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Thursday, July 11, 2013

bursting the bubble

This post is very out of character for me and out of character for this blog and I may delete it in time.  But for now I had some things I needed to say.

We often say that our kids live in the bubble. 

By this we mean that we shelter them from 99.5% of the atrocities of the world.  We don't tell them when bad things happen.  We protected them from the Newtown school shooting.  We didn't tell them about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. (And then when Ella's school had a moment of silence to "remember those killed in Boston" I nearly had a conniption fit that lead to several emails and ended with a meeting with the superintendent.)  We lightly introduce ideas of injustice and global fighting (war) and the need to seek paths of peace and to be equal and fair and good contributors in the world.

I also live in the bubble, happily, right beside my kids.  I don't watch the news, don't read the newspaper and intentionally don't follow sensational news stories of violence or terror as they unfold.  I only listen to NPR occasionally in the car if the kids have their headphones in and then only to human interest stories.  When the headlines verge into worldly topics that make me want to throw up and leave me feeling powerless and impotent, I shut it off. 

Yes, I get a lot of loving flack from my friends and my mother about the fact that I never know what is going on.

Here is my rationale (not that I owe anyone an explanation):  I truly cannot stomach the world as it is today.  Call it denial, but for my own survival and happiness, I have to focus on the good in the world.  My system, my soul, feels like it will wither and die if I let too much of the awful in. 

And the truth is that the bubble works for me.  In my small corner of the world, people are safe and goodness prevails. I interface with lovely, friendly people. I can leave my door unlocked if I dart out for school pick-up. I can go out for a run and have my biggest fear be of surprising a skunk in the pre-dawn and having it spray me.  I am safe.  My family is safe.  I am blessed to live in a state like Maine, in a town that has happy, thriving people.

I am, mostly, a successful ostrich with my head in the sand and I make no apologies for it. 

Yet every now and then my bubble bursts.  It happened with 9/11. It happened with the Newtown shooting.  It happens when a story of random violence in an otherwise "safe" place in our society (movie theaters, schools, etc.) reaches my ears.  I worry that if these things happen randomly, then what if they happen to me, to my family?  I worry that I will never feel safe again, that I would have no choice but to keep my kids under house arrest and only let them watch PBS until they are 18 when we will build a commune with cinder block walls and locked gates. Then as the dust settles and I refrain from media consumption, I can once again carefully construct my bubble by acknowledging that the world sometimes breaks my heart and by fiercely loving those around me.

There has been a pile-up of bad things that have made their way into my knowing lately and have left me breathless with fear looking desperately at the tatters of my bubble.  Fear is followed closely by anger that I would live even a second of my precious life afraid because of the violent or random acts of others.

I was sitting with my dear friend Kim at Camp Winni, laughing and telling stories, when she got the kind of phone call you never want to get. I watched her face contort in pain and I knew the bottom had come out of her world. Her brother and his girlfriend, with four young children between them, had just been killed on his motorcycle.

On the Fourth of July we were going to go downtown to our local parade, but Ella declared her level of exhaustion and asked if we could skip it.  We happily complied.  Later, I found out that there was some sort of standoff with a man who was firing a gun and the local police. People were evacuated from buildings and apartments, parents carrying pajama clad children.  As a result, the parade was detoured around the scene (which was presumably safe but still being investigated).  On the detoured part of the route, if I have this correct, there was an slow-moving collision of two parade vehicles which resulted in the death of one of the drivers. 

In other words, if the man had never been shooting his gun in the morning, the parade wouldn't have been rerouted and the collision and death might never have occurred.

I don't know about other people but I struggle to even deal with this sort of thing.  That it happened because of the irresponsible choice of one individual.  That we were lucky enough to not have been there, where we had planned to be, but weren't  just because our child was tired feels like such a near miss of potential tragedy.

A couple of weekends ago I went out on my bike for an early ride at dawn.  There were no cars out on the otherwise busy main road, but several hundred feet ahead I saw two teenage-looking boys playing in the road.  It was before 5 am.  I could not imagine what kind of good they could possibly be up to. I felt a flutter of panic in me and considered turning around.  But then I got mad. These early rising or yet-to-go-to-bed adolescents weren't going to keep me from my bike ride. I refuse to live my life afraid. 

They scurried as I approached and ran behind a building. As I passed the building I worried they might jump out at me and I was incredibly relieved to pass them by. 

