Wednesday was one of those designed specifically to help me check myself. If you looked in the Encyclopedia Britannica under "shit that is likely to give Derek and embolism" you would find a list of things... all of which happened. And, the Alanis Morissette irony of it is that I started writing a thank you note in the morning. My plan was to send a mid-Wanderlust Festival Tour thank you, out to you all who I've met along the way. You who enthusiastically dove down my favorite rabbit holes. You who have served as brilliant examples and reminders of why I do what I do.
So when the first little flight delay came I was ready. Bolstered by my good mood and optimism. Six hours later when I called my mom, I was not in the same place.
Ram Das used to say, if your think you're enlightened, call your mother. Works on so many levels. But today my mom didn't press my buttons (which she is usually so ready and willing to do).
She just illuminated the mirror.
After hour two of delays, missing my first connection, and scores of phone calls to an unnamed airline - that, I'll just say, could be made great again - cause it can't get much worse... I was rerouted to Dallas where I'd get a red eye and just make it to the mountain. Okay. Plan B... not my favorite plan but workable.
By the time my mom called we were into plan 17. I had in my passport a stack of boarding passes. Like, literally a stack. At this point I'm not even sure where I'm headed. From Dallas to LA then Chicago and Toronto. If you believe the pieces of paper I had, I'd done quite the North American tour today.
And after listening to my remarkably calm telling of this harrowing tale, my mother simply asks if I'd rather be in her shoes. In some pretty legit pain, something about peeing blood clots and reeling from the effects of today's chemo.
When you put it like that.
I was simply sitting (kind of comfortably) on a dirty La Guardia floor, watching my flights get canceled one after another. People yelling, and crying... and that's just me (but seriously; Those who have known me for years would be shocked to the point of concern for how even keeled and mild I managed to remain... that part of the story: My excitement over my own growth on this front can be left to the next installment) In the midst of what is objectively a rather trying and challenging situation, I'm reminded...
I'm safe. I'm alive. I'm okay.
I'm not enjoying this. I'm letting people down.
But it's not tragic.
And I really do have so much to celebrate and be thankful for. Not American Airlines... but so many other things. That thank you note would be well supported. Just because the current situation is a challenge, the underlying truth remains.
A fellow teacher I'm growing to really dig these days recently wrote about the bullshit idea that 'happiness is a choice' - I like the unpacking, and boy do I agree that pretending like all you have to do is 'decide to be happy' is a sophomoric and dangerous bit of life advice. A meme put up on social media that at its best promotes the spiritual bypassing of this epoch and at its worse belittles real struggle and pain; and leads the casual observer to deduce that one's experience of discomfort is simply a choice not to be free from it. Even when examined through the lens of one of the more equanimous spiritual practices of Buddhism - we are encouraged to see the noble truth that - as many translate it
"Life is Suffering"
I prefer a more nuanced translation that might call life ephemeral, changing, and uncomfortable. The 'choice' isn't therefore to 'chose' differently.
And - there is always an and.
I can promise this. When shit hits the fan you've got options.
Wallow in it. Sit there in the mess and let it ruin everything. Historically this was MY tactic. Both when I was a veritable powder keg ready to blow at anything as slight as the misplacing of my keys, or later in life when on this side of my decision to get clean when I would spiral into despair after one missed step on the road to recovery. I was quite talented at making my small problems into life ending tragedy.
The other tactic is to stand up. Have a little faith. And start where you are. There is an entire universe between falling into a pit of despair and just taking a deep breath because everything is just as it should be. This existence is one of work. We are action. Even when not taking action we are doing something. We are actively choosing not to act.
On the next installment we may discuss the Shiva and Shakti of it... but for now
Do your work.
And take action.
And decide if the action you take is truly in service to your desired outcome.
My choice was to make my challenging, no fun, difficult 36 hours of travel MORE egregious, or take the actions needed to not add to the strife; mine or my fellow stranded, war ravaged compatriots. And to put even this honestly minor (though at the time all consuming) crucible in perspective.
So to finish what I stared - back when the sun was shining and airplanes seemed like wonderful magical machines:
Thank you. Thank you all for giving me something that makes me happy to sit in NYC's third world airport for 16 hours so that I can come and be with you, teaching and getting lost in this that lights my soul on fire.
Thanks mom for pulling the cancer card.
Thanks American Airlines for the metaphysical workout.