Wednesday, February 4, 2009
"Fear has to be acknowledged. We have to realize our fears and reconcile ourselves with fear. We should look at how we move, how we talk, how we conduct ourselves, how we chew our nails, how we sometimes put our hands in our pockets uselessly. Then we will find something out about how fear is expressed in the form of restlessness. We must face the fact that fear is lurking in our lives, always, in everything we do.
"On the other hand, acknowledging fear is not a cause for depression or discouragement. Because we possess such fear we are also potentially entitled to experience fearlessness."--Chogyam Trungpa, from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Sunday night I lay in bed (well, on the covers, not actually IN the bed) clutching the cat like it was her last day on earth. She let me because it's winter and somewhat drafty in our apartment, so she likes to either snuggle with me or bow down to the radiator God.
I was depressed and anxious. I was having a Woody Allen, existential moment, when all I could think about is "I'm going to die." Even worse, my parents and my husband are going to die and I'll be left alone, in a small apartment with three or more cats, everyday the same. No visitors, no company at all. Holidays, birthdays, warm early summer evenings--all spent alone. I felt sorry for that future me and asked myself what was the point of all this if that's what I have to look forward to?
To make matters worse, my husband Mike came in the room to lay down next to me and maybe snuggle, and I instantly started in on my questioning: If I die first, will he be sad? Will he stay in mourning and never love anyone again? Or will he run out and find a new chippy a month after the funeral? If he was dying, should we try to off ourselves at the same time? What if his attempt worked and mine failed? Or what about the opposite: mine worked and his failed, and so not only was he dying, but he would have to die alone, without me as his caretaker. Mike was mildly amused by my questions. He made up some story that if I died first, he'd wear nothing but black for the rest of his life and wear a locket with a picture of me inside. He had obviously taken notes from my Sicilian grandmother. Then he rolled his eyes and said, "Wow, I came in here for a pick-me-up but now I'm totally depressed. Thanks."
"Do you think I could ever be happy if you were gone?" I asked, knowing in my head that I wouldn't.
"Yes, I think you would. You could also be miserable. It's your choice."
Is it? It seems like moods hit me and no matter how much I try to shake them by thinking positively, it feels fake. The world is a messed up place. Wars, hunger, destruction of natural resources, kids with cancer, you name it. So much suffering. And then we die. Buddhists believe life is suffering, but life for me just 5-10 years ago wasn't all about suffering. I was engaged with life, I had a youthful vigor. Now I can only see the harshness and lack of pity in the world around me.
I guess my problem with living in the now is that I've been living in the future so long that it's hard to stop and appreciate what I have. I can be happy that I have a loving partner and family, and be grateful everyday for it. Or I can spend all this time being anxious, fearful, and unhappy. Hmmm...
To try to wrestle my way out of the deep hole of despair and self-pity I'd dug for myself, I sat and read old Peanuts strips. Every Christmas my husband buys me the next two volumes of the deluxe Peanuts box sets from Fantagraphics Books. I used to love Peanuts cartoons growing up, and reading the old strips makes me smile--both remembering some and discovering new ones. Plus, like all good cartoons, it works on two levels: fun for kids and adults alike.
Poor Charlie Brown, neurotic, depressed, with low self-esteem. Sometimes I feel just like him except without the round head. And I love Lucy, especially as she gets a little older and starts fussing. She looks at Snoopy dancing with joy as he does, and she shouts "What do you have to be so happy about? There's war and famine and you're dancing? (I'm paraphrasing here.) I felt just like Lucy. When I see others laughing and happy, I wonder, how can they be so joyful when we're all destined to be food for the worms? When human beings are so cruel to one another and kids go to bed hungry?
Then I realize that I'm wallowing--feeling sorry for myself, being dramatic, employing extreme thinking (years of therapy taught me that last one). Yes, I'm going to die one day. But as Woody Allen discovers in Hannah and her Sisters: if this is it, if this is my one life, then I might as well enjoy the ride.