Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today I visit a yoga center in Western Mass, but I think I would enjoy it more if I did not just listen to a man reporting from volatile Mogadishu where people are flocking by the tens of thousands, because starvation is a more powerful dictator even than the instinct to avoid danger.

A Land Rover, he tells us, is parked outside the gathering of hungry Somalis, an automatic gun mounted to its back door. A small boy of 13 waits inside it, dutifully standing guard over the mothers whose breasts have dried up and who hold their babies out to volunteers who explain that the peanut-based formula they offer may still not be enough to save them, that the water/foodless week it took these mothers to walk from their abandoned and famished villages may have taken an irrevocable toll on their children.

Here, I watch one after another yogi walking erect, his/her yoga mat shouldered or encased in hand-embroidered fabric, float across the grounds of the multi-acre property that houses the center. Their faces are blissful, imbued with the glow of fresh meditations, and indeed they have come here as an act of awareness, an expression of their desire to be mindful, open, generous...to themselves and to others. I say that they "float" because some trick of the eye, some combination of their relaxed demeanor and the synchronous movement of greenery as backdrop to such serenity, causes them to appear as if they are gliding, rather than walking.

It is not that I think they don't deserve to glide, or to spend three, four, five days listening to their breath, choosing wholesome, organic foods from beneath a glass visor, nourishing their bodies and minds with measured movement. Nor is it that I think they should be aware of the Somali refugees who are this morning trying to survive the most hostile of conditions under a reign of terror that is nearly as relentless as their thirst. For all I know, they are aware of these things, offering silent prayers on their behalf.

What stays me is the contrast between that terrifying African world and our own (how can I not group myself with these yogis? Did I not just spend an entire day listening to live music under a perfect sky and a bubble machine in Southern Vermont?). I rather slink into the building, which is at the moment bustling with arriving guests and their luggage (it is Friday, after all). I visit the shop briefly--long enough to see that it is filled with pleasing trinkets, beautiful objects (none of them required for life) and long enough to find that the shop manager whom I have come to meet, has left for the day. Oh, I say to the colorful garments that line the walls, to the gemstones that sparkle in their dishes.

Somewhat relieved, I slink back through the lobby and out to my car. It is a relief to drive away, though I have drawn no conclusions, learned nothing specific from this contrast....only collected a fluid sort of uneasiness that pools in my belly. I don't know, is the thing...how we live with ourselves. How we live with our selves.

Chance, it seems, has been kind to me...in the big details--where I was born, to whom, under what government.  So then, how does one find a middle ground between purposed ignorance (in this I know that I am quite skilled, especially practiced during the period when my boys were babies and I could only see to love them, nourish them--what a luxury) and the impulse to abandon one's real or ordinary life for the super-heroism of "making a difference"?

It annoys me that I have no answer to this question and that writing this down has not yielded one--and then I forgive myself again for being so imperfect. We are broken in so many ways, but it is our intention that redeems us. I will find my way, the way for my little family...to live and to grow, and yes, to make a contribution somehow. I will live with my self, because "what can I be but this thing that remains, what can I be but this?"

I will glide when I can and receive with gratitude the many blessings that are rained down on me from an abundant sky. My guilt will not serve anyone. But I will not turn away from those headlines, and I will not ignore what I hear on the radio. My awareness will be my first act of generosity, and my second will be in teaching my own children about the world, about suffering, and about how we might, in our small way, help. I will relinquish my desire to find or create an answer and instead live. Live well and live mindfully. I will offer my words to the world...to those who might seek refuge in them. I will forgive myself for having a few things that serve no purpose but to please my aesthetic sensibility, but I will not hoard them. Perhaps this is the best I can do.

No. This is the best I can do: in this life that I am living, here, now, I will know suffering when I see it, and I swear, I will not turn away.

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