I feel my faith in humankind wobble for the first time in my sixty years. It’s a smaller thought that sparks it. Not the massacre of eleven Jewish people in their temple. Not the white supremacist in Kentucky who’s unable to force open the doors of a largely black church so he goes to Kroger and shoots two black people there. Not the caravan of mostly Hondurans heading to our border, fleeing violence and poverty the U.S. has a hand in making, our president bringing in the military, treating the Hondurans like terrorists instead of finding a way to simply process their requests for asylum. Not the 15 pipe bombs mailed to people who visibly oppose him. I know these things and more—the 189 who died in the plane near Jakarta—have layered themselves inside me, have brought me to this moment, this possible tipping point, sitting in my courtyard in the morning warmth. But it’s two disparate things I hear on NPR that come together in my head. Some crazy high number of children in Europe with respiratory ailments linked to air pollution, and our president’s intention to drill for oil in Alaska (and everywhere he can). Compared to the endless string of recent horrors, these two seem almost mild. But what if we get past the fear and hate, and it’s too late to save our planet? I sip my tea, fenugreek with coconut milk and honey, third day without caffeine. I’ve always believed we can turn this around. I hold the warm cup in the bowl of my hands, savor the bitter and the sweet on my tongue. And I feel my belief in us wobble for the first time in my life. I don’t land there, don’t let doubt all the way in. But the wobbling alone scares me, and I cry. I make anxious circles with my fingers, purse my lips, swallow the last of my tea. I take a breath, grateful I didn’t topple. I refuse to believe it’s too late for us to restore our planet, too late to turn this around. Not just global warming, not only the condors and the wolves, but finding our way all the way clear, to a world where everyone can thrive, be safe, have dignity, know peace. Que nunca tengas hambre. Que nunca tengas sed. May you never hunger. May you never thirst.
Monday morning I say prayers for the spirits of Syrians killed by poisonous gas and for the people who love them. I pick dead blossoms from the three big pots of pansies and pull soft, fuzzy, pale green weeds nestled among them. (I’ve decided to do one task each morning toward a clean courtyard.) I break off a pansy bud by mistake. I set it in water, place the small glass beside my bed. The deep purple against the white wood and the soft curve of the tiny stem makes me cry. I cook brown rice, pack pears and peanuts for my snack between writing group and sangha. I still want to do my sitting practice and a tiny bit of yoga before I have to leave, so I keep my writing short. I cry more often these days, small things like the bread and butter or the pansy life stopped short. Big things like dead bodies in Syria, like being afraid about my health or feeling like a failure. But they are brief, quick moments only, and I tend to be kind to myself when they arise. I count to 29 to blend my garlic lemon drink for my liver, and I remember seeing Amma in the grocery store last night, how much better she looked. The memory makes me glad for her, grateful for her Tibetan doctor. And in the same breath, still counting seconds while the blender fills the room with its loud machine noise, I recognize again the part of me who still believes nothing I do will ever be enough. The tears come, but so does a deep certainty that I am healing (louder than that other voice? louder than the blender?) and a wash of dearness for myself and my good efforts.
A miss a call from a friend of mine wanting information about the “bad vet” I went to with Sable. He and his husband have an old dog who’s been ailing for a good while now. I am upset with myself for not knowing it was urgent when my cell phone rang during our writing group, for not knowing I needed to answer the phone right then. I’d left him a message just that morning. I assumed he was calling me back. It’s hours before I’m able to listen to his message. I try to reach him, but I worry I may be too late. All I can do is send the three of them metta, good wishes, prayers that whatever is happening might be the best it can be. I do this every day for a week. One night I dream we’re at a gathering of some kind, forty people in a big dark room with a high ceiling. I wonder later if it’s a wake or a vigil. I am kneeling on the floor, writing my metta wishes on the polished concrete. My arm moves the shiny marker in big wide strokes. I write long feet of metta for a dog I have not met, for the people who love him.
