A MAN SHOOTS A CAR ON THE WILLIAMSBURG BRIDGE

A friend of mine told me that some time ago there was a terrible traffic jam on the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Finally, in deep frustration and road rage, a man got out, took out his gun, and shot his car.

Really? I asked.

Really, she said.

There are two mechanical things that I have loved over my life. One is my MacBook Air, which I can slip into my handbag and work on everywhere. The second is my red 2011 Prius, the first new car I’ve ever had. If you’re used to driving cars till you or they drop, depending on who goes first, you’re used to craning your ears to hear a new sound or smell a new smell morning after morning. What’s there that shouldn’t be there? Like all aging, sick, or dying bodies, an old car lets you know.

When you get a new car, one with great mileage and a shiny red color, one that’s at the beginning of a long and productive lifetime—OMG!

Why would I shoot it?

Because I’m mad at the traffic. Because I’m mad at the crazy city that doesn’t know how to run things. Because I’m mad at this crazy government that doesn’t take care of people. Why turn on the radio to listen to some calming music? Why avail myself of some unexpected free time and meditate, or just give my mind a rest? Why do any of those things when I can get mad?

Do I examine carefully where the responsibility lies? I have the time. Do I look at what decisions I made that brought me to this place? Maybe I should have taken the subway (New York has great public transportation). Maybe the world is telling me to pause, make some changes, simplify my life, figure out the basics and get back to them. After all, everything that happens, including heavy traffic, is at the very least a message, if not a blessing.

Not on your life. Why do any of these things when here, right here is an innocent being made of metal and glass over which I have the power of life and death? Doesn’t look like me, a different species vulnerable to quotas set by international treaties and trade commissions, usually homeless, always living on the streets, traded in after giving me its all for years and years, humbly happy to do the work that horses and people did many years ago. I bitch every time I have to feed or service it (Why isn’t the gas cheaper? Change tires again!). And finally, when it’s come to a stop not of its own making, surrounded by hundreds of its tireless peers wishing to do nothing but move, wishing to do nothing but serve, what do I do?

What any reasonable person does. I shoot it.

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I JUST CAN’T GET AWAY!

I go to the Greenfield library to write. I sit at the wooden counter in the very back. The stools are very comfortable, mostly occupied by people working on their computer or else reading the newspaper. You could look out the window. Most important, it’s the quietest spot in the library.

I’m working away, happily in the flow, when I hear noise. First it’s mumbling, then it’s talk in Spanish, punctuated by electronic bings. Over to my right are two Latino men huddled over an i-Pad, giggling and chatting. I get annoyed. Don’t they know they’re in a library? Everybody else is quiet. And then a snarky voice whispers inside, They’re not from around here, they don’t get libraries.

They’re still looking at the i-Pad, pointing and laughing. I hope that’s not porn, that censorious voice says silently. By now I’m really curious. The i-Pad continues to ring and they laugh harder each time. What are they looking at?

Finally they realize I’m looking at them, and one, older and thinner than the other, with a mustache so small it looks like a spot above his upper lip, moves his i-Pad aside so that I could see. Photos of a young boy are streaming in. He’s about 4, wearing a bright green jacket over yellow pants, arm up in greeting. More photos of the child come in: now he’s eating a piece of birthday cake, now he’s wearing a red baseball cap, now he’s hiding his face behind his hands.

“Mi hijo,” the man tells me proudly.

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BEING A ZEN MASTER IS NO GUARANTEE AGAINST SUFFERING.

I won’t do suicide this morning, Bernie tells me.

I returned home yesterday after a wonderful weekend away, we had dinner together, then some words, and a couple of hours later he called out for me and said he really wanted to end it. Call a doctor friend of his and ask for help to end it. His mind was going crazy, he couldn’t think, could barely breathe, this was no way to live. We waited a while. I wondered aloud if this could be an anxiety attack. Sure enough, some 10 minutes later, it was over. We talked a little more, he seemed to relax more, looked at his computer. Finally fell asleep.

This morning he felt different. I want to fight for things, he said. I want to fight for you, for me, for our relationship, for the work. I am ready. I won’t do suicide.

Bernie’s body-mind has been affected strongly by his stroke. Mostly he works on his physical therapy, but the brain too has changed. There are lots of strong emotions he now has, feelings he couldn’t access before, a new language he hasn’t yet mastered. And sometimes, depending on how things go, it sends things roiling.

People say to me: You must be so grateful for your meditation practice because of the stability it gives you.

