Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On Easter, Being Two Places at Once and Global Warming

On Easter, I wanted to be two places at once. I wanted to be in Long Island with my father’s three sisters and their families. I grew up with these three women, and each one of them is a glorious, lovable and admirable person from whom I’ve learned much and who makes me laugh and think. Their children (I have six cousins) are interesting, funny, delightful people as well, and I don’t see them nearly enough anymore. Holidays with them are more and more rare: we used to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas together, up until about the year 2000. Since then, marriages, new children, schedules and the general feeling that there are just too many people in the room at cocktail hour have conspired to keep us in different states for many of the holidays.

I also wanted to be with my sisters and their families, who were not into traveling to Long Island on Easter weekend, and I wanted to preach a sermon at my church. Our minister, Stephen Philbrick, is on a four month sabbatical, and we in the congregation are taking turns in the pulpit while he is away. In early March, when trying to make a decision about where to spend this particularly confusing and strange holiday, I realized that if I volunteered to preach on Easter Sunday, my parents would most likely be lured up from Virginia: a pregnant daughter preaching plus the promise of an Easter egg hunt with four grandchildren under the age of five was a sure-fire combination.

The word “Easter” comes from Eostre or Eastre, who was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Thank you, early Roman conquerors for utilizing pre-existing pagan holidays and incorporating the new Christian ones. Knowing this, makes me love Easter more than thinking of it as the painful, difficult story (to me) of Christ’s murder and resurrection. I’m a big fan of infusing Goddess energy into my Christianity. And, being nine months pregnant now, I appreciate the metaphor of early spring as Great Fertility season. I also had spent the Palm Sunday weekend at Kripalu, at a meditation workshop with Sharon Saltzberg. She had said, paraphrasing the Buddha, “When you put a teaspoon of salt into a glass of water, you will have to enlarge the container to dilute the salt.” So I had on my mind this idea of the need to NOT pack a whole lot of salt into my little container, but perhaps instead work on enlarging. Or, to jump traditions, to honor my loved ones, the salt of the earth, but recognize that too much salt overwhelms.

So I stayed, I preached, (sermon is at we had a fabulous Easter brunch at Katryna’s house, we took lots of pictures of adorable children, and I had one of those days I will never forget. It was certainly the right decision. Nevertheless, I missed my aunts.

Just now, I stood on the porch and watched the creeping green work its way into the trees in our backyard; everything is now green but the forlorn black branched cherry tree. Two years ago it was blooming, but last year nothing came at all; it was as leafless in June as it was in December. Still, it’s very beautiful, and it made me sad to watch Tom cutting it down. I am thinking about the two-places-at-once problem. We want to have a vegetable garden, and cutting down the tree will give us both the space and the sun we need to grow one.

When I called my aunt to tell her I wasn’t coming for Easter, I said, “I miss you. I miss all those years we spent having holidays with you. But I need to make time for my new family now.” With the birth of my two nieces and two nephews, not to mention the two brothers-in-law and my husband, my immediate family has grown by 240%. That’s a lot more salt, and none of us has a house that’s 240% bigger.

I’m the kind of person who hates to make a decision, hates to throw out old clothes, shoes, books, records (what DOES one do with those old, beloved, unplayable LPs?). I hate losing touch with friends; I hate the feeling that I’m not able to see people as much as I want to; I hate wasting food; I hate that fear that I might not have enough. I have four careers, and am contemplating starting a fifth one. My life, as a result, is stuffed; too salty. And I hate the feeling of too salty more than almost anything.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the notion of Global Warming has, as yesterday’s New York Times “Week in Review” section noted, “the feel of breaking news” all of a sudden. I’m not new to this issue; I’ve been one of those nervous Nellies who has felt guilty about using air conditioning, eating seafood and having a lawn since 1989. The article I read yesterday pointed out that it’s very difficult to make people change their actions unless the threat of punishment, retribution and/or disaster is looming in their faces. Another point the article made is that it’s becoming clear that the main source of the green house gasses, which contribute to global warming is not one simple factor. Our six million bodies, in addition to our cars, the heat we use to keep our homes warm, the cows who fart, and the fact that the destruction of the world’s trees and forests lowers the O2 to CO2 ratio, all contribute to this phenomenon. The sheer number of us and our many kinds of emissions; our huge appetite for consumption. And yet, it’s really hard for me to get my head around the notion that if I buy this one tube of lipstick instead of wearing my last tube (with a not nearly as exciting color) down to the nub, I am contributing to global warming. Harder still to think that if I choose to have a child, biologically, which I seem to be doing (5 weeks and counting to the due date), I am adding yet another being to this planet.

As a meditation practitioner, I am also not new to this idea that the wanting mind is at the root of my (and the planet’s) affliction. The Buddha said there were three types of people: grasping (wanting, consumption), aversive (fearful, hateful) and deluded (clueless). I have aspects of all three, but I most identify with the grasping/wanting types. When you get right down to it, I absolutely love life and I want more. Last night as I was driving home, I watched the rain fall, and noticed how it is both visible and invisible at the same time, and I noticed the forsythia in bloom next to the fuchsia rhododendron bushes that line my street, and I felt such joy that my baby is going to know this gorgeous, mysterious, marvelous earth. I immediately thought, “I hope there will be springs when he or she is my age. I hope there will be springs when his or her children are my age.” I want more springs! And I want them forever and ever!

When it comes right down to it, the underbelly of the wanting mind is the desire to avoid loss and grief. I want a vegetable garden AND I want a cherry tree, even if it’s a dead one. I want to keep my two huge crates of old LPs AND I want to use that space in my music room for a bookshelf to keep all my books, and the books my child will surely accumulate. I want the earth to keep on producing beautiful cool springs, AND I want to stay cool on hot summer drives in my car AND I want to eat Chilean sea bass, AND I want to have a lawn, even though to do so is clearly not what my land desires. I let myself get too salty because the coolness and space of the flavorless water frightens me sometimes, leaving me face to face with an emptiness that demands my full attention. But letting the emptiness in—enlarging the container, accepting a little less salt—has always proved, over and over, when I am willing to do so, the most peaceful result. I want to spend Easter with my aunts because I love them and because I don’t want to lose them. It is really, honestly sad that I can’t be two places at once, can’t be with all the people I love at the same time, and that fact creates grief. Sometimes the right answer is just to accept that grief and feel it deeply. To feel the space they once occupied and honor it with presence and emotion.