Around the Block

One of the good things about getting older, I said to my friend the other day, is that you’ve been around the block so many times you become complacent about things that used to freak you out. I was privy to this insight just this week, when I drove into Boston to attend a friend’s commencement. I don’t much like driving, especially in traffic and besides, Boston is two hours away.

I had my trusty GPS—let’s call her “Maybelle”—an emergency snack of cashews and one Cadbury Crème Egg, a leftover gift from two days before. Richie was on his way to New Jersey, so he wouldn’t be able to rescue me if anything happened. (But I tried not to think about that.) The drive in was fine except that I was late for the commencement because there was NOWHERE to park and when I finally got to the (outdoor) venue, it was raining with a stiff wind coming in from the harbor. No matter. The commencement was invigorating and teary, just like it was last year, when I graduated. This is no staid commencement, by the way. When the graduates’ names are announced, a huge cheer goes up from family and friends. And so it went for three hours. Then it was time to go home. It was 5:00 pm. On a Friday. In downtown Boston.

I set Maybelle for “Home” and inched along traffic-clogged streets. She instructed me to turn onto 93 North which immediately descended into a tunnel. This was the time when I knew I was mellowing out. Because it used to be that being in a tunnel would have me claustrophobically gasping for air and here I was—not only in a tunnel, but boxed in by unmoving traffic.

I calmly munched my cashews and then decided that since we weren’t moving at all, it would be a good time to attempt to unwrap the Cadbury crème egg. As I was savoring the crème egg, I thought maybe if we were stuck in here for much longer, I could start selling cashews to my fellow traffic-jammers. Do you see? Not a hint of panic from me. We started moving very slowly and that’s when Maybelle, not me, started freaking out. Instead of telling me to take Exit 28, which she had done before the tunnel, she now told me to “turn left onto State Street.”

“There is no State Street, honey,” I told her, licking the last of the crème off my fingers, “we’re in a tunnel.”

But Maybelle would have none of it. “Take a left onto State Street!” she insisted. Then two seconds later, “Take a left onto State Street!” She was starting to get to me. “We’re in a tunnel, lady, I can’t take a left!” I yelled at her.

Great, I thought, as I maneuvered the car across three lanes of underground rush hour traffic to get off at exit 28—Maybelle’s pre-panic instruction. Because who knew now, if Maybelle wasn’t having a nervous breakdown? Maybe, I thought, I’ll be driving around Boston for the rest of the night, trying to find my way home.

But even then, lost in Boston rush hour traffic with a traumatized GPS, I was calm. It was an odd feeling. I just knew somehow I would get myself out and home.

So that’s what you get when you get older—peace of mind.

And I’ll take it.

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The Rules of Change

During a manuscript critique two years ago, a fellow student informed me that I had broken a cardinal rule of writing. Her comment prodded me to examine this concept of ‘rules.’  Thinking about it, I decided that ‘rules’ develop gradually from what works. Meaning, if something is successful–“show, don’t tell” is a big rule in writing fiction–then gradually it becomes a rule to be followed. Except of course when someone breaks it and has an amazing success. I’ve discovered that most award-winning books have broken the rules. And then the writing style forged by the award-winning books becomes the new ‘rule.’

Speaking societally, we revere what has nurtured and sustained us, building rules to keep things that way—and failure is inevitable. Change is the way of the world and what has been, must always make way for its usurper, even if it seems it has lasted forever. (I’m thinking right now of Ancient Egypt, whose civilization was toppled after three thousand years of existence.)

There is a Buddhist expression: “Life is suffering” but that’s only half the saying. The other half is: “and the cause of suffering is attachment.” Get rid of attachment and we get rid of suffering. Why? Because if we don’t attach, we accept things as they are. We accept the change that inevitably, endlessly occurs.

Another Buddhist saying is: “Everything, everywhere, at every moment is perfect and complete, just as it is.” Now I find that a hard one to believe with my dual mind—that’s the mind that lives in “good/bad, black/white, right/wrong.” But with my big mind—the mind that knows it is a part of everything, it makes perfect sense. If we don’t judge, we don’t dualize. If we don’t dualize, we see that everything is exactly as it is—no more, no less. In this respect it is perfect and there is no attachment to have things different from what they are.

Non-attachment is a nice truth to be aware of, to be reinforced during meditation and to be tucked into an innermost part of our being. When the big changes come, I like to be able to take out the trump card of non-attachment and use it to help me through those rough times.

But as an overall goal, I’ll pass. I like feeling my life. I like the feeling of growing and the tug of resistance as I learn to let go of the old, as well as the joy when I learn to trust the new. Life is always a wobbly tight-walk balance between endlessly changing and resistance to change.

Suffering is part of life; emotions are part of life, and really, I don’t think I’m ready to give up those perks to living just yet.

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Persistence…and Trust

This is my last week of graduate school. After this weekend, when I present my final thesis and final Mentorship presentation, I am done. I am graduated.

I started grad school at age fifty-three. It felt like the right thing to do. I was in classes with twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings—I could have been their mother. We had some deep belly laughs as we tried to hash out the rules and ethics of writing for children. (Me: “Excuse me, the middle aged white person wants to know what a ‘straight-edge’ is.”)

At any rate, I’ve loved it. Except for the first half of the first semester when I broke out in hives (first time ever) from stress, and dissolved into tears during a phone call with my advisor. But once I realized that this commitment wasn’t going to be the twenty hours a week I thought, more like fifty to sixty hours, I gritted my teeth and rearranged my schedule.

I’ve had many sleepless nights, read too many grim Young Adult novels, and climbed up a steep learning curve with the Internet. (‘Track changes’ didn’t get on my radar until my second semester. God knows what my professors thought as I blithely ignored all their comments and continued turning in papers with antiquated punctuation.) And trying to access the Simmons Library via Internet…well, let’s just say I needed the help of a very patient Reference Librarian. But I persisted against the resistance created by my inexperience.

Persistence is trust at some deep level. It is the trust that the choice we’ve made and the path we’re following is the choice and the path we need to be on at this time in our life. We continue steadfastly because we trust. And this trust, in its turn, reveals to us to the larger consciousness and the intimation that that our individual lives are a vital and valuable part within it.

Persistence, it seems to me, is like a seed. Watered by trust, the sprout emerges, pushing first against the soil then the elements, to unfold its leaves and become its realized potential.

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