Thursday, April 4, 2013

Keeping One's Head

Attitude is a chosen thing, or not. In this last 3:00 a.m. morning in Perth, as I prepare to leave for Sydney I resonate still from yesterday’s revelations, if not from the last 300 years or so of Oz. In the Swan Valley is a memorial to the aboriginals. A cut off head was sent to London, put on exhibition. Years later it was brought back. In the heat and the haze and the sweat and the physical hardship of this country the details matter not much; it is the larger sense I get of the testosterone-laden belligerence of the glaring atmosphere underneath the hearty “hey mate” that has me slightly on edge whenever out from under the cool shade of the cottage I’ve spent exactly ten weeks protected in, until my plane goes, today.

Last night’s outing for dinner was an ongoing example of attitudes chosen, or not. M’Lady and I were driven by daughter Linda right up to the outdoor restaurant’s entrance so that I would not have to use my wheelchair. In my neck-brace and moving gingerly I possibly appear the aged senior to her 91 year-old sprightliness, as she gets out of the car before me and holds open my door. We head the four or five steps toward the patio and this big-bellied unkempt fellow barges past and begins a shouted and foul-mouthed tirade at Linda’s shiny aquamarine Mercedes as she backs it up and begins to nudge it forward. She stops, slides down the passenger window, inquires after the problem, and he carries on about women drivers and her nearly backing into his parked car. She responds with something obvious and drives off, and I note the fellow’s female partner, at a nearby table, looking not sheepish but seemingly ready to do battle too. Instantly I am reminded of the incident in Blackheath when with my friend Justin almost a year ago in Oz. A woman and her man took up a handicap-parking space without an evident sticker, and were ready physically to deck my 6 foot-something wheelchair-pusher, and possibly roll me over the cliff! (Stories are more fun to read when overly-dramatic, ha!) Thing is, something there is in me that sifts through such negativity for a long time. It feels as if my psyche is bruised and battered and the hate and hurt touches my soul. People’s attitudes can be so mercurial. And reactive. Insensitive. And self-serving. 

Or not. They clearly can be chosen to be accommodating and accepting too.

M’Lady exemplifies exercising choice. The restaurant was fraught with physical difficulties. Tables were too close to very noisy traffic. Almost everywhere loud-speakers drowned out comfortable conversation. So we moved inside. Standing clumps of people did not easily move aside, despite our ‘seniority’. The far corner table had a small reserved sign on it, and the other perches were for six or more, so we moved back outside. But the chairs were so voluminous that M’Lady, imbalanced on the edge, could barely get her chin to the table. So we moved back inside. We sat at a table for six and waited. At last Nancy observed that it was a publican house and one goes up and orders the meal. She goes, brings back menus, takes back our orders through the clusters of big-looking people, and then comes back apologetically. One “has to pay first.” Since I had from the outset insisted I pay I get up, take my card, and make my careful way to do the transaction. 

Eventually we eat. Throughout the great-tasting-food much of the music is a blare, the beery-sounds of groups of people overtly raucous, the intense air a slick sheen of sweat, the hygiene of the tables suspect, and the congestion of people a throng and threat of being bumped. Given the noise and stifling heat, we decide to move outside again for desert. This time I dig out some cash and Nancy goes again to make the orders. Brings back a number-stick. We find a table against a wall and she perches like a little girl with her lemon-curds and whey and entirely eats the pie, all the while smiling, cracking jokes, and marvelling at the traffic of life’s busy whiz and big bustle by.

Ah, that’s how one keeps one’s head. One makes life interesting! Attitude; choose it, or lose it. Ha!

The following, written on the plane when leaving Oz, now submitted, October 2013


Letting go takes practice. I lost my Jaguar. I was three and had a white wind-up one for my birthday, a bit smaller than a shoe-box. Soon afterward, it disappeared. My mind has never quite given up speculation. What if...? And so forth. We keep losing things, arriving at last days, seeing people for the last time, being somewhere and knowing you'll never return. And slowly one learns non-attachment. Yet even more slowly, one learns simply to love. There is a period when doing without seems so hard, so harsh, so cruel, so wistful, so wishful, so unendurable. But as we grow older and we lose our budgerigars, our dogs, our friends, our parents, our first loves, we come to realize that the objectification of the self as connected with a thing, end even as the self connected with another, is not concomitant, but a realm in which one begins and ends with the self, independent of others. One survives. And the loss of another, though painful and hard and even unimaginable, is not necessarily the loss of self, though the diminishment of the self goes without saying. When my friend dies I shall be poorer for it. Any friend.

Letting go allows for the reality of things. Holidays must end. Weekends must end. We love and we lose and we forego and we cannot always necessarily return. Thing is, not to prevent the self from loving fully and completely in the meantime. Perhaps the most intense experience I had of that much in recent years was with Vic Peters, a man I met while I was researching ALS for the role in 'Tuesdays with Morrie'. Vic died within two years of my knowing him, but we found friendship and love for each other that was magical. Then too, along with my seventh decade, there have been several friends who've lost their lives recently. And it all has resulted in my loving, and letting go. The paradox is, letting go allows one to love more deeply, for there is no product in mind, just the process. And the hurt when the other dies is sweeter for the depth of the love one has experienced. I recall weeping deeply over Simon Brink's death. Tonight I shall have dinner with his brother. And when I think of the miles I've travelled and the people I'd hoped to hug, but who cannot make it to see me, I have to let go of that longing too. Opportunity is not fickle. Miss the turn off and one travels onto other pathways.

Leaving M'Lady Nancy and her daughter and son in law today was hard. Ten weeks has given us a bond. And given our respective ages and the circumstances of our respective physical conditions, we all know that the cost of seeing each other again is a lot less likely than it might have been when we were younger. Time runs out for each of us. We are on journeys, and we each reach destinations. This plane as I type will reach Sydney.

Non-attachment is not the absence of feeling, the inability to feel emotionally; it is the commitment of the self to the moment without being attached to an outcome. It allows one to hug the puppy, but not to want it; to ride in the new Mercedes, but not to covet it; to see the beauty, but not to own it. It allows things to be. And should one have the puppy, the nice new car, the vista of beauty, it allows for a complete appreciation and care and love and nurturing and responsibility for things, but mitigates that pain of dependence, of interdependence, of feeling incapable of self-sufficiency. The subtlety is distinct, yet difficult to achieve. Our minds play on the items we lost, even as children, never mind the people we lost, especially as adults. Being bereft is natural. Feeling hurt is natural. But non-attachment is hard won. It takes losing a great deal, and yet still being able to love. As the Buddha says, pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. Easy?      

1 comment:

  1. Happy Birthday Mr. P.!
    Hope you're doing well, have a fantastic day.

    Your friend,

    Maxim Basu