Footfalls

Footfalls

Cruddy Bows

“At its simplest and most essential, faith is that willingness to continue to move forward.”–Patricia Walden & Jarvis Chen

window of opportunity

I am walking hurriedly along the snow-shushed avenues of Park Slope towards the Gowanus Canal, the only body of water that can’t manage to sparkle.  Little ice globes drop from the trees like arboreal sighs.

The crud in me bows to the crud in you, I holler to the canal.

Blah, the canal answers.

Right-o. The drawbridge is covered in salt.  It would give Lot’s wife a panic attack, all these tiny crystals meant to melt the frozen skin of the earth.  I look down into the flat, gray water, then up at its dance partner, the flat, gray sky.  They seem to recognize each other.  As Brené Brown– researcher-storyteller and compassion-cowgirl– says, “Only when we know the darkness in ourselves can we be present with the darkness of others.”  Pellets of ice fall like punctuation.

I’m going to see R, who can speed-dial what some yogis refer to as source with her eyeballs: by looking right at you, while she kindly coaxes your pain to come out and play in the fresh air.   And your pain goes: Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee. What really seems to matter for healing to take place is that “your” pain, and the subtle layers of connective tissue that bind it to “your” joy, be seen.  That the other person doesn’t look away, not even if your nose runs all over your upper lip.  After all, in a staring contest with God, God’s got all the time in the world on her side. 

I think of Brene’s digest of Pema Chodron, champion of compassion: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It is a relationship between equals” (16).  Got that right, sistah!  The sky may be infinite, but the water can contain the infinite.  Same same.

left hand right hand parity

Swamped

At the swampy street corners, I suspend my quick pace just long enough to strategize about where to put my foot down next: alleys of icy slush? Tall, dirty snowdrifts?

Where is a safe place for the next step?

This is a spiritual as well as practical question.  And where do you put your foot, ultimately?  The only place it can go.  Which is usually exactly what you were trying to avoid: the deep, wet part.

It’s the recurrent winter koan:  how do you step in a puddle without stepping in a puddle? Pass through without suffering from passing through?

Exactly.

The cars zoom through the crosswalks.  They mean it.  Even in this bad weather–schools closed, walking iffy– when pedestrians are unusually compromised and the acuity of most people falters, the cars are tough.  And they don’t care that it’s their speed or your pants.

In New York, when the weather is at its worst, garbage amasses.  Normal collection schedules are forfeited.  Bins and bags rise, topsy-turvy, out of the snow like renovated Deities, patched together from the shit we tried to get rid of.   The result is a collaboration between nature and our detritus which forms shapes awkward, imposing, and random.  If this were Wednesday of Genesis Week, the Lord might begin to doubt his scheme.  Take up a new hobby, like paintball or knitting.

I pass an older Chinese woman, hair in a rough ponytail, sorting through blue plastic bags stuffed with trash, moving them from one garbage bin to another and back.  She observes her work then shakes her head, stamps her feet in their stiff boots, and wipes her thick gloves on her equally plastic pants. Repeat.  It’s as if she’s auditioning for the part of an Urban Sisyphus.  Nothing, really, happens.

nothin' flowers all over

“–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,/
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”—Juan Ramon Jiminez

If The Sock Fits

Just when I’m cruising, my left boot floods completely, the way an eye fills spontaneously with tears when someone says I love you. For the next mile, I’m in my own private puddle, which seems even colder than the already cold outside temperature.  What we take personally really does go to the bone.

I have ten minutes before my appointment, and my tears brim over; sadness practices that martial art of quiet, invisible presence.  Emotion, like Jackie Chan, is always crouched to pounce.  And when it does pounce, I try the remedy that (sometimes) worked when I was small: call my parents.

Since I’m near his workplace, I try my Dad on the phone:

Dad, do you happen to have an extra pair of socks at your office?

Never mind his feet are double the size of mine: warm plus dry equals perfect.

Let me look, he says kindly.  And proceeds to look nowhere, because he knows he doesn’t have what I need. I can hear him looking nowhere; through the phone it sounds like nobody is doing anything.

Sorry, he says.

I pass by the fascist yoga place: why not?  I go in and stand, dripping, on the plastic bag laid down as a weather-guard in front of the door.  Here, at least, I might receive low-grade pity and good cheer.  My boot immediately lets out a ring of water around me as if it has just peed.

