In honor of Eric Garner…
When I returned home today after a long day of work the sky was black and the wind whipped cold rain around filling the slushy puddles and wetting the ice and snow banks. Before I opened my front door I could see my husband speaking crossly to my daughter. When I opened the door my son ran up to me smiling and saying, “Mama!” with pieces of rice stuck to his cheeks. I picked him up and turned to my daughter who was scowling by the kitchen table. The bath water was running and Chris told me H needed a bath to get the paper mache out of her hair and she was resisting.
I went into Mama-mode—encouraging her into the water–negotiating, pouring water over her head despite her grumpiness and scrubbing shampoo into the sticky hair. Later on when I had to pull my son out of the bath because he needed to go to bed he cried until he was red-faced and then I went back to cajole H out of the bath and into her giraffe pajamas.
Tonight I didn’t yell. Tonight I didn’t lose my temper. But it took everything I’ve learned and practiced to keep breathing and stay kind to keep things moving. In order to avoid resorting to power or force (even if only a verbal “Get OUT of the bath NOW!”).
I get angry plenty. And I wonder how many kids grow up as functional as they do being that parenthood–that LIFE–is such a challenge. And I’m a white woman with a safe, warm home and food in my fridge.
People both horrify and amaze me. The kindness and beauty of communities coming together to love and support each other. The violence, cruelty, and ignorance in the killing of an innocent man who was just saying he was fed up with being harassed by police.
I am so blessed…and life still brings me to my knees often enough.
I only know this. We all want to be happy. We act out of fear and we act out of love. We pause and we forget to pause. Many of us don’t know to pause–to take a breath. We’ve never been taught. And even when we are taught–we have to learn–again and again.
Our mind-chatter is frequently against our best interests. Our nervous systems are stuck in perpetual vigilance mode as we live so apart from the flowers, from the sky, from the feeling of rain on our cheeks.
Sometimes I hate that compassion is the tone most easily heard by others. I want to scream or yell or blame because for an instant there is relief. But a second later the pain increases. My child or husband or the person who cuts me off in traffic is further in defense–giving me the bird.
Tonight I was able to see H wrapped in a holey blue towel, her brown hair scraggling damply down her back, tears in her eyes. She was tired. She was hungry. She missed her grandparents. A bath was hard for her tonight. I was able to stay soft. But tomorrow, maybe I won’t be able to. I can’t say. But for right now, I can pause. I can breathe. I can join together with others to work for love and freedom from injustice. It comes down to each moment and each choice. Our lives depend on it.
Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.