No Buddhist

11621426-big-golden-buddha-with-lotus-flower-at-da-lat-vietnamEvery moment, a Buddhist might tell you, possesses infinite promise and infinite futility. “Promise,” however, doesn’t imply some potentially positive future outcome but instead an opportunity to know that moment as itself.

“Futility,” they might say, is a misnomer. Nothing can be futile if you live it. Each instant is full. You only need to pay attention and accept every sensation, thought, and feeling as what life is… with emphasis on the present tense. The butterfly doesn’t resent a storm, and the storm does not object to the butterfly.

I’m paying attention. This week, as I was going down stairs I’ve traveled hundreds of times, I missed a step and, finding my foot somewhere I didn’t expect, I landed awkwardly. I turned my ankle, which I’ve done and mended many times, but this time I fractured the long bone leading to my little toe, the fifth metatarsal. I walked home a kilometer sensing what happened, cursing my stupidity, punishing myself for mindlessness, and hoping I imagined the pain.

The emergency room physician confirmed my misfortune. She said I had six to eight weeks of recovery ahead of me and gave me that look doctors often do when you’ve done something hapless, that mixture of amusement and chagrin and regret and sympathy. Sometimes they tell you they’ve done something as dumb. Not this time. Before offering the diagnosis, she said she was sorry. I appreciated that.

Apparently, my injury is quite common among the aged.

A Buddhist might not cry as I did. Exercise is such a central part of life for me, and now I face one trial as I seek to heal and another as I regain fitness I’ve lost healing. We all need challenges, I suppose, but we don’t desire adversity we haven’t engineered. As much as you’d like to be calm and accepting, you can’t help re-imagining (and re-re-imagining) the wrong second, wondering how fate screwed you over.

There’s a Buddhist parable where a farmer loses his horse and a neighbor says, “How unlucky!” and he replies, “Maybe.” When the horse returns with two other wild horses, the neighbor changes his mind, but the farmer still says, “Maybe.” The next day, one of the wild horses throws his son, and the son breaks bones. The neighbor says he’s “unlucky” again and the farmer says again, “Maybe.” Then the army comes seeking soldiers and passes over his son as unfit… you get the idea.

I’ve been stumbling around on crutches wondering what benefit might come from my regret, what test this calamity signifies. I’ll pass through grief, and that’s necessary. I’ll learn new ways to live with myself that don’t involve punishing my body every day. That’s good too. I’ll need patience, which is what I’m worst at.

Intellectually, I’m fine. I can handle it. On the other end of these six to eight weeks, I may be a better person. But right now, honestly, I feel lost.

Perhaps this event meant to remind me how far I am from becoming Buddhist. This second—this very second—I’m pissed, I’m pissed as hell. I’ll be better because I must. The next few weeks, I hope, will determine how.


Filed under Aging, Anger, Buddhism, Depression, Doubt, Essays, Grief, Identity, Laments, life, Pain, Parables, Resolutions, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Time, Voice, Work, Worry

6 responses to “No Buddhist

  1. What a lousy happenstance, David. I, too, have on occasion been laid up with broken or chipped bones and found myself less joyful and serene with the experiences ensuing from them. The one big thing I did learn was to become more aware of how others having physical difficulty must learn to cope with their limitations with any degree of equanimity and patient acceptance.

    Since you are still labouring away as a teacher, having to get to and fro with crutches has to be a major drag. Time to get places, to do things you might ordinarily not be as concerned about now will be fore-grounded in your awareness. Meanwhile, the functioning world could care less about the frustrations which might ensue for you in carrying out daily activities. 8 weeks is a long time to live with impediments to ordinary pleasure.

    Keep us informed of your progress in this challenge of yours. And, sending healing thoughts your way. G

    • dmarshall58

      The book is much better than a cast and, though crutches are pretty awful, I’m off on spring break for the next couple of weeks and have some recovery time before I have to hobble through crowded halls. And, you’re right, some have greater burdens and handle them with much greater calm and grace. Thank you for your healing thoughts. I deeply appreciate your best wishes. –D

  2. On the subject of being lost, I like Brian Patten’s poem Frogs in the Wood.
    See what you think…

    • dmarshall58

      I’ve found that title listed in Patten’s Collected, but, alas, I don’t have the book and the poem is not one of the ones I can find online. I don’t intend to give-up, though. Thanks for the recommendation. –D

  3. LynnSlyWrites

    I had a hip replacement in June last year. Although the hip itself is far better I need regular exercise to stop myself getting stiff and sore. I’m left with an increasing awareness of my ageing body, a dread of travelling (because it means I can’t exercise) and increasing gratitude for those moments when I actually feel fit and good. I have also turned to Buddhist meditation to help me cope!

    • dmarshall58

      I’m coming off a “project week” at school on mindfulness where one of the main missions was learning how to meditate. When I realized what was wrong with my foot, I thought how odd it was to do something so mindless when I’m supposed to be mindful, but maybe that’s the silver lining here. I’m aging too and seem to negotiate with my body more and more. My body and I never settle much, but I try to be grateful for the communication. So much of my youth ignored, or more accurately exploited, my physical existence. Even with this injury, it’s better to be in touch. Thanks for writing. —D

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