On Thursday night, my wife broke my ankle.
Trying to be gallant, I lifted her up and held her in my arms. We walked down a little bridge, but when I went to approach the oval pond, I didn’t remark on the position of that first step. Consequently, we went flying down the hill, rolling over three times, eventually winding up in the water, totally soaked. This is the only injury that resulted.
Almost from the beginning, I began to reflect on reasons to be grateful for this painful and disruptive event. I thought, well, if I were hauling bricks on my head in India, this would be a devastating injury that might lead me to go hungry or homeless. When I was treated in the ER- a room that, despite its bureaucracy, I felt was full of love- I thought, wow, it’s amazing to walk in here and have all these people taking care of me, and that this is made possible by all of us paying taxes. As small as the jest might be, we feel a need to take care of everyone and ensure they have a baseline safety net, and we are willing to pay for it. I love telling my American friends that I didn’t get a bill for all the care. Plus, they gave me crutches for free, surely the result of some random act of bureaucratic kindness in the Ministry of Heath, when someone adjusted the definition of what is “included” in the care of a broken ankle. I wonder how much that costs every year.
Here’s a great practice: reflect on everyone as yourself. Put yourself in everyone else’s position, with everyone else’s backgrounds and traumas and day-to-day struggles, and imagine that you are living that. If you’re a banker, realize that you could have just as easily been the mailman. If you’re living in a peaceful country, imagine that the people you see on the TV in conflict zones are your neighbors, brothers, and sisters. This practice really helps to break down the ego-based barriers we put up between us and the world, because it results in empathy and compassion.
My wife is currently at a meditation retreat she’s been organizing for the past nine months. So my injury couldn’t have come at a worse time! In the days leading to her departure, I expressed to her that I was feeling jealous of the people who would come and get to meditate for a whole week.
Lo and behold, I get my wish. I really needed to slow down and stay in one place for awhile, and here I will get to do just that. The only thing is, this is a “home retreat.” The only difference between me and the people on the retreat is that theirs doesn’t involve cleaning poopy diapers.
If I look at it this way, I can creatively engage with the time instead of just letting it push me around. Perhaps I can open up to a new way of experiencing time, to seeing the eternal in the finitude of spilled pasta and crying children.
It’s a retreat where I’m going to have to deal with the internet, and the temptation to run on to it anytime there’s an empty moment. This will be challenging, but challenges are where we can grow the most.
I will endeavor to share some reflections with you as the week goes on.
Oh, and here is Gabriel’s first selfie (with our friend Auriel):