Saturday, September 26, 2009

Humans are composed of flesh, blood, and a miracle fiber called courage. Gen. George Patton

A few months before my father passed away back in 1996, I had the precious opportunity to sit and visit with him before his final return to the Veteran’s Hospital in Shreveport, La in November of that year.
We hung out in the living room while my step mom was out paying bills and he and I were watching a boxing match from back in the 1970’s. (yes, the awesomeness of basic ESPN) Being there with him brought back many great memories, and I was happy just to sit in with him, watching the Ali/Frasier fight and talking about funny things that happened when my brothers and I were kids, knowing there were very few days like this left for us.
Later on, we talked about mundane things, about my baby, my husband, his job, what I was doing in college. And then, out of the blue, he asked me if I ever felt uncomfortable around him. I laughed and said no, how could I feel uncomfortable being near my hero?
And then he started to cry.
This was astonishing and very upsetting. My father, the proud warrior, the architect, the machinist, the musician. The man who placed my tiny fingers on the strings of his guitar and taught me the D chord when I was just a child. How could such a great man cry?
It was awful and I felt a lump forming in the back of my throat, and tears stinging my eyes.
I asked him what was wrong and he told me that a few years before, my step sister accused him of molesting me. Her reason for believing this, it seems, is that I took too many showers. And he was afraid, in the passing of his last few days in this incarnation, that he was worried I was afraid of him. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Now, to set the record straight, my father never ever touched me inappropriately, and my step sister was already married and living in another state when my dad and her mom married. Where she came up with this idea was a mystery to me, and I admit the accusation totally pissed me off.
I explained to my dad that no, I never ever felt uncomfortable around him, and that the only reason I took so many showers is that when I was younger and had trouble breathing, I found that I could go to the bathroom, shove towels under the door, turn the shower on to it’s hottest setting and sit on the toilet and breathe the steam. It made me feel better. And as an asthmatic I learned that it helped open constricted airways.
And I told him this, he relaxed, and we spent the next hour cheering over a televised tractor pull.
Was I angry at my step sister for making such an accusation? Damned right. I was furious. I wanted to call her and tell her what an awful excuse for a human being she was, making such an ugly accusation about a man whom I had nothing in my heart but love and adoration.
But I didn’t. I came to realize it was my step sister’s perceptions that got in the way of her otherwise good common sense. All of this could have been cleared up, I reasoned, with a simple phone call, or a visit, or something that vaguely resembled sisterly compassion. If she had simply asked, I would have told her. But she didn’t, her false perceptions hurt a man who was precious to me, frightened my step mother, and caused me, not only to suffer, but to get royally pissed off to boot.
Yeah, you could say that she cared about me and was concerned, and in retrospect I’m sure that’s true. But there are better ways of handling things like that, and making accusations based on assumptions and perceptions isn’t one of them.
So what does this have to do with the topic of courage and cleaning out your emotional cat box?
Okay, so here’s the deal…
If my step sister had the courage to talk to me instead of making paranoid and false accusations, none of us would have suffered needlessly. Had I had the courage to call and say, guess what? Dee, I appreciate your concern, but the excess showering had more to do with my lungs closing up after a 10k run than it did anything else. But we did neither of these things, and instead let anger, hatred, and resentment fester.
So, what was the courageous thing to do?
The first thing is to look at Buddha’s first Noble Truth. Everyone suffers, and that’s a fact. Every living human being who was ever born, died and reborn has walked a trail of tears. Remember the story about the woman and her dead baby? Exactly.
We yearn for suffering to stop, but we don’t really know how, even though Buddha talked about it 2500 years ago, and Christ discussed it again500 years later, and others have reiterated it via pulpit, paper and, odd infinitum down the centuries until today, the concepts still haven’t gotten through.
And because of this, we trot off in search for things that make us happy, but with our minds unclear of exactly what it is we want, or need. And that only breeds more unhappiness and suffering.
There is only one way to end our suffering, and it’s right in front of our faces but the vast majority of the human race cannot see it. Or if they do see it, they barely acknowledge it, or discard it as being too simple to be of any real use. Someone, after all, must make the ultimate sacrifice in order for it to work. But that too is unnecessary. No one has to open a vein in order to do it.
So what is it exactly?
One could say that true happiness comes when one becomes enlightened, not just for him or herself, but for the sake of all sentient beings.
But it’s even easier than that. All it comes down to is this.
Love and let go.
Yep. That’s it.
But letting go is more important, I think, because unless you are able to let go of old hurts, anxieties and fears, love will be difficult, if not impossible.
You don’t have to be like Courage the Cowardly dog, which upon each episode, must save his family from whatever evil comes a knocking. You don’t have to join the army and go to war. Courage comes to us in little things, like being able to forgive someone who hurt your feelings in the past, or saying something nice to someone, or maybe even holding a door open for a person struggling with bags of groceries and squirming toddlers. Courage comes in the simplest forms, like saying please and thank you. Courage means sitting down and talking to someone in the most compassionate way, and settling disputes rationally without letting the contrivance of anger getting in the way. Courage means weighing over 200 pounds, yet laces up her running shoes and runs every morning despite her fear of ridicule.
But most of all, courage means getting down on your spiritual hands and knees with the kitty scoop, rubber gloves and fresh litter. And if it hasn’t been cleaned in a while you might want a face mask. Courage means holding your nose and giving that emotional litter box a good scrub, and then putting everything away, in order, knowing your spiritual house smells oh so much nicer.
So, have you emptied your emotional cat box today?

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