I interrupted a video call with my dear friend Marcos in order to greet my family. The boys had just come home from school. Levi, my six-year old son, had done a great job restraining himself from opening the door to the guest room where I sat in my favorite yellow arm chair.
“I’ll be out in a minute, buddy,” I called to him.
I could see his silhouette through the opaque glass panel in the door.
“Truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
I slept through my 5am alarm this morning, or, maybe I never set it. I don’t really remember.
Our five-year old son Jakob came into our room just after 6am. I used it as my cue to get out of bed as he assumed my spot, clutching the pillow as he laid down.
Walking out of the bedroom I stepped over our dog ‘Flor’ who was still snoozing.
Bathroom. Heater. Coffee. Shoes. Jacket. Bags. Treats.
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Flor typically walks me in the morning much more than I walk her. This was a good day in that regard though, because she took care of her business quickly, allowing us to turn back towards the apartment after just a few minutes of being outside.
It was a cold morning. And I was happy to be back indoors. Rising to the fifth floor of our building, I exited the elevator and opened the door to blindness. Feeling and hearing the sound of dark silence sitting in the apartment, my eyes quickly adjusted.
Hang up keys. Hang up leash. Empty pockets.
After pouring myself a cup of coffee I proceeded down the hallway to the guest room. Flor curled up at my feet as I eased down into the yellow armchair next to the window.
I would spend the next hour and a half there, simmering in silent meditation. Reviewing the previous day and considering what this one held in store.
The anomaly of everyone sleeping in was an extra treat today. And emotionally I felt like I needed the time. But as the clock rolled past 8am, it became time to begin waking folks up.
Lucas, our three-year old son, had also entered our bed at some point during the night. I spotted his thin, playful, wispy hair, partially matted to his scalp, above the potato sack sized bulge of his curled-up body, snuggled up behind my wife Taryn.
She laid in the middle of our bed, sandwiched between the two boys.
Reaching my left arm carefully across my other son Jakob’s body, I placed my hand on top of the duvet resting on her back.
Sunlight peered through the bottom of the partially raised ‘persiana’ into the bedroom.
“Hey,” I muttered quietly, without whispering, shaking her shoulder slightly, “it’s after 8 o’clock.”
Beautifully open-eyed she sat up. Her face expressed shock at the news of the time as she inhaled the kind of breath one does when coming up for air after being under water.
I handed her the mug of coffee I had been holding in my right-hand, offering it as a kind of consolation that all was well.
Feeling satisfied, I strolled down the hallway back to the kitchen and began to make sandwiches for the boy’s school snack.
Slowly, the once dark and still space of the apartment began to rouse with the morning noise of pattering feet, opening doors, flushing commodes and high-pitched, groggy requests. Meanwhile, the doggy greeting service proceeded forth, as Flor scurried out of the kitchen in search of her signature hind legged balancing hugs.
Likely receiving a stiff arm from Lucas on his way to the living room, she persisted in pursuit of the onesie, pajama wearing three-year old.
Oh God…the comedy of it all, I thought to myself, spreading mayonnaise on the second of three ‘jamon’ sandwiches. I checked my phone. The time was 8:15, which meant we had around 30 minutes until departure for school. This was doable.
Glimpsing Taryn in my peripheral vision near the doorway to the kitchen, I continued with the morning’s duties, focusing in my mind, on what still needed to be done for an on-time take off.
Breakfast, clothes, …
The thoughts were interrupted by a scream.
Taryn quickly turned out of the kitchen, moving towards the shrieks coming from the living room.
A few seconds passed. I held the aluminum foil. My hand suspended in the hair awaiting the report.
“What happened?” Private-eye Jakob had now approached the scene.
“Oh, Flor just threw up,” Taryn answered nonchalantly, already on the way back to the kitchen for a rag and cleaner.
Opening the cabinet below the sink, she collected the necessary cleaning items and returned to the mess.
Before she finished, another shrill bounced through the apartment.
“Flor went poo-poo!!!”
Are you fucking kidding me…?
I could feel a headache coming on. Feeling my jaw clenching-up I searched in vain for access to more hospitable interior resources.
I tried to focus and sink into the sensation of constriction I felt pinching my brain as a first step in attempting to practice the Welcoming Prayer.
To no avail.
I had been knocked off Center and felt the disappointment rising at what seemed like sure defeat. My thoughts were off and running around the corners of my shame basement where little Jonathan dwelled in the self-pity corner.
I don’t actually remember cleaning up the poop in the hallway. I had been cut-off from connection to the moment and my attention was fragmented in the tumbling-dryer like upheaval of my racing negativity.
Walking down the hallway I became conscious of my frozenness when confronted with a simple request by my six-year old son Levi with a look of sheer, “how dare you ask me for something at this moment?”
And although my anger was then already being projected outward, the ugly messages of meaning that were arising out of the basement of despair had public enemy number one, yours truly, in their cross-hairs.
“When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Violence always starts with an act of rejection against the self.
Yet, in passing Levi, something stronger than self-hate began to surround and clarify my shroud of doom, and I glimpsed an opening to choose.
And then a question showed up.
Who do I want to be in this situation? I thought, remembering the innocence of Levi’s face in my mind’s eye.
Welcome imperfection. Welcome control. Welcome need. Welcome Levi. Welcome Jakob. Welcome Lucas. Welcome Taryn. Welcome Flor. Welcome Life. Welcome Home.
“Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.”
Joy is a choice.
We made it to school on time that morning. Just barely. And the romp down our neighborhood’s sidewalks was joyously blissful. A choice of acceptance-celebrating the privilege of living life on life’s terms.
That afternoon, emerging from the guest room, after ending my call, Levi sat in the middle of the hallway playing.
He looked up at me.
Striding over the doggy gate I spotted a small shiner below his left eye.
“Hi daddy,” he said, returning to the scene of his play.
Sitting down slowly if front of him I placed my chin just above my bended knee.
“What happened to your eye, buddy?”
“‘So n’ so’ kicked me,” he said, matter-of-factly, holding a tinge of woe-is-me in his voice.
“What happened?” I asked, genuinely offering curiosity and concern.
I was surprised by the ability I had to be present to the situation.
“The first principal of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”
No blame. Withholding judgement. A better kind of listening.
We eventually got to the bottom of the situation, finding out Levi wasn’t just a victim in the story.
Together, along with Jakob and Taryn, we sat in the hallway in support of our son and brother. We created space to talk about a difficult situation for Levi and his schoolmate. We modeled non-violence in our communication and became a living sign of hope, discovering a new way of being in the world-opening up space for a six-year old boy to access his own connection with a more spacious interior. I’m reminded that it’s only in the presence of this kind of compassionate, collective, curiosity, where real choice even becomes possible.
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”