faults and limitations, will I still feel the need to grow and learn? Am I clinging to the perception of a person that I am in order to disregard the person I could be?
When I started at the U of I, Louise was about 6 and I took her to my dorm’s Haunted House. It was something which students put on every year for the local children. At first, it was kids’ stuff: being handed grapes and told they were eyeballs… But then one room we went into was a mock surgery without anaesthesia! I immediately went into orbit! I made them
Turn the lights on! What on EARTH do you think you’re doing? This is far too scary for a child! (To the guy on the table.) Show my sister that you’re absolutely fine! Apologise to her!
APOLOGISE! *shaking my tiny fist*
I don’t remember the rest of the haunted house but presume everyone came to look and gave me a wide berth after I’d torn that group a new poop-chute. Nobody frightens my sister.
I loved my sister before she was born.
The day my sister was born, I presumed that I would be there for the birth but without telling me in advance, Mom decided that she didn’t want me to see her in so much pain. I arrived at the hospital after school and after Mom delivered a healthy baby girl. My sister was just 1/2 ounce heavier than me when I first came into the world. Consequently I asked Mom if she had a cookie-cutter in there.
After school I went to the hospital. Louise was just a few hours old when I held her for the first time. I carefully supported her head and cuddled her close saying You’re a big girl! Louise balled up her tiny fist and punched me in the nose. I said that she was too young to start the sibling rivalry.
I didn’t have the honour of being a mom but, thanks to my sister, I discovered that I was capable of such a fierce love that can be overwhelming. Now that I’m older, I identify with my hurricane emotions. I’m even happy to mock myself for them – but don’t you mock my sister! I’ll give you a piece of my mind to feast upon!
I might be wrong in believing that people are simple because I think I’m fairly easy to understand: all I ever wanted was to be loved for who I am. Ok, there are some ambitions thrown in but my major motivation has been for love and recognition.
At the moment I am finding it difficult to remember that everyone has their own path, their own journey, their own lessons to learn. As much as I want to treat everyone with loving-kindness and respect, I am struggling not to judge my neighbours harshly when I turn to politics.
Politics is the one area of life where I feel, opinions speak as loudly as actions. On the one hand, I have to respect everyone but on the other hand I struggle to respect those who believe in hatred and disrespecting others.
I feel that, more than in any time in the past, now is the time for protecting those who are different. Now is the time to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. Now is the time that mimics the 1930s, the time of warning, the time to repel hatred.
Yet, I also believe that I am not the person to judge anyone. I have made too many mistakes and inadvertently hurt too many people to judge anyone. I am not important. I’m not significant enough for anyone to listen to me. Is it right to shout out against perceived injustice?
No. Don’t shout. The best way forward is to show people my path and to allow them to come to their own conclusions. I might not be strong enough to influence society’s river but I might be able to create ripples on a pond.
The first symptoms were vomiting and passing out when I was 12. It was 1983. It took six months of regular but infrequent bouts of agonising pain before someone realised that it was happening approximately once a month. Was it just period pain?
Just? You mean vomiting and passing out might be remotely normal? Yes dear. It’s all in your head. *pat on head*
I was told to take Tylenol as soon as I felt the pain coming on – usually first thing in the morning. This only covered the agony I was feeling and, as the years progressed, I required more and more painkillers each month. I became an expert at pain management and a walking pharmacy. When ibuprofen hit the market, I took it with Tylenol. I managed the pain without knowing why the pain visited itself upon me every month.
Going through junior high and high school, I had to periodically take days off school due to my pain – the over-the-counter pain meditation was not always able to mask the pain. My grades dipped. Despite the pain, I was accepted to the university of my choice. I moved into the period of my life that I still feel was my best: I had potential. I had dreams. The birth control pills masked my gynaecological symptoms. I was going to take over the world.
Then life happened to me. I ran away to England, got married and got a job – not the career I wanted but it paid the bills.