The two people at the desk look at me, a cloth diagram of the chakras dangling behind where they sit.  They are always ready for yoga.

heartily spinning

Hi, I say. Do you, by any chance, sell socks?

The student receptionist cuts me a smile like she’s been saving it for me all day and measured it precisely to fit my face.  Yes! She says.

I’m going to have to rethink my assumptions about fascist yogis who are also fortuitously sock vendors.  The gods can assume any form the human mind can imagine.

Mine are drenched, I say.  I’m not going to walk into your studio.

She squats by the lucky bin on the lowest shelf.  The socks she retrieves are fitted for sports, whiter than white, the N in nylon, with plastic dots for traction on the soles.  They are marked with the insignia HSP, “Health Smile Peace”—in primary colors, as befits the building blocks of your own well-being.

A little Smiley Guy, emblazoned into the arch of the sock, smiles up at the wearer forebodingly.  He is meant to remind you that it’s better to be you, however wet and miserable, than a Smiley Guy, pathologically cheerful, merged with cheap fabric and sweaty feet, so just get on with it, smile and feel your innate health and peace.

I can hear Smiley Guy talking to me through the plastic wrap like a furious guru:

Do you feel peaceful?

No, I say.  I feel wet and childish and….

But do you feel peaceful? The Smiley Guy interrupts forcefully, as if only a dummy would stop at those adjectives.

I think he should meditate on his face before someone sewed him on.  But we’re about to be intimate, he and I.  So I extend my credit card compassionately.

I’m taking you home with me, I tell him.  And your lovingkindness.  I used to have goldfish.  Now I have you.

She sells me the socks right in the doorway.  Sixteen dollars.  Perfect.  Just what I was hoping to pay for some crappy socks with poor design and a weird bump in the back so you’re sure to get a blister should you wear them with shoes.  Instructions on the package warn: do not sterilize these in boiling water!  Well, duh!  Because there is a dude on them!  But, O.K. Check.

I’m not even going to sterilize you, I try to convey to Smiley Guy with body-language alone.

As I leave, and the yogis settle down, it occurs to me that you really don’t know where relief lies or how it will come—or your own capacity to find peace in the throes of discomfort.  Even Smiley Guy has to concede this point.  Once you are a being in the world, you are not protected—no plastic wrap, no instructions on how you should be used, no specifications for washing.  But you are connected—and it is incumbent upon you to figure out how.

Weighing In

the one i'd been waiting for

As it is, R lets me put my sopping Maggie Moo socks on her whistling office radiator to dry, and I step into the crosshairs of her caring gaze barefoot.  Outside her office door in the dimly lit hallway, two stooped old men are taking turns weighing one another on the medical scale.  Neither of them can see the register.  We hear them muttering and laughing.  Through the window, I can see the ice religiously laying down its slippery film: over the confusion, over the elation.  Nothing, really, happens.  But it’s a tremendous kind of nothing; if you put it on the scale, even stripped of its wet socks, it would grate against the very depths.

bowl at the depths

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7 Responses to “Footfalls”

  1. abhiqrtz Says:

    If I were to enumerate just the number of sentences that I was laughing at, I’d pretty much cover the entire post out.

    Marvellous!

    Hope to keep following you…

    And may your journey, through deities made of crap and smiley guy socks, be fulfilled.

    • saraknowsyou Says:

      can you reveal thyself? the journey is marvelous already, but that has nothing to do with my tinkering.

  2. abhiqrtz Says:

    Reveal thyself?

    Wow!

    Not much to, honestly. And whatever there is, you’ll find on me blog. And the gravatar guides you there.

    Actually, come to think of it, I should be asking that question. Reveal thyself?

  3. Jamie Says:

    Faith is the seed, practice the rain…

    picked from the Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta.

  4. Jim Melfi Says:

    Thank you for making mention of Brene Brown in this post! She has a great talk at TED.com which I highly recommend. Thanks again for sharing her with your readers. Jim Melfi, Founder, videotalks.org

    • saraknowsyou Says:

      Yes! Yes yes YES! I first her found her through that TEDtalk. I disseminated it. Thanks for showing up on Massive Missive with your treasure trove. Love & Beans! S

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