Yes, I am grateful for that. But the biggest source of my stability is love. I think of Bo Diddley’s song, Who do you love? Day by day, that question comes up: Who do you love? What do you love? Not people, peace, God, nature. Something or someone concrete. Something/someone who pushes against you and you push back, who says things you don’t want to hear, whom you say things to you want to take back the next minute, someone close and far at the same time, someone you know like the back of your hand but forever undefined, beyond hope or expectation, his/her own very individual, special, mundane fragment of life. Never ever the same from one minute to another.

And now, from person to dog:

Stanley, at the age of 13-1/2, has totally lost his hearing and much of his sight. Everything now seems to come to him through smell, and he sniffs every bloody twig or branch, every dead leaf he can find rustling on the snow. He doesn’t seem to have much interest in either Bernie or me, he just loves his walks and his food (is there such a thing as canine dementia?).

But he hasn’t lost his sense for the mystery of life. He seems to fall in love with every small print in the snow, reads the universe in a needle of evergreen. The blinder he gets, the bigger the vistas that open up to his feverish nostrils. Still so much life to sniff—and more—and more—and more!

PERSONAL NOTE: Whenever I blog directly about Bernie I show it to him ahead of time to make sure he’s ok with it. I think the reason we’re both open to revealing intimate details of our life together as he recovers from his stroke is to remind folks of all our humanity, that being a Zen master is no guarantee against suffering, and that fear and hardship are just that, fear and hardship, within the envelope of grace. Or, in Bernie’s words, not-knowing.

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IF THEY SING HYMNS ALL NIGHT, THEY’RE LEGAL

Yesterday I wrote about the yucky pile of spinach that Stanley leaves on the plate, untasted and untouched. Last night I went to a meeting of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County and heard about another yucky pile. Not spinach, not left-over greens, but the undocumented Latinos in our area.

You look at the area surrounding the village of Montague and you don’t see too many people. Hey, no one lives here except cows and sheep, folks from the city and suburbia sometimes tell me. Till I saw 3,000 people marching in the Women’s March on January 21, I had no idea there were that many of us. Where did you all come from, I wanted to ask.

But last night I heard about a much more invisible community, one that is hiding out, scared to show itself, and that’s the hundreds of undocumented families living here. Many are Guatemalans, particularly Mayans, who escaped grueling poverty and starvation as young teenagers and came here without documentation. Some have been here 20 years, have partners (as Catholics they’d love to marry, but without legal papers they can’t), and children. Their children are American citizens, with parents that, after Trump’s election, are scared to drive them to school or to drive to work because their work starts often at 5 or 6 am (farm work in the summer starts even earlier), all of which is known to State Police so they’re on hand to profile and stop them. They often have no way to get to doctors, stores, or immigration lawyers.

Think of what spunk they have! Imagine teens as young as 12 making their way alone all the way from Honduras through Guatemala, then through Mexico, crossing the border illegally, then making their way all the way through the United States and up to New England! I think of Americans who believe they’re lazy good-for-nothings who want to collect welfare checks, and I feel like telling them: Can you imagine the kind of despair that causes young people to take such risks?

In the past 10 days the government has ordered sweeps of illegals in our country, though not in New England. The newspapers tell us to relax, they’re all “criminals.” Do you know what it takes to have a criminal record? If you’re undocumented and are stopped three times because you don’t have the right papers, you now officially have a criminal record. So you have to wonder how many of those “criminals” were people we really have to fear?

We talked about many things at last night’s meeting last night, but one thing stayed with me all night. There was much discussion about a Rapid Response team to help these families in case of a sweep in our area and we asked what individuals and houses of worship can provide sanctuary in that case. A Catholic priest said that his church could do that, that he was ready to go to jail for this, and that he had talked to both the head of the local police department and the local fire marshal about what laws are involved. {I should say here that the local police departments in our areas have committed not to stop undocumented residents, but Massachusetts State Police do stop them). Both described what laws the church may be violating in that case, including one law related to occupancy, i.e., who’s allowed to stay overnight in a church and who isn’t.

If they sing hymns all night, the priest was told, they’re legal. The minute they stop singing, it’s not legal anymore. They can’t fall asleep, they can’t rest, they can’t take care of their children. It’s a church, so they have to sing hymns all night in order to stay there.

I thought of the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, about a dance marathon in the heart of the Depression, with impoverished, exhausted couples dancing their heart out in order to win the money at the end. If they stop dancing, they’re out.

By all means, let’s sing hymns, let’s glorify the One, but not like this. How? Through singing, giving, caring, loving.

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