I’ve already gone through my life with Brian so I will only mention his complete inability to support my health conditions when I was being diagnosed with polycyclic ovaries, insulin resistance and after surgery, endometriosis. The diagnoses explained a lot but took some time to learn to manage. I took lots of meditation at first which included a few things that are advertised on American commercials. I got divorced. I had counselling.
In terms of my physical problems, the two things that have helped most are: a hysterectomy and a supportive husband.
When I commented to my husband recently that both my mother and sister were crazy, he said “You’re from the same stock, you know.” So after I reminded him that he married me so he must be completely insane, I got to thinking. What exactly are Mom’s personality traits that I want to let go?
For starters, Mom is a worrier. Of course she has her own reasons for this and I will only briefly mention what they are here: her childhood was spent with a violent drunk. That would have an effect on anyone and I’m not criticising her for her nature. However, I want something different for my life. Why? Not because there aren’t scary things out there that might happen but because I know that worry is a waste of precious personal energy – and a tool for my own suffering. The Buddhist in me says that my time would be better spent attempting to alleviate suffering – which includes my own.
But if I’m looking more closely at the worrying point, andwith my Buddhist hat on, I believe that worry is a result/associate of fear and anxiety. If I’m hoping to achieve equanimity, I have to let go the fear of something bad happening because it only darkens today.
The Buddhist in me also notes how I cling to – not just fear and anxiety, but also more positive emotions such as love. If I let go my emotions, I will achieve a peace that I’ve not yet found. I fully believe that I cling to emotional attachments – particularly the hurricane-force emotions that occasionally leave me bobbing for air. I used to think that my Herculean emotions were a virtue but, looking logically and as a Buddhist, I can see that my strong emotions are a distraction to the peace I’m seeking. If I’m being totally honest, I’m using my emotions as an excuse to avoid the peace I am seeking. It is as if I am a turtle on my back and my emotions are buffeting me this way and that, but never quite turning me upright.
In addition, my strong memories enable me cling to the past – where I re-enact conversations that never took place; I relive emotions that have no meaning in the present; and I wallow in dreams that might have been… I have to try to remember that in letting go the attachments that have created my suffering, I’m only losing the bit of the emotions that I cling to most. I can still achieve close friendships and ties but with the knowledge that myself and my friends are living now – not in the past with my intense memories and not in the future whereI’m longing for something more exciting – rueing lost potential and time.
I dreamt last night that I needed to get through Campus and to Urbana. I found myself in a big building- and all the signs for the exits lead in the wrong direction. So instead of heading downstairs to the ground floor I headed upstairs- through the lethal ceiling darts (with tips the length of myhand and as wide as a fist) that threatened to kill everyone looking for the way out- and found the way out. I threw open the doors for everyone else to follow. Outside was a modern pyramid. The sky was dark and the air was cool. We climbed down. Later I found myself back in the pyramid with heroes. We were led into a lecture hall. I climbed up to a seat and whispered words of warning to the heroes around me. The lethal dart missed my head but got my shoulder. Before it could retract I broke off the heavy point in the hope that it would just tap the next person. The heavy tipped dart was attached to the ceiling by something like a car aerial. So it was easy to break. Then I pretended to be dead and sat very still while the bad guys were trying to woo the heroes to their side. I concentrated on looking dead – eyes open and staring at abrown Bakelite box on the wall. Teeth clenched. Focussed on keeping the dart tip hidden in my bra. When I woke up my hands were asleep!
I spoke with an old friend about this dream (and others that may be considered similar) and he said that my hero dreams might illuminate a part of my personality that I was not aware of? I’ve never considered myself a hero, so I was very surprised! I always considered these “hero” dreams (his word not mine) as expressions of needing to escape. Maybe the dream is an expression of the emotions that have recently arisen? Do I suffer from delusions of grandeur? Do I need to lead others to safety? I hate to think of others being in pain and I do what I can to alleviate future suffering? Or maybe I am just the mad American lost in an English sea? Who knows?
