I have worked very hard to make a life for myself, to go after the experiences I want, to befriend the people with whom I enjoy spending time, to spend my income only on the things that I value. I don’t know whether I have been more conscious about my choices than most folks.
From the beginning, I set my sights on a lifestyle that happened to differ from my upbringing. I spent more time alone than with my siblings or the kids on the block. I loved school and excelled in art class. I went to college, unlike my siblings, and attended a big university, something never done in my entire extended family up to that time. I became a Buddhist. I was different. Or was I?
Part of my life-long makeover has included estranging myself not only from the lifestyle in which I was raised, but also from my place of birth and the people closest to me. At first I easily justified my distance. I was off to see the world, to study abroad, to work in the big city. Now I see that my habit to move forward has helped me deny my past and escape the painful memories of my childhood.
Escaping has been easier since my parents died. My siblings and I, literally scattered across four different states, rarely speak. Unlike our upbringing, surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, our children do not know one another. My support system involves a community of wonderful like-minded individuals, people with whom I share values, people who love and respect one-another. Wonderful people who help me distract myself from the pain of missing my history and roots.
Everything changed on Saturday. While enjoying a quiet evening with my son, I got a “next of kin” phone call from the other side of the continent. My youngest sibling, a brother, had been admitted to the hospital with a suspected brain aneurysm. As he struggled in terrible pain in a hospital bed, I retreated to ponder the meaning of it all. I went, where I have always gone when chaos hits, to the safe, quiet place in my mind. I realized that I had no idea what to do.
There was, in fact, nothing to do. It was midnight. I was alone. The next of kin, still the little kid, retreated to her room to “figure life out.” Waiting to hear, unable to sleep, I got on the Internet to research my brother’s condition. That’s when grace arrived in the form of an email from a cousin, an innocent Facebook comment on a photo I had posted earlier in the day. I don’t know what made me do it, but I hit “chat” and told her of my brother’s plight.
I awoke the next morning to a downpour of love and support. Aunts and uncles called, no matter that nine years had passed since the last conversation. Cousins put out the word and organized an impromptu prayer circle. Two cousins on Facebook conspired to send out word to track down my sister with whom I had lost contact years before. I spent the day — between phone calls to Mass General to monitor Don’s condition — receiving the unconditional love and support of both sides of my extended family.
By the time I went to bed I was wrecked.
It’s about time. I have begun to relish the breakdown more than the control. Two sides of the same coin, I see that whether life is neat, tidy and arranged or whether it resembles the tilted deck of the Titanic, we are all in the same boat. I don’t know why everybody is so crazy. I do know that since at least the time of the Buddha, and most likely further back than that, people have suffered. We all want happiness and we are all doing our best to attain it. There are many strategies, many methods of coping. I’m not ready to say that I have the answer. I do understand today, however, that choosing my path does not necessitate rejecting all others.
I’m in a new mood to accept myself as one more crazy member of a sane and very loving family, and one more happy member of the suffering human race.