Monday, September 14, 2009

The Power of Neutral

"Put it in Neutral."

I think it's a term I've heard The Boyfriend use.

Sometimes you have to put your brain in Neutral. Sometimes you're ready to slam it into fourth gear and run over somebody. But instead of doing that — or instead of throwing it into Reverse and backing over the body repeatedly — what we really should do is just slide it on over to Neutral.

Sit a spell.

Rest a bit.

Don't react.

Seems we're always reacting, slamming on the brakes, speeding up, chasing some folks down, and flipping others off out our windows. Everyone is pissing us off, hurting our feelings, irritating us, asking us too much, doing too little, saying too much or not enough, or saying the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong tone. My lord, we're all a bunch of bumper cars. Without bumpers.

Sometimes we need to just shift on over to Neutral. Go ahead and watch the other cars bolt around. Let them crash and careen around while we just sit by and watch the chaos. It's much better to sit and watch from the outside than to participate in the cacophony.

That stuff is exhausting.

Besides, what one person says in the heat in the moment would surely not be repeated a few minutes or hours later. Why react to it? And whatever event seems tragic and insurmountable to you today will merely be a fond memory a few years down the road. Oftentimes it's those moments of which you're the most proud.

It's the overcoming of the obstacles, not never-having them.

It's the triumphing over difficulties, not letting them bury you.

And so I shift my mind into Neutral more and more. Reacting, defending, getting my word or my sense of injustice out there into the cosmos just isn't as important anymore. I see how it is. I can kick and scream and yell and it won't change a damn thing.

I'm in it.

I'm in this screwed up traffic jam of life, and I can't get off. My exit isn't coming for a while, so far as I can tell. So either I sit here and wait patiently to see what comes next, or I lean on my horn and jam my arm out the window with my middle finger flying while I press the gas and tail gait every asshole who doesn't get out of my way. Or I just sit in Neutral and wait for the way to clear.

I used to think Buddhists didn't care.

I used to worry that equanimity was apathy.

But it's not that. It's a patience full of faith.

I have faith that this is all temporary. I have faith in my ability to cope with life and change. I have faith in the greater wisdom that will be clear to me when I look back on the times I struggled.

I can be patient.

I can park it in Neutral.

I am not going spend my life in a permanent state of road rage.

You can call me passive. But I know a secret: My stillness is the most powerful force of all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Are You?

My son started kindergarten this week. This means he is officially a "big boy." And oh, he is

I watched him stand in line outside the school doors and marveled at how tall and boyish he is. The baby is all gone. Long lean limbs jut out of his cargo shorts and short sleeves. He was all smiles and excitedly gripped his backpack as he waited for the school doors to open.

The parents were all greeting one another and coming over to say hello. His father was approached by at least ten people, social butterfly that he is. And then my son looked up at me and said, "That boy over there is wearing a cool shirt. Can I go over and tell him it's cool?'

"Yes, of course you can," I said.

I watched as he marched up to the kid, an older kid, and told him he liked his shirt.

Who are you? I wondered.

Who is this boy? Who is this friendly, outgoing, happy, self-possessed person? When I look back on my own first day of kindergarten, I clung to my mother's leg and howled as she walked down the hall. For the first hour or so of the day I refused to play with the other kids, despite my teacher's attempts to encourage me to play with the other girls in the play kitchen.

(Maybe I was crying because of the forced gender roles?)

But not my son. He was happy to find his kindergarten class, delighted to hang his backpack in his cubby, and proudly took his seat at the table. He immediately looked around and started talking to the other kids. He smiled at his teacher, and looked somewhat surprised that his dad and I were still there when we came over to hug and kiss him goodbye.

He was like, "Oh. You two are still here? Yeah, bye."

No, he wasn't like that. He just gave us hugs and kisses goodbye and happily waved goodbye as his father and I peered through the door.

I've always marveled at my son. He is this separate entity. He is not mine. I am merely here to hold his hand from childhood to adulthood, and then let go.

But I still marvel at him.

Where did he come from? Who is he? He is not me and he is not his father. He is more outgoing and confident than I am, and he is more tender and sensitive than his dad. Sure you can see a little of each of us in him, but he really is his own person. People often credit his various attributes to my good parenting, which I discount. I don't discount it because I'm modest. I discount it because I know this is simply who he is.

It is not the result of me or my work.

It is his nature, his temperament, the personality that was set in stone when his heart first began to beat in my womb. His genetic code was set and he would be who he is. Yes, I understand that this is Nature, and the other part is Nurture. So yes, his father and I may have each done a decent job of nurturing his nature to fruition — but he is still Cracky.

A certain Crackiness that is not my doing.

The innate Crackiness of him.


What a beautiful human being he is! I know most mothers will say such things of their children, but I say it not in ownership or pride. I say it as an observer. I observe that this strange human being that came into my world is lovely. Such a lovely, kind-hearted, funny, sensitive, thoughtful, caring, affectionate, confident, character-of-a-boy.

That's all him.

And I marvel as his personality continues to unveil as he grows. I know the five-year-old boy, but wonder who the man will be? Just as I wondered that first day I discovered he was in me. I sat on my porch rubbing my belly, mystified and incredulous that a separate entity resided within me.

"Who are you?" I said to him then.

And I still say it now.

That's the beautiful mystery of children. They are not ours. They are their own. We are merely temporary custodians.

But what a lovely shift it is.