Last week, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I had to pick up a few packages from the post office, but none of the parking spots nearby were open. It was drizzly and I didn't want to carry an armful of boxes in the rain.
My eyes settled on the handicap parking spot across the street, clearly painted blue with a handicap sign posted in front of it. I'll just park there and do a quick in-and-out, I reasoned. I figured it'd take no more than five minutes. So, I parked the Jeep, ran across the street, asked for my packages and ran back out.
As I was packing the backseat of the car, I noticed an old woman staring at me from her parked car. I hurried along and ran to the driver's door.
"You're parked in the handicap spot! Can't you read?!" she screamed at me.
"Yes, I'm just about to leave," I said, flustered.
"You've been parked there for a while!" she screamed back angrily, "Next time, READ!"
Her car screeched off.
The level of hostility that was spewed at me in that brief moment shocked me to the core. I mean, it really disturbed me. It continued to bother me for the next hour or so as I drove.
What a mean old lady, I thought. If the situation were flipped, would I have behaved the same toward her? Certainly not. And, given the chance, how should I have responded? "Sorry you're having a bad day"? That would've been patronizing and sarcastic. No, no, I wasn't prepared enough for a response. It was probably a blessing that I was bewildered and tongue-tied.
I had a stomachache the whole time I thought about it. Her message was indeed warranted–her delivery of it, however, was not. Don't let this ruin your day, I told myself. Nothing that came through my mind made me feel any better. I just couldn't fathom directing that sort of anger towards a complete stranger. After being involved in that awful exchange, I had an even stronger conviction never to inflict such a behavior on anyone else. It was the ultimate reminder that, while you can never control the circumstances, you can always control how you react to it. Eventually, as I went about my errands, the angst subsided.
As I got back into the car to drive home, I thought about it again. Truth was, I knew I shouldn't have parked in the handicap spot. I could've parked further away and walked to the post office. Maybe she was handicapped and I had robbed her of her spot.
Then, the perfect disarming response came to me.
I should've said: "You're right. I'm sorry. Thank you for pointing that out. I'll be more aware next time."
When we bid farewell to the ranch this past summer, I felt like I was exhaling for the first time in four years. What a strange, transformative time it had been for me. It was there where I discovered just how adaptable I was. It was there where I cultivated a rich internal life for myself. It was there where I connected with Nature. It was there where the literature I chose to read resonated like never before. It was there where everything I thought I knew about science, religion, philosophy and politics was turned upside-down. It was there where I experienced a relationship that kept stretching itself to varying degrees before snapping back again.
The unknown contains infinite possibilities.
For as far back as I can remember, my mom would tell me that she was given a life full of struggles because of a karmic debt that had been accumulated over many lifetimes. As a devout Buddhist, she believed in reincarnation. Her life, you see, was a temporary vessel for this particular soul to experience: a child sent away from her family to become a live-in nanny for a cruel aunt, a treacherous journey to a new land, an unfulfilling marriage, the birth of five children, a traumatic divorce, ongoing familial turmoil, a string of unworthy suitors, too many nights spent alone in a small ramshackle house, and an intensely stubborn personality to mask her vulnerability.
She was already wrung dry by the time she became my mother yet Life somehow managed to find a way to squeeze a little more from her. "I must've done something really terrible in my past life," she used to say. The fact that she believed her fate was sealed would frustrate me to no end. Instead of fighting against what she was dealt, she surrendered to it and let it play out to the end.
Her lackadaisical "it is what it is" approach to life–this sort of acceptance of things as they are–used to be a point of contention between us. I wanted her to fight for something different; I wanted her to try harder to turn the tide. She deserved more and I wanted to believe that we all had the power to change our destinies. But now I'm not so sure.
Upon reflection, I noticed a pattern in my own life: No matter what path I take–no matter how seemingly drastic one is from the other–I can't escape encountering the same questions over and over: What am I good at? What am I meant to create? How is it possible to feel content and discontent at the same time? How can I come to terms with my independent nature and my co-dependent one? Every time I fight for something different, I seem to return to the same point where I began. What is fate, if not the will that guides us on an overarching journey–one that opens us to new experiences and outlooks with which to examine our questions? I've come to believe that, while we may be able to change the path, we can't change the journey. Maybe we only think that we have free will...
At my mom's wake, one of her best friends approached me and told me that my mom had her palm read two years prior to her death. "The fortune teller told her that she would die at the age of 61," she told me, "She's been preparing for this since then." In an effort to renew her karma, whatever charity work she had done throughout her life was increased. She cared for the elderly and volunteered regularly at the local churches and temples. I remembered hearing from her more frequently. She even wanted to come visit me at the ranch for two weeks. Considering the strife and misunderstandings we went through whenever we saw each other, I wasn't sure I was ready for it at the time so I postponed it. I foolishly thought it was better to love each other from afar. I hadn't seen her for about three years.
On the day of my mom's cremation, the day of our final farewell, the Buddhist monk who was conducting the ceremony told us to pray with all our might to help her soul to leave this life. "Don't cry," he told us, "It will be hard for her to leave you if you cry. " With the resonating sounds of chanting monks, the rhythmic beat of the temple block, and the tinkling of chimes around me, I closed my eyes and envisioned my mom's spirit lifting away. She had endured all that Life had offered and resilient she was. I felt the pains and the joys of life rush through me and wept. A new journey was awaiting her. It was time to let her go and be hopeful. When the ceremony ended, I looked upward and waved goodbye.
To this day, I don't know what the questions in my mother's life were or if they were ever answered, but I imagine her next life as one with a sense of fulfillment, lots of love and plenty of comfort.