Today is September 11, 2011. It is National Grandparents’ Day and the 105th anniversary of the beginning of Ghandi’s non-violent protest campaign in South Africa. It is also a sunny, bright, warm fall day in the Midwest, just as it was 10 years ago. The 4 U.S. plane crashes on this day a decade ago have almost completely commandeered the date and the collective memory. Pivotal days have a way of doing that…or not. What I remember of September 11, 2001 is similar to what I remember of August 18, 1978. Many people died on the first date, none of whom I knew personally. My sister died on the second date, while I sat beside her in her overturned car. What I remember is how blue the sky looked behind a stalk of prairie grass on the side of the interstate. I went to the prairie on 9/11, and the sky was a brilliant blue that day, too. Life as I knew it changed forever, and didn’t change. It’s peculiar how our minds perceive things and how we turn the world on our own anthropocentric axis, meanwhile the universe keeps “unfolding as it should”.
Please don’t misunderstand my musing. I don’t mean to say that the plane crashes were something that “should” have happened or that my sister’s crash “should” have happened. I also don’t mean to say that they “shouldn’t” have happened. They did happen, and other stuff happened. Where I attach importance, though, is exactly that – me attaching importance, and I want to keep that in mind.
In Buddhism, there are 3 described causes of suffering: attachment, aversion and ignorance. Attaching importance to something can cause suffering. My daughter remembers an early crushing loss: we were driving home from a church event, and she had a balloon animal in her hand that was whisked out of the car window by a gust of fast air. She was so surprised to be so suddenly bereft of her “mousie” and cried all the way home. I was curious how she got so attached to something she’d only had for an hour. I can’t quite imagine how to live without any attachments, but I am becoming more aware of the nature and consequences of attachments. I still choose to be attached to some things, knowing that I may have to suffer their loss one day.
What do we teach our children about attachment? What do we teach ourselves? When do we say, “Get over it” and when do we say, “That’s terrible!” What do we do with a cultivated love for impermanent things? I have a cultivated love of summer: warm temperatures, sunny skies, green things all around. I feel the changes in the air, the shortening of the daylight hours and begin to suffer from my attachment a little. I remind myself that I love Fall as well. My very favorite colors in the universe show themselves wherever I look. Rich red burgundies, intense golden yellow, muted soft green. Then the branches are bare, and I begin to despair until the first gentle snowflakes against a night sky drop magic all around. When it’s piled up 18 inches here in Wisconsin for the 8th week in a row, I get SAD (S. A. D.) until a crocus peeks out bright green in the mud. The cycle keeps turning. Steve did an identity exercise some years ago that brought him to this conclusion: I am the joy in change and movement. That has been his touchstone ever since. I am beginning to relax and enjoy the change and movement in life and fight against it a little less each day. Every day is pivotal and beautiful, just like that morning ten years ago.