My home has been beset by illness and injury for many days. My littlest child has been sick enough to warrant several doctor’s visits, and my five year old daughter has somehow, for reasons still mysterious to me, managed to attain three head injuries in less than two weeks. A swollen almost broken nose from a bad fall, a goose-egged head from a collision with another child’s unhappy cheek, and then a blackened eye from an angry man who thought nothing of pushing his metal cart into her wandering little body – I hope the list is now at an end.
These calamities, small as they are and forgotten as they will soon be, have had the result of making me somewhat housebound for many long days. I cannot expose anyone else to the snotty germs of my baby, and I must, and want to attend to the affronting hurts of my little girl.
When one’s plans and ambitions are waylaid, it is interesting to observe the restless, often angry resistance of the ego. I am a dancer, and I’ve missed class. I am a yoga practitioner, and I’ve missed several practices. I am obsessive about beautiful clothes, and I’m missing out on a cocktail dress Christmas party this evening. I am a wife, and I miss my husband in all this chaos.
I am, I am, I am. It’s the running mantra of my mind, of most minds. I was thinking of this yesterday evening, as dusk was closing in on an already closed day. I had been for the entire day alone with my baby, who had been crying and wretchedly sick. I held her, looking out the window, thinking of this perfect Emily Dickinson poem:
“There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are -“
It goes on from there of course, but the opening stanza kept repeating in my head; I could feel the oppression of time passing, of loneliness, of my daughter’s illness, of my yearning to be free from it all, whatever that might mean.
I drifted into fantasy, picturing myself at ballet class, and then on my yoga mat, feeling my legs wonderfully stretched in hanumanasana. I thought about the beautiful black silk pants I wouldn’t get to wear to the party, and the new Dior lipstick sitting pointlessly on my bathroom shelf.
Suddenly, I came back, and was inexplicably released from fantasy and drifting wishes. I felt the baby’s hot skin against my chest. I saw two geese wheeling in the darkening sky. I heard the child’s labored breath and I became aware of my own steady, clear lungs. My feet, warm in thick socks, my legs, supporting both of us. By some grace and luck, I felt myself open to the Buddha’s teachings about staying. Just staying, and watching the endless chain of suffering, of change, of joy, of thought, that constitute the ego.
Then, of course, it was gone. The older children came home from their respective outings, the baby screamed, and I swam mindlessly back into the river of chaos that is my life, that is all our lives.
But for a moment, I practiced.
I pray the baby felt it, and that the presence that is the gift of practice passes to her, and to everyone she touches in her life.