We are in temporary housing here in Sewickley, PA. We sold our beloved home, and are renting a furnished one until the home we are building is complete. It’s cold here. And dark. There are enormous insects that keep showing up in unexpected places. The showers don’t work that well, and the drains are just slow enough to make you wonder why. We don’t know anyone around, and can’t seem to find a way to meet anyone. We leave the house at 7:30 and drive one hour into the city to drop off the kids at school. And we sometimes stop back here after preschool, and sometimes don’t. And after the oldest is out of school, we get back here at 5. Then it’s play time and dinner prep. Then dinner. Then play time clean up, then showers, then bed. And then we do it again. In Zen, what I have learned is that we begin, and we begin again. We do little with an eye to what lies ahead, and little with an eye to what we left behind. We get up, we go to school, we come home. Because my children do that, I do that. I do what my children do, because I am home with them. And I have never once questioned the validity of that enterprise until we moved out of our home. I feel my sanity and patience slipping quickly, as one day fades into the next, as I spend a minimum of 3 hours driving kids places. The driving. It is tough. But then, here’s what’s tougher. What would I do if I were not doing that? See? I’d be here, in this cold dark empty house. So, I drive.
And every time I pull into the driveway, the elderly gentleman who lives next door is cultivating his lawn. This is an entirely foreign concept to me. He mows it religiously. But he does much much more than that. He goes out and clips the grass with hand clippers, leaning over at the back, his hands at his toes, clipping and clipping and clipping. And then, when he’s not doing that, he’s edging. After that, he may get the clippers again. And clip. And to be sure, his lawn is the greenest and most beautiful on the block. When he’s not out there himself, he has professionals out there. For what? I can’t begin to imagine. And somewhere in my heart I know that this qualifies as a zen activity. He does it to do it. Because in his mind it needs to be done. Like monks who smooth stones in the garden with a rake, he clips the stray grass. It’s no different.
Always, in my weakest times, (I am most certainly in one of those times) I ground myself by reminding myself to do what needs to be done. And then I do it. And it calms me. The thoughts fall away, and there is silence. But lately I can’t help but wonder: Does it really need to be done? What if this gentleman did not clip his grass by hand? Would it still need to be done? Isn’t so much of what needs to be done merely a reflection of what we think needs to be done? So, it brings me back to my reality. What needs to be done?
I went to the Whole Foods by the area where my new house will be. The Whole Foods in my old neighborhood is crowded. People with extreme piercings and tattoos would squeeze by my cart laden with diapers and all the trappings of a family. I would stand in line behind every type of person imaginable. The elderly, the very young, the idealist and the conspiracy theorist, the black and the white, the asian and the hispanic and everything in between. I took comfort in being one of many different types. I always did. Just the thought that I am part of a buzzing busy world beyond my own, that the different was at my fingertips–standing in line in front of me–was a comfort.
The new (suburb) Whole Foods scares me. There is only one sort there. And that sort is: rich. The moms in their velour getups pulling up in their minivan (or variations of the minivan because they don’t want to be one of those moms with a minivan) with sour and closed off expressions give me a cold feeling in my heart. The suburban life I am headed for, that I have in some ways already begun, scares me.
Do the thing that needs to be done: Mowing the lawn gets turned into mow, hedge, clip, fertilize the lawn…..this is a world that scares me. All the people who move out to Suburbia are the types that can afford it. And so most of the world falls away. In some ways I feel I am falling away from the world. As we move for our kids and the opportunity that an excellent public education can provide, I can’t help but look behind me and wonder about what we leave behind.
I look at the lawn across the street. Is that the thing that needs to be done? It seems that out here it is. Do the things that need to be done change by virtue of where we are? In the city, that is not the thing that needs to be done. No one’s lawn looks like that. At least, not in my neighborhood. So grass was not the thing that needed to be done. At least, not to that extent.
It isn’t my right to question these things, really. It isn’t my lawn. And perhaps for now that has to be answer enough. In the suburbs though, it’s hard not to notice your neighbor’s lawn. And I think out here, that’s the intent. Look at my lawn. See my lawn?
In Zen we are where we are. And that is where we belong. I look back at the steady progress that brought us to this enormous change, and put my hopes in the wisdom of our decisions. And here I am. But the truth is that out here, everything is different. I am afraid. Nothing is the same. I feel pulled away from the bustling life. I am staring at a patch of grass.
I am realizing that the thread that weaves between myself and my children is wound so tightly, that should it be clipped, I would fall fast and far.
I am realizing that the thing that needs to be done is to be a Mom and support my kids. That is my lawn. That is my thing that needs to be done.
Somewhere in the darkness though, my own voice is whispering, wondering if there is more.
In the city my life was absolutely no different. But there was the possibility of everything different –it was constantly happening all around me. And here in the suburbs there is green. Lots of green.
The life of a stay at home mother goes from breathtakingly busy to a dead standstill in the blink of an eye.
So then what? So then, nothing. Then will be then, and now will be now. So here I am, no wiser than I was. I will play with my son and sit and count my breath and stare at that green grass.