Here’s how I know I’m not enlightened yet. Right this moment, I believe the only thing that will make me happy is if someone would bring me a little tiny baby rabbit to hold in my hands. Either that or a pet kitten. Or maybe a baby goat. I can practically smell the soft fur, and even though I’ve gone down this road before, this time I am sure it will be different.
I’ve had four kittens in my life, and each time, for some bizarre reason, they have morphed from delightfully humorous cuddlemuffins into cantankerous, malodorous proprietors of cat boxes. We all know the cat box to be the scourge of the planet Earth, the most vile of sand traps, creator of stench and small pellets which wedge in your bare feet when you descend to the basement to do laundry. (Please do not send me your recommendations for high quality cat litter, state of the art magic cat boxes or training manuals in getting your cat to poop in the human toilet.) Why I think rabbits (who eat their poop the first time around and then let it sit in their cage the second time) would be any better than a kitten is beyond me at the moment. But that’s the point. Even though last week, I definitely thought Nirvana was at hand, I have since descended to the netherworld of wanting, aversion and delusion. I am not enlightened; to wit, I am what Brother Buddha would call A Hungry Ghost. Hungry for a soft kitten. Or bunny. Or miniature baby goat. And I don’t want it to grow up.
Saturday night I watched What the Bleep Do We Know? with my fiancé Tom. I’ve had the movie out for a week, and I’ve watched it four and a half times. It’s a heady, groovy movie about quantum physics and enlightenment, complete with state of the arts graphics and Ramtha, a 10,000 year old sage as channeled by a blond woman named JZ Knight who resembles Zsa Zsa Gabor. The movie is all about creating your own reality, addiction to emotions and how we miss the point—getting to be alive—on a daily basis.
“Wow,” said Tom.
“I know,” I said. We were profoundly moved and forever changed from the experience.
Then we got up from the couch to do the dinner dishes. I ran the water over a dirty bowl where the tuna steaks had been marinating. While I was letting the tap water rinse the bowl, I crossed the room to get the flatware from the table. Tom came over to the sink and turned the water off, a familiar dynamic in our clean up rituals.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go up, like a pissed-off cat.
“Hey,” I said. “I had that on for a reason!”
“I know,” he said, in his special tone which I did not like one jot. “But we really don’t need to waste water.”
I fumed. Mr. Spotless Environik was right again, and I hated that. I also hated being bossed around in the kitchen, having my little system of bowl cleaning disrupted, and most of all, hated the fact that I was still so childish and petty to even care. What would Jesus/Buddha/Muhammad/Gandhi/Mother Teresa/Ramtha do? Surely they would not have bristled at the gentle correction of their partner’s turning off of the wasted water.
This is the problem with WW fill in the blank D. Immediately we think we need to be fill in the blank. What if Jesus was occasionally wrong?
I went upstairs and filled the bathtub with warm water, lit some candles, sat in the tub and thought about anger. Tom and I never used to fight like this. I thought of the Righteous Brothers Song “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” and started to cry. I toweled myself off, put on my most comforting polarfleece, and got into bed.
Tom came up and joined me.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I said.
He shrugged. “No big deal,” he said. “We’re both tense. In six weeks, we’ll be getting married for the second time. It’s kind of scary. It’s a miracle we aren’t screaming at each other night and day.”
This made me sadder and angrier. The story I like to believe is that Tom and I were married before TO THE WRONG PEOPLE! And that even though it was sad and painful to break up with those people, ALL IS WELL NOW BECAUSE WE FOUND EACH OTHER! So when Tom says something like what he said next: “There’s a lot of grief we still have, sweetie, about our exes”—I get angry again. I don't like to be told I have more grieving to do. I want to be done, finito, on to the next wedding cake.
But before I snapped for the second time that evening, I paused. I felt the snap inside. Snap! And it felt like a tiny ampule of medicine, pouring a hot Tabasco sauce-like liquid through my veins. Usually when I get this feeling, I NEED to say something out loud, to let the person who made me snap--the snapper, if you will—know that his behavior is less than acceptable. I think I will DIE if I don't assert my rights! But what if I don't?
“I don’t really need to react,” I said. “I don’t need to snap at you! I can choose instead to feel that burn of anger of keeping my mouth shut. And later on, I will forget about it and not feel as though I abandoned the Equal Rights Amendment.”
