The vacation cottage we rent every year off the coast of Maine has one of those old gas stoves you have to light with a match. My 9-year-old son, as a boy his age is almost predestined to do, has become obsessed with anything dangerous. Fire, sparklers, cap guns, poppers, and basically anything else that catches fire or explodes. I blame myself; I let him watch Mythbusters, where most of what they do is blow things up or set them on fire. He’s been pleading with me to let him light the stove when it’s time to cook something. To turn the gas knob, strike the kitchen match, set it to the gas jet, and hear and see the whoosh of blue flame. I admit; every time I do it, I get a little thrill. I understand the danger, the excitement.
My first reaction as a liberal, modern-day parent is no effing way. Too dangerous. He might light his flannel sleeper, or his hair, or himself, on fire. But then I think; what would a boy his age living, say, 150 years ago, be expected to do? In 1860, if we were alive and living in Maine, he’d probably be expected to harness the horses and drive them into town himself to pick up our order at the dry-goods store. Or plow the field with an ox. Or chop firewood with a really sharp and heavy axe. Or take the dairy cow to market. Or shoot a fox with a rifle.
Sometimes we think we are living in dangerous times. Maybe more dangerous than any other time humans in history have had to face. Terrorist attacks, tornadoes, hacking, superbugs, government surveillance, child molesters, junk food, environmental apocalypse. But really, driving a few horses into town would have been much more dangerous.
Just last night, my son had a raging earache that he probably got from jumping off a ledge into an old granite quarry here on the island. He probably hit the water at a funny angle and got some water trapped in his ear or behind his eardrum. He was crying out in pain, practically squeezing the blood from my fingers and almost kicking through a window. We paged the doctor on call, he met us at the clinic, looked into his ear with a scope, gave him some ibuprofen and ear drops, and sent us on our way. Today, Owen is fine, acting as if yesterday’s trauma never happened. Think of all the interconnected systems that had to work just right last night to keep my son healthy. A working phone system, an actual doctor on call, basic pain relievers and antibiotics, employer-sponsored health insurance. 150 years ago, my son might still be writhing in agony, with my wife and I almost powerless to do anything save cook up some ineffective home remedy over the wood-fired stove. Of course we don’t want our children to suffer, but neither can we baby them and protect them at every turn. That’s why I let my son light the stove this morning. And why I probably will again.
It can’t be any more dangerous than jumping into a quarry.
beware of attack turkey…bangin’ on pots and pans…pulphead…cat’s table…knowing when the fog will lift by the color of the leaves…too much chocolate…the boom…bike rides…lane’s island…smooth stones… cinnamon sugar donuts…weak sangria…nancy drew…go fish…fireworks in the fog…incoming!…dump shorts…bright hot sun, sea breeze, blue skies…ocean potion…towel, apple, water, sunscreen…blanco the crab…WERU…sound system…red potato salad…where’s the miller high life?…diced onions…tattooed island girls with dirty feet…
After a weekend of of sun, we woke up here in Maine to wind, driving rain, and gray skies. There were whitecaps on the Kennebec River. But when I opened my inbox, I found this “Tip of the Day” from my friend Bhante Bodhidhamma, a British monk who I correspond with occasionally. A link to his group, Satipanya, can be found on the right there. As I sat in my car outside the bank waiting for it to open so that I could have some papers notarized, I looked out at the rain, and the feeling of disgust I woke with was replaced, ever so slightly, with a feeling of joy and even wonder. This rain, I thought, will make the flowers bloom and nourish the grass and the forests that I will lie on and walk through this summer. It will fill up the quarries on Vinalhaven that I will be swimming in in a few months time. It will wash away all the dirt and sand on the streets. Although we might not see daffodils here in Maine yet, still these thoughts on joy can help us find happiness and peace during the quiet moments of our day, even when it’s raining. En-joy!
“It’s spring and the daffodils are out. So I am hoping there is a sense of joy in the air for you. Joy is one of the Illimitables along with love, compassion and equanimity. And just like them it can be developed without boundary, limitlessly. Often in a rushed and overly busy day or in a slow, dull one, our attention fixates on the downers. But notice that there are times when some form of happiness does arise. Often if we are used to excitement we miss out on the sweetness of a quiet joy. Excitement is the subtle enemy of this joy for it is an expression of that desire to be happy in an overly emotional way. Quiet, peaceful joy often arises, but because we are so used to joy as excitement we miss it and fail to appreciate it. Perhaps it comes when, after some engagement, you have a quiet cup of tea; or while walking from here to there in a park or along a quiet street; or stopping and resting from what you are doing for a moment. When you notice this calm joy, say to yourself, ‘I am feeling a calm joy’. Sit with it and appreciate its qualities. And notice how you feel gently energized by it, not just physically but mentally. Then when you are settled in it and have drunk your fill, offer the cup to others and to all beings. ‘May you be joyful and may your joy increase!’ After all, a joy shared is a joy squared, for now you are happy because others are happy. Then there’s the power of ‘positive thinking’. The Buddha is very much into this practice. Even when you feel down, you can note that. Offer yourself a blessing: ‘May my unhappiness decrease. May my unhappiness come to an end.’ After a little while, offer the same blessings to all beings. And then as it were, put it to the side. And start offering joyful blessings to yourself, something sympathetic to oneself. As you begin to lift, offer it to all beings. This is a much better strategy than one offered by self-pity and resignation. ‘I am depressed. I am so depressed. May all beings be depressed!’ Or at work: ‘I’m bored. I’m so bored. May all beings die of boredom!’ So throughout the day, train yourself how to lift the heart with goodwill intentions of joy and see how you feel at the end of the day.”