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Buddha in the Tree

When my smallest child in the not too distant future reads Alice in Wonderland, I am not at all sure she will not conflate the White Rabbit with her chronically disorganized and over-scheduled mother.

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say Hello Goodbye I’m late I’m late I’m late.”

Indeed. My temperament has never been particularly geared toward modern life, or at least the sort that uses clocks. Where others prepare I meander, and usually by the time (that horrid word again, one cannot escape it even in descriptive writing) it is time, I am just beginning to consider what it might mean to actually meet the Buddha on the road or what might happen if Artemis had failed in her slaughter of Acteon or when my children might be old enough to live for 6 months in France after a year in India. Also, of course, what to wear. To the thing that started 20 minutes ago.

This ungrounded tendency of mine has been the almost ruin of friendships, certainly took a few years off my chronically, bizarrely on-time ex-husband’s existence, has caused irritated receptionists, poor innocent souls, to squeeze me in at the last moment, and has made me rue the day, almost every day, I agreed with my ex-husband to move back to Denver, where the problems of traffic are hardly a dream-bound woman’s friend. Invariably when I am in traffic, and this being Denver I am usually behind some huge Trump supporting truck or horrible “save the environment” SUV, I find myself thinking of life in a small village in Southwestern France, or becoming a nomad like the characters in Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. They, I seem to recall, were not bothered by time, except perhaps in an existential way. I dislike rushing but I loathe being forced from my vision states even more; I have yet to find a kink in the universe where these parallel lines might be forced to intersect.

Being late. It is rude, and thoughtless; it’s a habit, perhaps even an addiction (somewhere there must be a fear of not being late); it is presumptuous and arrogant and belongs to a non-existent aristocracy of unequal humans.

Lateness also causes me to rush through experiences that could otherwise be savored, or at least not be crushed under the worry wheel of catch-up and speed.

A few days ago I woke smallest child early from her nap. “We are late!” I cried. “I have to take you to a meeting, we must leave right now.” And so we hurried through mounting afternoon highway traffic while she told me stories about her new imaginary friend and asked endless questions about subjects I am sure were utterly fascinating save the fact I cannot remember them. I was too late.

Clutching the cheery little creature to my chest, I began a familiar race from car to building, where I was sure (I am always sure) I was going to be yelled at or dismissed or given the final lecture that would once and for all turn my behavior around forever. I’m positive my eyes were as huge as a wild pig.

Look Mama!! A tree. A big tree.” Somehow through the self-absorbed frantic chatter of my own useless mind the tiny child’s voice pierced and quieted me, and I came to a sudden stop.

There in front of us, it is true, was a tree. And it was indeed a large tree. I looked at her. She was gazing at it with curiosity and amusement, as if this tree were the one tree for which she had been searching her entire short life. Which, of course, it was. Because she searches for the new. Or, to be more precise, everything is the New to her, and therefore worthy of her curiosity and fearless amusement.

And so, in the act of noticing, we were both momentarily absorbed. We were not small child and frantic mama. We were the gaze that unites with its object, and therefore for a brief second, we were the object, which of course could have been anything, and we could have been anyone. I felt myself dissipate. There was the seeing. Just seeing. It was all we had to do.

I pulled her away from my chest and looked at her perfect round face and eyes full of secrets. “Buddha nature,” I thought. And then I raced inside, late for our appointment.