I’m spending New Year’s Eve at the Deerfield veterinary hospital. Henry, the illegal chihuahua mix, was attacked by a neighbor’s dog a few hours ago. He has two puncture wounds on his forehead, but what brought me here is my fear of internal injuries he may have suffered, causing him to walk with difficulty and unable to go up and down stairs. Lori, his human companion, is away for the long weekend and I feel bad that he got hurt under my watch. I think he’ll be okay, but figured I’d play it safe.
When I came in here in the early evening, I was surprised and moved to see so many people in the waiting room. It might be New Year’s Eve, but folks love their animals, a good reminder of how much people love their families, human, canine, and feline.
There’s a football game on the TV screen that no one looks at. Instead, they seem somber and hopeful at the same time, exchanging stories about why their beloved animals are here. Not for us the boisterous, congratulatory New Year’s hoopla on the TV screen. We leave the new year on a note of care and love, and we’ll start the new year on that same note (I have a feeling I’ll be here through midnight).
That’s the thing, isn’t it? We love our families, but do we love all families. We love our children and animals, but do we love all children and animals?Which, as usual, reminds me of the Middle East.
I experience a deep conflict between loyalty and love of family, love of origins, deep appreciation of everything that brought me to this moment—including a religious upbringing that, despite my opposition, still caused me to wonder about God and how the understanding of God helps me to live—and the caring and sympathy I owe towards all beings, near and far.
I see more clearly than ever the traumatic ingredients surrounding my family, not just from October 7 but from earlier years in Israel and in the Holocaust, as well as the personal continued involvement in this war, be it in Gaza itself, the West Bank, or the mothers caring for children at home while holding fear and anxiety at bay.
In that scenario, caring for the people killed in Gaza almost feels like a betrayal of your own family. It’s the only way I can understand why Israeli journalists, usually so independent and professional, barely talk about what’s happening “on the other side.” I feel a conflict between vision and values, personal loyalty to family and loyalty to Buddha Nature, which is everywhere, all beings.
As Mira Jacob wrote in a graphic column, “I hold rage and love in one single body.” That can be a war all by itself that rips one apart. Or it can be something else entirely, which it has been my practice to explore since October 7.
Bernie talked about bringing as many beings as possible into the mandala of our practice and warned that those we leave out will sabotage our work. We don’t have to love them all; the folks who did what they did to people on October 7, and especially the horrific rape and mutilation of women, I don’t love them at all. I can’t love Jihadist groups with their insistence that only religious Sharia law should be followed or that a certain geography belongs to only them, and that it’s actually a good deed to kill offenders, including hundreds of children, as they’ve done in Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban), Africa (Boko Haram), and as Hamas did in October.
Theirs is a language I don’t speak. I take Bernie’s caution as an encouragement to extend my boundaries as much as I can, calling on deep patience and listening, but at a certain point I admit that I reach a limit.
You can be as Buddhist and humanist as you like, but when family comes in—oh boy, that’s a different matter entirely. Now your attachment is in full force—and I don’t use the word in a negative sense. If anything, I’m trying to negotiate my way. How do I love without attachment? How do I raise children without attachment? How do I love my siblings and their children and grandchildren without attachment?
Is it some enlightened act to mourn the death of Gazans as much as I might mourn the death of a family member? Does it point to a huge capacity for love or to a lack of it, or perhaps to a lack of deep emotional connection? This is what I tangle with now.
What do I wish everyone for the new year? Waiting for Henry, I began reading the latest Booker Prize-winning novel, Prophet Song, and found this sentence about the narrator, a woman, wife, mother, and microbiologist: “She sees how happiness hides in the humdrum, how it abides in the everyday toing and froing as though happiness is a thing that should not be seen, as though it is a note that cannot be heard until it sounds from the past …”
I wish us all not to wait for this sound from the past, but to recognize happiness in the making of supper, the feeding of family, the hanging of laundry and turning on lights indoors as a winter sun sets. Even in sitting at a veterinary hospital on New Year’s Eve, having left Aussie at home, and taking good care of a very sweet (though illegal) chihuahua.
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