Sometimes, late at night, I bargain with God as if I were at a Flea Market, bartering a good night’s sleep or anything He wants in exchange for looking after my mother. I realise she’s just one person, and that many are suffering and need His help. I know. I listen to the news every day. (Even when my chest feels raw from intense aching, even when my heart hurts from erratic pounding, even when my back strains from protective curving—active listening involves the breath-taking awareness of mass, ongoing suffering that Buddha cannot defend as optional. Nice try, Siddhartha, but it’s complicated.)
It’s been a terrible week of violence on the blue marble. I’ll also acknowledge my privilege: it has always been an awful week somewhere on this planet for millions of people for ages, probably since we crawled out of the primordial sludge and met each other as bipedal beings.
If you’re confused (believes science + Roman Catholicism past + Buddhism reference = brain pandemonium), I’d like to point out I perplex myself too.
I've thought and written about this frequently: For years, I harbored an unspoken belief I might learn the best way to communicate with my mother, that I alone could crack the code and put an end to her craziness. To be perfectly honest, this notion—embedded like shrapnel in the soul—has never left me. Irrational thoughts are woven into the psyche and tough to remove. There’s no surgery: some days I still wake up and remind myself the idea is an illusion—nothing but a slight of mind, a trick of the heart, this longing to fix everything. And. I mean everything: restoring my mother’s health, reuniting the family, healing our bruised souls,
I wish I could make everything fair for all of us in the family, by which I mean the entire world.
(We are all related. Don’t freak out. Yes, maybe someone should have told you this before, when they handed out juice boxes and cookies and school included nap-time but you know it now. Deal.) I don’t have that kind of superpower so I ask for help.
I watch the news and I petition God for grace for all and extra mercy for my mother, to look out from his cloudy home and make sure my mom is constantly in his sight-lines while bloodshed and devastation continue to rock the world.
“She’s my mother,” I tell Him. “Please.”
For goodness sake: what does it mean to be good at a time like this? Does “being good” get measured the same if you were raised under difficult circumstances, if your skin colour is different? Are you good if you have a lot of money in the bank but keep avoiding the payment of your taxes? I don’t see those individuals as being held accountable, having to answer for their actions. (For the record, if you’re incredibly wealthy and you don’t feel like paying for the roads you drive on, the playgrounds in the city you live in, the libraries, the community centres, fine. There’s a cave in the middle of nowhere with your name on it. Go, and don’t let the Door of Civilization hit you on the way out. You must live there alone for a long time. Enjoy yourself. I’m not sure how you’ll manage without all the people that make your life easier: making your cappuccino, serving your food, cleaning your homes, landscaping your garden. If you think a basic contribution of a few paltry dollars is enough, you’re wrong. And I haven’t even mentioned the “Price Gouger, Tax Dodger” corporations. You guys take the figurative and literal cake.
This is the sum of every privilege I enjoy: My life in Canada has granted me a level of comfort that my father wasn't given. My hometown of Toronto has offered me opportunities that my denied-basic-dignity predecessors couldn't have had. My era has afforded me a world of wealth and leisure that none of the female relatives before me could have even imagined. And my skin color has been a passport that I never have to think about. These are enormous advantages I'm reminded of every time I hear the news. Carding happens in this country. Genocide--and the ongoing echo of the abhorrent and destructive act of taking children away from their families for generations--happened here in the True North not-quite-free.
Don’t say, “That wasn’t me," or "that wasn't us."
It was our ancestors and the time is out of joint. We were born to set it right. That's not a curse. It's the price of admission to entering the carnival of human life.
Don’t say, “People were ignorant in the past.”
We're not out of the woods yet. Trolls proliferate in the thicket of Twitter.
Don't say, "When are they going to get over it?"
Asking people to forgive or let go of trauma while the upheaval is still occurring—there's a word for this, it's on the tip of my tongue, wait, wait, I know--harsh. People can't process anything when they're in agony.
Ask, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”
Figure out how, when, where, and why you’ve been part of the problem. Don’t fall into the “I’m a good person, I help so many people” delusion. We don’t have time for that ego seduction. Investigate your prejudices. Notice there is no scale for measuring goodness. Adjust the imbalance by acknowledging the issue and listen, I mean really listen. Avoid the hubris-permeated thinking that you have the answers for the problems that plague anyone else's life, even a friend's, because it is distressing to be on the receiving end of a Blah-blah-blah-Band-Aid. And please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop comparing pain. #NoGoodCanComeOfThis. Stop offering advice. (I'm not advising here, I'm ranting. Ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. Let's keep moving.) Fix your tiny corner of the world with hugs, smiles, offers to babysit, dropping off groceries, help wherever and whenever you can. As Gretchen Schmelzer notes, big badass kindness is required.
It's bigger than you and also—it all comes down to you.
I learned everything I know about being generous from my father. He is my go-to-guy when I'm in a quandary. I'm not saying he's perfect, but he is incredibly wise. At times in my arrogant youth, I believed he simply passed on an education in low self-esteem and martyrdom. I wouldn't say generosity is hardwired into my character, only that I had to cultivate this quality the hard way. With my mom, with my dad. Tough lessons, difficult sessions, and I failed many of the exams. I was miserly with my affection and tightfisted with my compassion.
If we're going to perish together as stingy fools, I'd like the record to reflect two points:
If you insist that "In Canada, we say Merry Christmas" I think you're a polite racist. (Said it before and I won't stop saying it. Never heard people so emphatic about how ALL Canadians celebrate a Christian Holy-day until 9/11 happened, and I'm tired of hearing a bunch of Republican-spewed fear-mongering thought-garbage. You say it at your house, fine. You speak for everybody in the land? No, that is not —that was never—your place. Who died and made you the boss of everybody?)
If you say "All Lives Matter" in response to Black Lives Matter, I think you're swimming in the waters of racism and drowning in confusion. Look around and listen. Read more books, and articles. Check your privilege.
I think being generous is the goal of life; it's crucial and challenging and not easy. An example I can offer is Karma Yoga--meant to purify the heart by "teaching selfless action without thought of gain or reward." Imagine how compelled you are to be good and generous without being recognized for that quality. Most times we are under the misunderstanding that we have been benevolent when we had expectations and wanted something in return—even simply to feel better about ourselves.
I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm saying I doubt that's true generosity. Giving without strings attached, helping without needing recognition or reward for it—well, now we're getting somewhere.
Peace out, children of the revolution.