As soon as I said this, I felt liberated. I felt the sky open and a dove settle on my shoulders. Well, not really, but it was a nice feeling. Tom looked at me and smiled.
“You can snap all you want, he said and kissed me on the top of my head.
The top of my head kept spinning. What if being angry was exactly what I was supposed to be feeling? What if it were as natural for me to feel anger in this moment in my life as it was for a kitten to chase a ball of yarn?
And that’s when I first got this incredibly strong urge to get an Easter bunny.
“Can we get an Easter bunny?” I asked Tom.
“What?” he said.
“You know. Tomorrow’s Easter. People sell little tiny bunnies right about now.”
“Yeah, in Flint, Michigan,” said Tom, looking at me like I’d cracked.
“I know, I know. It’s weird. It’s completely against everything I stand for. But all of a sudden I want a little teeny Easter bunny. Or maybe a chick. Or a kitten.”
Tom looked very alarmed.
On Easter Sunday at my little renegade Congregational church in West Cummington, Stephen (shepherd poet minister) preached a sermon about Jesus’ last days. He said, “That story about Jesus riding in to Jerusalem and overturning the money changers? Let’s look at that closely.”
And he proceeded to give us a radical reading of a scene which has always perplexed me. In the scene, Jesus basically throws a first class temper tantrum, overturning the money changers’ tables and whipping them with a whip—a very mean thing to do. And one that was rife with symbolism for Jews who were about to celebrate Passover, which commemorated the end of their slavery in Egypt.
“It seems obvious to me,” suggested Stephen, “That one of the main reasons why the Jews were so angry with Jesus was this very public, violent action. What if Jesus’ crucifixion were looked at as a kind of instant karma? He loses his temper; he gets killed.”
I looked around the church, waiting to see if someone would jump down Stephen’s throat for suggesting, on Easter Sunday of all days, that Jesus Christ might have been responsible for his own death. That it wasn’t some kind of divine plan. That he didn’t die for our sins, in that equation way explained to me by my Campus Crusade for Christ friends back in my college days. Adam=First Man (who through sin) subtract God. Jesus steps in, takes Adams’ place; now Man is +God.
No one jumped the pulpit. Some people nodded.
“Because you see,” said Stephen. “Jesus was human. This is human. And humans get angry.”
And I felt the dove descend once again, the top of my head spin. Anger. Even Jesus got angry. Thank God! But anger has its consequences. And its greatest consequences are always leveled at the person who is, him or herself, angry. My anger is there. It’s wonderful! It’s a fire that wakes me up, points something out. Pay attention! But when I react to it, or act out of it—when I snap at Tom for commandeering my dishwashing program—there will be consequences. There will be burning.
We had a pancake breakfast after church. We laughed and joked with the members of the congregation. One of our fellow congregants raises the cutest Aussie puppies you’ve ever seen.
“Let’s register for one!” I said to Tom. “Cody would love a playmate!” Poor Tom smiled and restrained himself from mentioning that it is he, not I, who mostly walks our current Australian Shepherd. But, I would have said if I weren’t practicing my own form of blessed self control, Cody is no longer a cuddlemuffin.
For the entire drive down, the hill, I kept my eyes peeled for a sign for baby bunnies.
“There has to be someone selling them,” I said. “On today of all days.”
Tom looked at me again, started to open his mouth. He looked longsuffering. I could tell he was practicing what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “cooking your potatoes.” This is when, recognizing that anger is a fire, you put anger to good use: without fire, you would not be able to cook your potatoes. The goal is to concentrate that fire into boiling water rather than setting the house ablaze. Tom did admirably, and you will be glad to know we made it down the hill with no baby animals in the car.
I still want to believe my own myths. I want to believe that marriage is a mystical process of finding my soul mate and having him save me all the while saving him. But I know it doesn't quite work like that. Relationships grow and change; they have a kittenhood and a cathood of their own.
“A woman completes a man,” a friend of mine (a man) said to me today.
“No, “ I said. “You complete you. I complete me. But if I can find someone to share the joke with, I will have a more interesting time in this go-round.”
When we got back down from West Cummington, we took nine year old Cody for a long walk in the park. Then we came home and I picked up my guitar and played Bob Dylan’s “Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart” while Tom played the drums. And for the span of that song, looking across the music room at my intended, his eyes closed, his whole body engaged in music making, I thought, “This is Nirvana. This is heaven. This is better than holding a baby bunny.
“This is Easter.”