I know folks who wake up in the morning and first thing they think is: Oh good, another day passed. Just 8 more days to the election. Not—Wow, look at the colors out there, or: Good, it’s raining, and we need rain, or like I like to start a day, going downstairs to the futon in my office where Aussie likes to spend her nights, stroking her and saying: “Another wonderful day with Aussie!”
I used to do that with my dogs as they aged and I could see the end coming; now I do that even though Aussie is only 3. Another wonderful day with Aussie. Another wonderful day with Henry. Some great days with my sister, though she’s gone to NYC now. Going to see an eye doctor who will take care of my left eye, that has been hurting me. Going to write a blog post. Another wonderful day.
I also say to myself: Another 8 days to the election. Another 8 days of newspapers—good ones—carrying headlines of vitriol. Not Putin, not Maduro, not China, not Iran, but us. Looking at the dominance of our election news, you’d never know there’s a world outside the US.
But there is a world out there, and a world here, too: gentler, kinder, more caring. Where the words we’re all in this together aren’t just slogans but the deepest,, truest words of great prophets and saints. And by in this I don’t just mean covid. I cover my face to prevent you from getting sick, and you cover yours for the same reason. I smile at the eye doctor behind my mask because my left eye needs his services, and he needs my check so that he could cover the costs of the nurses and receptionists that expose themselves every day.
Wherever I go, I’m aware that almost everyone I meet is more exposed than I am. Their eyes smile and they don’t complain about having to wear a mask the entire workday, at least 5 days a week. What am I complaining about?
We need to trim back and live a little smaller, but with more tenderness and a livelier imagination. Starting with myself, I’d like to learn to forgive. I feel as though I’ve carried slights and resentments for much of my life, and I’d regret them now only I think regrets are a waste of time: Why does she talk like that on the phone? Why didn’t he love me more? Why doesn’t she need me less? What about my birthday? What about the money owed me? What about the job that was terminated, the gift not given? The small forgettings and oblivions that shouldn’t have happened but did, where I felt forgotten or overlooked?
I talked to a friend, well-known, who just discovered he has cancer. He was in the best of spirits and full of plans: I’m going to cover the walls of my office with collages; have to finish The Overstory; I’m going to write new music, make more films. He read me a poem he wrote.
But what he wanted most was to use his diagnosis to help others. “I have the spotlight on me now, and I keep on asking myself: How can I share this with something good that others are doing, you know? It’s like I’m saying: Yes, it’s me, and I have cancer, and look at what these folks are doing, and look at this great project or this great effort—isn’t it cool!”
Terry Tempest Williams said: “Maybe our undoing is our becoming.”
Can I get that kind of mind? Can I see that it’s not all about me—my beginning, my ending, my doing, my undoing? It’s about something far, far bigger, and what seems to me a defeat or letdown is just another piece of the greater becoming and becoming and becoming. Seeing that, feeling that, gives you energy, courage, and enthusiasm.
“Did you feel fear?” I asked my friend.
“Not quite,” he said. “I felt a kind of excited fear, like here it is! But it felt exciting. I thought I was going to make this movie; instead, I’m making the cancer movie.”
Some of that was true for Bernie after his stroke. He also had his plans for getting older and what that would be like. Instead he made the stroke movie. He was a star.
The Zen teacher Joan Halifax said: “I feel like I’ve practiced my entire life for these times.”
You can say that about any time, not just the time of these elections and the coronavirus: for the time of a cancer diagnosis, a major stroke. A time when you take a big fall deep in the forest and wonder if you could get up again, and if you can’t, will anyone find you? A time when someone you love dies. A time when the country seems to go apeshit crazy. A time when you lose your family, your job, when you’re going to die.
I’ve practiced my entire life for this time. For becoming and becoming and becoming.