Becoming a Lake.

Yesterday I overheard an interview with Marc Nepo. He is a poet, philosopher, and spiritual author. The interview covered many things, including his battle with cancer, the loss of his job, and his subsequent awakening. From what I can gather, because I haven’t read it yet, his most recent book “The Book of Great Awakening” is about presence, being conscious in the present moment. Those are a few simple words to sum up an enormous task. But as he speaks about it he makes it seem simple. And at its core maybe it is. But getting to that state of awareness is quite the journey. An excerpt from the book was read during the interview and I think it was one of the most beautiful and important pieces of writing I’d ever heard. Here is the excerpt:

How Does It Taste?

 An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the Master instructed the un-happy young man to put a handful of salt into a glass of water, and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked. “Bitter,” spit the apprentice. The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now, drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young mans chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside the serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; No more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is enlarge your sense of things…stop being a container. Become a lake.”

Lucky, Actually

While it’s a total cliché to “give thanks” today on Thanksgiving, I’ve always found it important to acknowledge and share gratitude. So what better day than today. 2011 has been one of the worst years of my life. So I’ll start by thanking God, for crapping on me this year. Just kidding! I’ve finally begun to understand why what happened this year happened, and I’m starting to accept that I am exactly where I need to be. Would I have chosen this? No. But I have to think that means something greater than me is at work, and I need to embrace that.

One of the biggest thanks I can give this year is to my family, starting with my mom and stepdad. On that awful day in January when I was too weak to walk to the bathroom, my Mom and Marc raced over as soon as I called. They sat with me in the crowded E.R. as I tried to turn my wheelchair into a makeshift bed. Marc took Monty and played on the levee behind the hospital while my mom stayed with me, for the whole 10 hours we were there. Since then, I, at 27, have moved back in with my parents. It’s not exactly ideal but what I finally realized is, Thank God they took me in. I was at a point where I was absolutely unable to care for myself. They basically just “scooted over” and let me climb on board, never making me feel like a burden. That’s love. And that’s something to be grateful for. Two weeks after “the crash”, my sister Amelie flew in from California. She “extreme home makeover’d” my apartment, stocked my pantry and fridge with healthy food, found a massage therapist and bought me 10 sessions, researched homeopathic doctors, and cooked meals for me while she was here. The most beautiful part of that act of kindness was that I didn’t even ask her to do any of it. She did it all on her own. Her ability to anticipate needs and never wait to be asked for help has always impressed me. Since then, over and over people have shown their love and support in different ways. My aunt and grandma sent money to help pay for my doctor in Miami, which doesn’t take insurance. (Not that I have insurance anymore anyway. Because why would they give insurance to a sick person who actually needs it? Oh wait…) My brother and sister-in-law let me crash on their couch in New York City for a month and lay around and write. I became their self-appointed sick, adopted child. That was kewl. Gabe let me live at his house in Nola for free while taking classes in the city. Kaitlin gave me a bag of the movies we find funniest to cheer me up while in a sickly depression. In big and small ways, a lot of people stepped in. I’m lucky.

There is plenty to be grateful for, even in the midst of hardship. In fact sometimes it is in those dark times that we are able to see real reason for gratitude that perhaps we’d skipped over before. Truthfully this year has kicked my ass, beginning literally on January 1st. Upon losing my health, I lost my job, a relationship, my apartment, and perhaps most painfully, my independence. But what I have begun to gain is perspective. A reason to dig deeper, wade through the crap, and find purpose. I’ve got a long way to go. A long way.  But I’ve got a roof over my head, food on the table, and the priceless gift of unconditional love. That means I’m not alone at the end of the day. And that’s what I’m most grateful for.

Health and Happiness and Happy T-giving!

Curse words.

Let’s talk about curse words for a second. Because I love talking about those fuckers. Oopse!