I dream I’ve been working in some capacity with a smaller beast and go looking for the big tiger. I open the door to what looks like a high school gym. The tiger appears through an opening on the left. He walks toward me, his gaze fierce. He growls. I stop walking, slowly turn my back. I stoop over, overwhelmed, I think, or about to faint. When I realize what I’m doing, I remember not to be prey, and I straighten. I walk toward the door, and he does not attack. Outside, there is a dog who knows me at the bottom of the steps. He sees the tiger behind me. “No,” I say. My voice is quiet but vehement. I don’t want him to be killed defending me. He quivers but stays still. The tiger takes my right hand in his mouth. I can feel his teeth press against my skin, but he is gentle. He releases me, and I keep walking. I don’t look back until I’m a short distance away. The dog and the tiger are standing beside each other watching me go.
I wait outside for Ian to pick me up before the daylong MBSR retreat. I’m standing on the sidewalk, and I glance back down my little road. I stop a coyote in his tracks. For a moment, we are both still, just looking at each other. He’s so thin it hurts me, and he hasn’t groomed himself. He is starving to death, I think. My neighbor Joel is heading toward me with his two little dogs, so I turn around to warn him about the coyote on our road. When I look again, he is gone. He haunts me, though. Two months later, I can still picture him, his dear, unkempt, emaciated form. And the look in his eyes. He looked beyond exhausted. Despairing, I think, barely able to go on. Looking back, I imagine I even saw a flicker of hope in his eyes when I spoke to him. I’ve sent up prayer after prayer for him. I dream of buying dog food in case I see him again. Was he sick? Are all our coyotes starving now? How can I possibly begin to feed coyotes? (My neighbors would flip.) I wish there’d been time and quiet to just be with him that morning. I loved him in that first moment, but there was no time to cherish him, to know him even for a little while. May he be safe and free from harm. May he have all he needs to heal and thrive. May he live with ease and well being for as long as he wants to. May he die a quiet, easy death whenever he is ready.
When I catch myself in the mirror this morning, I like the look of me in my favorite green cotton top and Mami’s old purple sweater. I have a bag of bird seed in each hand on my way out the door to feed them, and I smile at my reflection, unexpected joy rising. I went to sleep early last night, slept long hours with loud rain sounds coming through the open windows. For me, my heart’s ability to lift, maybe even her agility, seems linked to being rested, even to eating well. I am convinced much of being happy is tied to simple body chemistry. When I’m worn out from being too busy, from navigating grief or anger, from the stress of a new job, this kind of unlooked for joy doesn’t spring up in me in the same way, and I tend to miss it, that lightening, that natural lifting of the heart. I have two friends who are in the midst of weathering two huge losses, and I know they’re exhausted, would read it on their faces if they hadn’t told me. I want to be able to bundle them in blankets, sit them by a fire on this wonderful day of our much-needed rain, place warm mugs of my split pea soup in their cradled hands. I wish I could take over the demands of their day to day lives, let them move between the fire and their bed and back again, let them do nothing but sleep and dream for a week, for two, for three. I know they haven’t stopped being grateful, feeling lucky even now, treasuring the richness of life. But I suspect their hearts aren’t agile right now, may be too bruised, too tired to lift very far. I want to tuck their blankets in around them, pour them hot tea, remind them it will take time. “That surprising joy will be back,” I whisper. They smile at me, silent, love in their eyes.
Two months after I moved in they broke ground on a small development where the open lot used to be, across the little road from my home. They bulldozed everything. They took the trees, the scrub brush, all the roosting places for the sparrows and the finches, all the homes and pathways of the rabbits and the coyotes. The roadrunners ran panicked back and forth for days. It broke my heart. Inside myself, I fought against it for the 18 months they were building. Later, I would stand at my window staring at the wall, the rooftops, the missing mountains, still all churned up inside. Today I don’t get angry when I look at it, but I still see what it used to be, like the spirit of that undeveloped land, that bit of wildness in the middle of town, still lies just beneath the surface like a dream.
[Editor’s note: This was written in response to a prompt from The Daily Poet, by Agodon and Silano, Two Sylvias Press.]