Every once in a while, there are situations or words that seem to strip away the conveniences and convivialities and philosophies that maintain a socially-acceptable distance in human intercourse. Or maybe what I mean is that I just happen to be listening for a change and allow in the raw and tender underbelly of humanity. I really don't know, but I do know that I am deeply touched and think that, whether someone can expose that underbelly to others or not, they (and I) would do well to expose it to them/ourselves. When all the polite and well-coiffed bullshit is swept aside ... this is the truth; this is what I really do love or fear or hate or desire ... this is it without any explanation or defense.
This is a good place to begin.
Two small incidents brought this to mind. They may not mean anything to anyone else, but they meant something to me.
Yesterday, I went to the dry cleaner to pick up my robe, the one I sometimes wear during zazen or seated Zen meditation but more often put on for advertising purposes along Saturday mornings peace picket line. A slender, blonde woman in her 40's brought the robe and prepared to take my money. Then she said politely, "May I ask you what this is?" And I gave her some easy to swallow explanation of Zen and meditation, with an emphasis on finding a little ease in life. She allowed that her mind whizzed about like anyone else's and she could see the benefits. But when I mentioned that I wore the robe at the peace vigil on Main Street, she grew imperceptibly distant. "My son really dislikes that vigil," she said. "He's a Marine." And I would give anything to go back in time and say to her, "You must love him very much." But instead, I aimed the conversation back at the convenient and controlled world of social intercourse: "Actually," I said, "the people who disagree with the peace vigil are much more interesting than those who agree with it."
Imagine the price a mother must pay, praying with her heart and soul for the safety of her offspring and yet wishing to support by belief his choice to enter a profession that was far from safe. Talk about being run through one of life's shredders! Talk about clawing for some peaceful understanding and the best you can come up with is a belief system (patriotism, perhaps) that, by definition, is riddled with unsettling doubt and fear. It's heart-breaking ... and yet, where the heart breaks, there really is an opportunity for an honest peace. But talk about scary: A place with no hand-holds outside the frantic and furious clinging to belief. Well, however badly I'm conveying it, it ripped to top off my box.
The second incident came this morning in email. I think I will let it be. It was another bit of marrow in a world of well-shaped bones. Undefended heart. The kind of thing that makes me remember how much I think of the importance of gentleness. Not the contrived ueber-altruism that some call "compassion." But just a little kindness where delicate shoots grow ... which is to say, everywhere.
As Anne Morrow Lindbergh once put it when asked how she felt after her child was kidnapped (and subsequently was found dead) ... "I think everyone has suffered a tragedy."
Where the scum is skimmed from the pond's surface, there is pure, clean water.