It was after a delicious dinner that we sat on old (but faithful) patio furniture next to one another overlooking the thick, green grass. Birds chirped, sporadic clouds decorated the sky, trees animated by the wind. We were both comfortable and satiated by our successful yellow curry (if I were more honest, I wouldn’t take any of the credit for the meal at all since I was mainly occasionally useful decoration in the kitchen for its preparation). Despite this satisfaction, there was still that feeling. Ignoring it was clearly not an option. It was too nagging. Too bitter. I could feel my reaction steeping other parts of me. That, in itself, was irritating.
Aren’t I supposed to be more evolved by now? More detached? Isn’t the right answer supposed to be obvious? Does there always have to be a moral ambiguity to every single situation, ever?
(1. Suffering exists.)
An emptiness, a helplessness, was tangible. Here I am, a mother, losing another son. He listened whenever I’d decide to open up about it; I’d quickly wipe away uninvited tears and change the subject as soon as they debuted. My chest heavy, my breath exaggerating into fuller inhales, longer exhales to reset my body of any emotional backlash or residue. Be here now. Be here now. What is here now?
As I sat, watching the fence that separated me from the neighbors’ house, I reasoned with myself, “These things you are upset about have not even happened. You are living with them in your imagination. Be here now. What is here now? Birds. Trees. The sky. Be here now.” But the feeling persisted.
There was a vagueness, in which I tend to subscribe when fearing vulnerability, hovering. While I can be straightforward, I’m tender here, and what if he doesn’t answer me back the way I “need” him to answer me back?
“I’ll really miss you when you’re gone,” I finally said.
(2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires.)
He reciprocated while busying his fingers. He’s not cold; he’s warm and loving, caring and nurturing.
I sat, completely still, fearing that one movement might unleash the emotion brimming to the top of me. (How can he just leave this? Why won’t he stay? Why does it have to be unfair of me to ask him to abandon his dreams for me? I will never, would never, ask him to do that. But can’t I just a little bit? Just a little???)
“I’m going to go refill my oil,” I managed to say while getting up quickly to go to the door.
Vape juice. My savior from cigarettes. I haven’t smoked in over a year.
“Well, wait,” he says, “Can I get a kiss first?”
His kiss was meant for a barometer, a stall tactic to check my emotional temperature.
I swallowed hard before turning around (crossing my fingers that I won’t begin to cry); I walked toward him remaining steady, trying to be an even-keel before I leaned down to kiss him.
Recognition swept across his face; my face has betrayed me (how dare it!), “Baby, don’t cry…” and then, “Wait, let me get up and hug you,” he says as he quickly abandons his chair and walks toward me, aiming for lightheartedness when he finishes, “as someone once told me that when someone cries, you hug.”
Of course, another reason to love him. He listens to me. When I’d mentioned a hug for a cry, it was because I was confessing that I never know when the hug should begin, if I should continue listening as a friend begins to cry or accidentally interrupt it with a hug too soon? (As a hug was the obvious balm for such occasions.)
He hugged me and I began to cry involuntarily.
“It’s as if my life is characterized by loss,” even saying it I knew it wasn’t entirely true. It’s not my life that is characterized by it (even if I have experienced a lot of loss); it’s everyone’s lives. It can only feel big to me if I am too attached, which, clearly I am.
“These are just the experiences you need in order to learn what you need to learn in order to write that book that will help so many others one day,” he said it so genuinely.
His entire response was just a huge demonstration of why I will never want to let him go. Because he listens, because he’s sensitive to me, because he cares.
My perspective is not glass-is-half-empty. I do see the good in all of this. But it doesn’t make loss hurt any less.
He held me a little bit longer; I kissed him again before walking inside. (I’ll miss him.)
(3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.)
The tool the Buddha holds out to free the mind from desire is understanding. Real renunciation is not a matter of compelling ourselves to give up things still inwardly cherished, but of changing our perspective on them so that they no longer bind us. When we understand the nature of desire, when we investigate it closely with keen attention, desire falls away by itself, without need for struggle. ― Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering
(4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path.)
So first, the acknowledgement of the feeling, then the sorting — of the sheep (the helpful and useful thoughts) and the goats (the unnecessary and unproductive thoughts) — for understanding. Of course there’s more than just this, but this is the start.