Don’t you love how someone will say “What a BITCH! Pardon my french…” It’s like, that..was not french…and you don’t actually sound very sorry for saying it. I wonder how that started. But not enough to actually google it. Anyway, I bring up the subject of curse words because I used a bunch of them in my car this morning as I was stuck going 35 miles per hour on the Causeway. (For you Yankees, the Causeway is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world, and runs across Lake Ponchartrain connecting the North Shore to New Orleans. Fun facts yaaay.)  So this morning there was thick fog, and that means the normal 65 mph speed limit (which is actually more like 75 mph, let’s get real) was dropped to 35 mph. It seems like overkill to me, but I’m trying to talk about curse words here so why don’t I stick to the DAMN subject. I was headed to New Orleans to take my nursing school entrance exam, and at the rate of traffic I was never gonna make it. Thus, the curse words ensued…

I don’t know what the satisfaction is in saying curse words, but it seems like whatever point you’re making, it adds the perfect amount of emphasis. It makes funny things funnier and angry things angrier and unimportant things seemingly more important. For example: Who ate all the corn flakes? Vs. Who ate all the Fucking Corn Flakes? See how that works? Anyway I started thinking about curse words and a conversation popped into my head that I had with my grandparents around the dinner table a few years back. The conversation had died down a bit and out of the blue my soft-spoken, conservative grandpa asks me “Mary, would you ever let a boy talk dirty to you?” I started to choke on my meatloaf immediately and washed it down with lemonade. I clear my throat. “What do you mean?” He went on to tell me that on the golf course that afternoon, a couple was playing near him, and the man kept cursing in front of his wife. “Even the F word,” he raised his eyebrows at me. “You wouldn’t let a man talk like that in front of you, would you?” I shook my head no, I lied. But for what it’s worth, I prefer people not to curse. Unless you’re alone in your car on a bridge. It was right after this that my Grandma (also named Mary, I’m named after her) said something extraordinary. “You know, I have Never used that word in my life, and I never will.” I know what you’re thinking–she’s lying. But if you knew her, you’d know that 1. she doesn’t lie and 2. it’s totally believable that she’s never used it. She’s as pure and innocent as they come. It really struck me when she said that. I had said it that morning just brushing my hair.

Another memory pops into my head concerning curse words. My dad was another one of those pure souls. Never did drugs, hardly drank, and never cursed. He hardly even raised his voice. He was similar to my grandma in that way. And he didn’t refrain from those things in some kind of stick-in-the-mud fashion. He was a TON of fun. He was a lot of people’s best friend. (At his funeral there were six eulogies. Six.) Anyway, it was about a year after he was diagnosed with cancer that the six of us were getting ready to go out to dinner. He had just gotten home from work at the grocery store. We rarely ate out, so it was always kind of an occastion when it happened. We were all waiting outside our enormous Chevy Grey Van (with carpeted walls) when my dad went back inside to get something. When he opened the front door, our 110 pound labrador retriever burst through, wiggled through my dads hands and took off down our neighborhood street. My dad, the smiling, mild-mannered sweet man, transcended. Something snapped. He was NOT going to let Bacchus get away with this. Off he went, running, no— sprinting down Wilson Court, still in his suit, with his tie flapping behind him, yelling after Bacchus.  “You son of a bitch!” he yelled. At one point he began picking up rocks off the street, hurling them toward the dog. “You son of a bitch Bacchus!” Zoom, another rock. The dog, barely visible at this point, was miles ahead of him. Bacchus may have been a fat son of a bitch, but he was fast. My dad never stood a chance. The four kids and my mom stood in front of the van stunned with our jaws dropped. Who was this man? When he got to the stop sign, he gave up, slowly turned around and started the defeated walk home, panting. The five of us watched. I remember feeling uncomfortable because I had never heard him curse before, but suddenly I noticed, my mom was laughing, followed by the other three. One of those group laughers that starts small and bubbles into breathlessness and strange sounds. Something about it was incredibly refreshing. By the time he made it back he was laughing of too, of course. Through his diagnosis and the grim prognosis-6 months- he had always kept it together. Finally, our fat fast dog running down the street got him to lose it, just a little. Just for a moment. It was great.

I thought about these things as I finally made it to the end of the bridge. Turns out my test wasn’t until 9, not 8:30 like I had thought. So I was going to make it. All those F bombs for nothing. Maybe next time instead of saying that word when I’m upset, I’ll say what my grandma says: Fiddle Faddle.

Health, Happiness, and $%@!