BY JUDITH WALCUTT
August 23, 2017
All photos by the author
The golden plums of Honeymoon Bay are finally ripe. They were still green when last I wrote. There is no hurrying them. Pick too soon, they never ripen. Pick too late, and they cook in their own fermenting sugars, turning their gold skins tawny, as the fruit combusts from the inside. I walked up the road and found a handful of them on the verge of perfect.
“Perfect.” What a funny word! It means so much, to so many! But none can define it for themselves, let alone for someone else. What was perfect for me in a suit of clothes, even a mere ten years ago, doesn’t feel or look perfect to me now. Why should it? We are volatile, vulnerable beings in a changing world.
And in a changing world, it behooves us to remember, even change wears a mask and plays at illusion. The wonderful French phrase: “Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same) evokes a whiff of that overly heavy perfume conjuring the feeling of reeling in some kind of nightmare we can’t quite get the meaning of. Is this change? Or is this not only the same old thing, but the same old thing—only, possibly, worse?
The series of events of the past few weeks—from playful threats of “limited” nuclear holocaust to the recent vindication of hate-centric mayhem have me stumped. I have tried to find an equivalent moment in all my nearly 65 years to measure this against, and I come up with a real hodge-podge of horrors, many of which I didn’t experience firsthand, but some of which I have lived through.
Born in 1952, like all children growing up at that time in the U.S. of A., I was protected from the reality of the Second World War, which I had not lived through. I saw only renditions of it on television, in black-and-white movies which, from my childhood perspective, seemed to come from forever ago and the pictures, as portrayed by Hollywood, made it all look glorious in a “God is My Co-Pilot” sort of way.
Later, scratchy black-and-white footage would emerge, documenting the depth and level of atrocities.
The fact that my parents, my uncles, everyone else’s parents, sons, and daughters, had actually all gone through it—was a story I heard only in limited pieces. No one really wanted to talk about it. Everyone was happy to put it in the past. The war. So many dead. So many losses. V-Day in the end. That was WWII, as it was abbreviated in the history books, freshly printed, in the post-war boom.
I didn’t begin to know what it meant until I read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Every time I thought about it, that little girl living in the walls of a house in the midst of that kind of mayhem—deep hatred, out of control—my heart hurt, my solar plexus ached, and I felt something that made me want to help her, or someone like her. I wanted assurances from the grown-ups around me, that that would never happen again.
All these years later, as a practicing Buddhist, I still see and feel that moment in my body again when I think of Anne Frank, and I recognize the feeling as one of raising compassion in my heart and mind, raising what is termed “bodhicitta,” or “awakening mind,” which is the feeling of wanting to benefit others, wanting to help, wanting to ease the pain of another.
I believe this feeling in our gut is our higher self “phoning home,” checking in with this human condition we’re in: “Hello heart? Hello soul? Anybody or anything there?”
More experienced and knowledgeable Buddhist practitioners would say—there is nothing there! Thoughts do not exist. Consciousness just is. Everything you perceive with your eyes or ears or even fingers is a product of your own mind—and since thoughts don’t exist, this whole deal, the whole banana, does not exist.
Sometimes that thought about things not really being real helps, and sometimes it just feels like nihilistic escapism. In either case, it is a good attitude adjuster, if you can go with it for even a moment—or moment-by-moment, just resting your mind in the sky and getting some perspective on the busy-busy world below.
So, what am I saying about this particular moment in time? The one I just can’t wrap my mind around, because it is too confounding? By the time you read this, the eclipse will have had its day, and the change it embodies will have had its moment, and then, like the illusion of unity it presents, the light will change, the headlines will change, and we, together and alone, will change.
I am considering that the best way to make it a change for the better, is to let it evoke higher emotions and not baser ones. Think of Anne Frank. Think of Heather Heyer. Let yourself ache with the yearning to help, like an armless mother aches for her child who is drowning, feel the pain of that deep love and with that feeling, feel the urge to help and decline the urge to harm. This is the raising of bodhicitta in action.
Above all: remember—this may all disappear. For better or worse, what we have here is temporary—all the more reason to rise above and not sink below.
Of all the human activities that help us negotiate our way through changing realities, hard times, painful juxtapositions, and disharmonious outcomes, Art in all its forms is at the top of the list. Here on Whidbey, we have so many talented artists among us, keeping our collective consciousness healthy and thriving. We can pay them back for the mind-clearing service they render us by going to see their work, by basking in their extraordinary visions and reshaping of worlds both inner and outer. With their articulations of beauty and their shaping of realities beyond our grasp, we need art and artists more than ever.
I am grateful I live in a place where creativity and the will to do good over harm prevails, in a local, daily way. I can see it with my own eyes and believe it.
Judith Walcutt is a writer and producer living on Whidbey Island for three decades while practicing Buddhism for two—still a newcomer and a beginner. She began writing “Minding the Sky” in 2012 as a means to wrestle with the ordinary, luminous details of island life and the bigger picture.
Read the other story published this week
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