A SNEAKY BUDDHIST

We had a big snowstorm Wednesday that went into Thursday. I woke up early, did the usual, Bernie slept (he tires out more and more as the radiation treatments continue), and at 8 am I looked out at our snow-laden driveway and thought to myself, no radiation today, our driveway isn’t plowed.

Two minutes later I heard familiar scraping sounds, walked to the window on the other side of the house, and there was the plow, cleaning up the driveway, giving us a fresh new exit out of the house. I called the hospital. Yes, they were open for business, so finally there was nothing left to do but wake up Bernie. He could barely open his eyes.

But it’s snowing, he moaned, sounding a little like a child who feels cheated of a snow days because he has to get up and go to school..

I know, sweetie, but we just got plowed, the hospital is open, Rae is coming down from Greenfield, you can go for radiation.

He groaned, then got up.

The previous day I’d spoken to the radiation oncologist. Bernie’s nose is purple and swollen and his eyes hurt so badly that in the evenings and first thing in the morning he can barely open them. We douse the nose with aloe vera, bee balm, and an anti-inflammatory cream where the surgery took place, not to mention drops in his eyes. But by now, as the treatments are coming to a slow end, everything hurts.

The oncologist hmmm’d some, said that of course it was our choice, but if it was up to him he wouldn’t stop now but would finish the radiation treatments. Bernie, knowing he only had five more to do, agreed. I drove him back, remembering what the surgeon had said over the phone to me a month ago: Cancer berates the body.

Berates? I fumed inside. Who taught you English? You mean hurts, don’t you? How about harms? How about torments and tortures?

Sometime during that slow, snowy drive home I realized that there are times that just feel like shit, plain and simple. Because of pain, because of illness, because of grief, because of failure, whatever. And I also understood, somewhat shamefacedly, that I continue to have that sneaky feeling that Zen practice will spare me suffering and hurt, that I’ll find a way out.

Yes, I know that it’s supposed to be more of a way through rather than a way out, that it’s about being fully present, blah blah, but you see, that’s what’s so sneaky about it. Anytime I think of a way out of anything—by going through, going around, meditating, bearing witness, being fully there, whatever—I’ve fallen into the trap, made practice a kind of crib sheet which I could use to cheat on the exam of life. There is no way out of anything.

I knew that, but I’m a sneak, see? I knew there’s no transcending anything. Still, I thought, there are different ways of going through things. But different can also be a sneaky word, a voice says, so stop sneaking around and thinking that if you’re quiet enough, stable enough, present enough, gentle enough, etc., you’ll find the way out. You won’t.

And actually, when I get to the bottom and see that clearly, when I stop fighting, that’s when things feel lighter. But I have to be careful not to be a sneak and try to use that as a way out, too.