It’s one of those mornings. When you’ve already brewed a second cup of coffee and the sky is clouded over. You are not sad, because you like rainy weather.
You are not melancholy. You aren’t crafting a story to be accompanied by violins. You are curiosity embodied as thoughts stream in about all those epic moments someone let you down.
Not just unreturned phone calls or a rain check on a dinner date. No, more like when your boyfriend proposed marriage only to renege after you started talking about the ceremony. Or that note, hand delivered by a local villager in India, penned by your travel companions, telling you that they’d left town and are sorry they couldn’t find you to say goodbye. How about the time your water broke at 1am and when you called the midwife she told you she was on another island and wouldn’t be able to reach you for at least 6 hours?
You think about how you spend your life setting up everything so as to depend on no one. Maybe Buddhists would say this is an illusion, since we are all interdependent in this connected universe. Still, it seems that you have worked a lifetime at being self-sufficient. Taking any extra someone offers as a bonus, not expectation.
Yet every once in a while, in those key moments, when a sweeping gesture has been extended, you’ve reached out your hand to trust. Let go to rely that someone’s words, their invitation, their very presence would be there to meet you.
And there have been those times when you grasped for that extended hand and found it had been retracted. That sinking feeling of falling. The body attached to the withdrawn hand becomes smaller as you plunge further, left to hold your own.
Maybe they meant no harm, they simply could not be what they thought they could. You may understand this as you plummet. But the fact is, you thought you had a hand so you didn’t bring a rope and now you’re falling swiftly with no back up.
This was the case when giving birth to your son at home without a midwife – but that’s a long story.
So long of a story that it becomes a piece that evolves at a recent writing workshop. The crux of the event wasn’t the fact that it took forever to wake your son’s father once contractions started. Or even that your midwife was unavailable for the first half of your labor. It was that after hours of pushing, your son’s head engaged but not emerging, you were instructed to call upon god, “…or whatever you need to call upon to birth this baby.”
And that when you did call upon every saint and deity you’d ever come to commune with in this life, not a single one of them were there to meet you. This was quite disturbing.
At the workshop you share your rough draft with one of the writers (a Buddhist teacher who had once been blind and then regained sight) expressing your confusion and dejection at having called upon god and only experienced darkness. For the seven years since your son’s birth you’d been grappling with the fact that you had somehow birthed wrong. You had prayed wrong. God had not come to you when you counted on it most.
The teacher says to you with awe, “You got the darkness?!”
“Yes, that’s all there was. Just nothing.”
“Oh, not everyone gets the darkness. That’s a gift.”
She explains the story of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. How he sat and waited for enlightenment, determined not to move until he finally knew god. He waited and waited, to no avail. He became utterly discouraged. He broke down. He gave up. That’s when the darkness came. So black, so vacant, that despite all will, he simply surrendered. And as the story goes, it was in this moment of the enveloping nothingness that he became enlightened.
In your little parable, your child did eventually reach your arms in healthy perfection. Though you were overwhelmed with the fragility of life and death, you did not achieve enlightenment.
Perhaps each time someone has let you down they are offering a gift. One more chance to free-fall unexpectedly. One more time to feel the annihilating sense of fear and doubt. One more chance to let go completely.
Perhaps they are an unwitting messenger, bestowing some hidden opportunity to know Grace deeply. Beckoning you to rest into the nothing.