In a discussion about this dream, I wondered why I was more likely to stop a bully tormenting someone else than stand up for myself – which gave rise to the question: is the distinction between myself and anyone else is reflective of how I see myself? I didn’t even consider the consequences (a possible physical confrontation?) when I protected Andrea all those years ago. Yet when it comes to my emotional wellbeing, I am more likely to endure emotional torment from my parents, Brian, a number of incidents at various offices where I have worked… When I was officially a Christian, I believed if I suffered in this life, that I would know peace in the next. I invited suffering into my life because, if the amount of suffering in the world is a finite and quantifiable amount, that I was willing to receive more than my fair share in order to save others suffering.
However, with my Buddhist hat on, I don’t have to suffer torment for the sake of enduring it. One would think that this realisation would be a wholly welcomed relief but I do still expect the other shoe to fall. There is nothing particularly special about me. There is nothing innately good that I deserve. When people say things about me, I am more likely to believe the bad things than the good. Even now, when friends come calling, I wonder what they might want; I find myself wondering what they are getting out of the experience of spending time with me. I use humour to make them laugh and then I go home having not really revealed much of my inner self. Thinking about it, I’m not surprised that I have spent the majority of my life feeling lonely. I haven’t let anyone see the real me. Because I felt that my parents did not love me, I did not express myself truly around them for fear of the torment I might endure. I never had anything important to say. I was afraid. I was the beaten puppy that resists trusting anyone. I didn’t deserve love because I didn’t know how to experience love/express love. No matter how compassionate I’ve been, no matter how much I protected people from torment, nothing I ever did was good enough. Even these words – I’m finding hard to keep on the page because I fear what people will think. It is as if I chose this physical existence to surround myself with judgmental people (Mom, DJ, Brian) in order to learn not to judge myself.
While Louise is my only sister, I am not the only sister in my sister’s life. To use modern parlance, my sister is from another mister. Frank had two girls from his first marriage and after Frank died, they weren’t in touch with Louise as much as Mom would have liked…
But to be fair to them, Mom can be quite an intimidating woman and I expect they would have found it difficult to come to some arrangement. Over the years Mom has stoked Louise’s animosity for her sisters on her father’s side. I have found myself thinking that there was no way that Mom would put aside the faults committed on both sides over the years that Mom was “dating” Frank while he was still married to Louise’s other sisters’ mother. Mom couldn’t let go of her hurt and anger.
So, during Louise’s wedding reception, her other sisters attended but they were sitting by themselves… I crossed the room and talked to them. I said how much I admired and missed their dad and asked after their children. Something I have learned in dealing with Troy’s children is that it doesn’t take much effort to soothe a few feathers and encourage better communication – if the other party is willing to talk. Anyway, I ensured I opened the lines of communication with them, made them Facebook friends and – on the odd occasion, I check in. They aren’t my sisters but, in another life they might have been.
The reason I’m relating this story is because of what Mom said when I left Louise’s sisters. Mom said smugly “You wanted to show them that you’re a better person!” I was horrified! I crossed the room for my sister! Not because I had some latent grudge and that I wanted to “show them”. I managed to gulp back saying Actually, I showed them that I’m a better person than you, Mother! There may be a day when I am able to say that sort of thing to Mom, but I doubt it will be in this lifetime. Helping her to see how she has hurt me and Louise would be counter-productive because she wouldn’t take it as constructive: she would just take the comments personally and burrow down into another depression.
While she is an amazing woman for raising two girls without a man in the house, she also appears to be unable to grow as an individual. To some extent, Mom’s emotional development stopped at the point when she was afraid of her drunk and violent father. While I am grateful I never endured the kind of childhood she did, I am also sad that she struggles to show love… I remember one afternoon, Mom and I were sitting at her kitchen table – the one with the white top, chrome legs and the chairs had coppery cushions and chrome legs. I flopped my hand down, expecting her to pick it up. Instead, she looked at it as if to say “What’s that doing there?” So I said, Hold my hand. Mom did it but was visibly uncomfortable, so I let go. None of this makes her a bad person – but it does leave me wondering how she can move past her childhood trauma. Perhaps she never will. I love her. I wish she were happier.