Which brings me to the next awful thing that has happened.

Last weekend, in a town 90 minutes from us, a cyclist was pulled off her bike at 2:30 in the afternoon, held at knife point and sexually assaulted. This hits close to home on so many levels. First of all I am a female cyclist who primary rides alone.  She was on a back country road- the same road a friend of mine rides her bike on- and I ride back roads to avoid traffic. I think I am safe on my bike from people (cars are what concern me) because I feel I can easily escape, much more effectively than when I run. I am a female and, as much as I don't like it, females are at risk in our world.

To worry about my safety on my bike is hitting me where it hurts. My time on my bike is sacred and the space it provides for me is almost holy. It would be like someone coming into your church with a gun with the intention to do harm.

Yesterday, as I was all stirred up about the cyclist,  I was pumping gas and felt like someone was looking at me. I turned and saw a man sitting in his car staring at me. I turned back and ignored him. I could still feel his stare. I finished and went in to pay and noticed he was still staring. I wanted to throw something at him, to yell, "What gives you the right to stare at me like that?!" I know it is easy to think this is a slightly hysterical response, but is it really? Plenty of men still objectify women- much of our society is built on it- and feel they can take what they want, through an intrusive stare or a physical invasion.

How does a person, especially a female, take the necessary precautions to be safe but not let her life be dominated with fear?  How does a mother lay her head on her pillow and hope to sleep when at any moment danger could penetrate her carefully placed walls and threaten her family?  How does a human being not get buried under the weight of the random bad things that happen to perfectly good people?

It is a miracle we get up and leave the house in the morning.

I understand this about myself: sometimes my heart breaks, sometimes it shatters, but the center of me and the center of my life is vibrating with love.  Violent acts and threats to my safety effect me deeply, make me feel insecure and make me worry about my or my family's well-being (more so than the daily dose of worry). But I must remember that, while violence or seeming randomness, feels all consuming it really is merely a drop in the lake of goodness that exists everywhere, every day.   Terror and harm is the drop, diluted one thousand fold (one million fold?) in the lake of goodness.

The other thing that allows me to not be immobilized with fear is my own inner practice of not holding on to my life so tightly.  I am finding much peace in learning to breathe into my own discomforts and those in the world, to sit with them with an open heart and without fear of their destruction.

Pema Chodron, author of  "Comfortable with Uncertainty", describes a Buddhist practice called tonglen in this way: "Tonglen is sending and receiving.  In the practice of tonglen, we breathe in whatever feels bad and send out whatever feels good."

It is a completely unguarded, compassionate approach to people and a world in pain.  Instead of protecting oneself against pain and fear, you open up to it.  This is beyond a novel concept for me.

Chodron writes:

"When anything is painful or undesirable, breathe it in. In other words, you don't resist it.  You surrender to yourself, you acknowledge who you are, you honor yourself.  As unwanted feelings and emotions arise, you actually breathe them in and connect with what all humans feel.  We all know what it is to feel pain in its many guises.  When we do tonglen, we invite the pain in.  It's because we have this genuine heart of sadness to begin with that we even start shielding.  In tonglen practice, we begin to expose the most tender parts of ourselves."

Since hearing about the female cyclist, I have been holding her in my heart. The same with my friend Kim. I am breathing them in.  Not to carry their pain, but to share it, to extend compassion and to be unafraid of the pain I fear could cut me at the knees if I were in their shoes. It is like walking into the fire and understanding I will survive.  It is a simple act that frees me from my own prison of fear while connecting me to all others. It also makes me feel like there is a tiny contribution I can make to those who are hurting.

Life is hard.  People die.  People hurt each other.  People take things they shouldn't.  I cannot built fences to keep the world out.  My only real choice, for me, is to make friends with the uncertainty of life and to live with an open heart, extending love to myself and to a world deeply in need.   Otherwise, I won't be able to tolerate this world even with my head in the sand.

1 comment:

Emilie said...

When I first read this: "we breathe in whatever feels bad and send out whatever feels good." I thought you had it backwards! That we should not be breathing IN hard things... other way around!
What a cool concept. This post is beautiful and that belief (breathe in and face the bad) works so much with all that I went through in the last 2 years.

I have a very different feeling about keeping abreast of the news, but I honor your feelings completely. I'll tell you if something good happens. :)


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