I make my daily call to my mother. She picks up, hangs up.
I grin and call again. She picks up.
“Chavale, where are you?”
My grin widens. “I’m home, mom, in America.”
“Really?” she says with shocked surprise.
I laugh out loud.
“What’s so funny?” she demands.
“Mom, we talk practically every day, and every day you ask me where I am, as if I’m a block away coming over for coffee, and every day I give you the same answer, and every day you sound surprised.”
“It’s not exactly the same thing,” she said. “Not exactly.”
To tell you the truth, I don’t always laugh at these conversations. I get frustrated by the constant hang-ups and by the repetition of the same question: “Where are you?” “At home, mom, in America. “Really?”
This time I laughed hard, as if it was the first time we’ve had this exchange. Because, as she said, It’s not exactly the same thing. Not exactly.
I was in Bellingham yesterday visiting a friend and started my drive back around 7:45 at night, expecting to reach home around 9:15. Going west on Route 2, I encountered a rush of snow flurries and wind. That may not sound like much of a storm, but when you’re driving against them, they look like millions of snow shards coming at the windshield and the car and your visibility plummets.
It took almost no time for the lane markings to disappear so that I couldn’t stay in my lane. With no streetlights and snow covering the narrow road quickly, I found myself wandering off to the side, or else onto the adjacent lane, and once onto the lane of oncoming traffic. I exited the highway completely, found my way back, and twice veered off to the right, hugging the guardrail, putting emergency lights on, and just waited for a few minutes, hoping more cars would come, avoid my car, and drive slowly so that I could follow them instead of the invisible lane markings.
When I got home, slowly driving down the driveway and opening the garage door, my body unstiffened, my rigid shoulders and neck collapsed, and my heart broke open in gratitude that I made it home. And this morning, as I called my mother and we had the same exchange for the thousandth time, I laughed my heart out because she’s right. Even if it sounds like the same thing, it’s not exactly the same thing, ever. Not exactly.
Is Russia invading Ukraine exactly like Hitler? A little, not exactly. The old Holocaust-conditioned apprehension stirs inside me. If my mother didn’t have dementia, I think she would admire Putin as a leader; she always admired Russian leaders over Western presidents and prime ministers, said they were tough and strong, knew how to handle things. Said they had balls. But her heart would surely be with the courageous Ukrainians fighting the stronger and better-armed Russian army. She would see herself in them, it would remind her of that time many years ago.
After driving through last night’s storm, I felt this morning was a new morning, Aussie a new Aussie, an egg in a whole wheat tortilla brand new, something I never tasted before.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine affects me similarly. Reminds me not to take anything for granted, including the peace I live in and the comfort that surrounds me. Yes, I am aware that many here don’t have that, but that doesn’t negate what we do have. As so many have pointed out, democracy and human rights is a very recent phenomenon. To many it feels like forever, but just look back a century or two ago and you’ll see a very different land, not to mention that even now, so many people still can’t play that game on an equal field.
Bernie was not a pacifist. Many Buddhists are, and I think there’s an expectation that Buddhists should always be into non-violence. Bernie talked of the One Body, and he often asked the question: What happens if your arm or leg develops gangrene? An arm with gangrene is also the One Body, but do we just let it get sicker and sicker, and invade and kill off the rest of the organism, or do we cut it off? What do we do?
You do something, he would say. You don’t just prattle on about the One Body, you do something.