When I was fifteen I was passionate about folk music and angry at the world. I was angry at social injustices and centuries-old guilt that had nothing to do with me but still haunted my bleeding heart. I was angry about the damage done to the environment, about which I felt powerless to do anything. I was angry about feeling hurt and weak and guilty and impotent in the face of so much…bullshit. And it probably goes without saying, but fairly often I was angry at my parents.
A favorite teacher at my high school kindly described all this rage as “teenage angst.” Angst! What a perfect word! The “ahhhhhh!” sound, open-throated out only to be choked off by an awkward gaggle of consonants tangled up trying to get through the door at the same time, all knees and elbows. Yep, angst. That about sums it up.
Today, I was reminded today of this angsty period, fortunately with more of a sense of humor than I had at the time. I had dated a boy, the first boy I ever dated in fact, and oh, if I’d known the warning signs then – this boy was a die-hard Republican, conservative to his bones, a fundamentalist hellfire sorta guy, and besides being my polar opposite in every way except age, he loved to get me riled. (I’ve observed this as a recurring pattern over the years. I now recognize it – the people who like to poke at you and laugh when you get mad. I double dog dare you to laugh at me now! *grin*) Knowing how I worshipped at the funky patchwork shrine of Bob Dylan and all his folksy retinue, my boyfriend relished playing that Cracker song that goes, “What the world needs now is another folk singer like I need a hole in the head.” And then that red rage would rise, my cheeks would burn, my eyes would flash, and he’d laugh his scrawny boy butt off.
What was I thinking? This question, by the way, has also been a recurring theme as years go by.
So I was reminded of that today. My mom lent me a book recently. I think my mom and I sometimes speak to each other in books. It’s like a subtle code: “I want you to understand me. Read this. This rings true. Please understand.” Each book shared and opened, more than just a book opens. So my beautiful, patient mother lent me Traveling Mercies by Annie Lamott, and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a very humorous, wry, and heart-full collection of stories and memoirs from a hilarious, tough ol’ softy kind of dame, dancing around issues of faith and spirituality. I’m not Christian myself, but I am deeply spiritual, and I think my mom knew that I would “get it.” And I do. And I love it, and I love that she shared it with me, and I love what it says about her. It’s passed the great reading test—even when reading it in public, I still get misty-eyed at moments or laugh out loud.
So about two-thirds of the way through the book, this poem by Nanao Sakaki appears:
In the morning
After taking cold shower
—–what a mistake—–
I look at the mirror.
There, a funny guy,
Grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin,
—–what a pity—–
Poor, dirty, old man!
He is not me, absolutely not!
Land of life
Fishing in the ocean
Sleeping in the desert with stars
Building a shelter in mountains
Farming the ancient way
Singing with coyotes
Singing against nuclear war—
I’ll never be tired of life.
Now I’m seventeen years old,
Very charming young man.
I sit down quietly in lotus position,
Meditating, meditating for nothing.
Suddenly a voice comes to me:
“To stay young,
To save the world,
Break the mirror.”
This was a “woah” moment. I’ve been studying herbalism for over a year now, which led me to permaculture and to ayurveda, which led me back to yoga and meditation, all of which led me to a much deeper understanding and compassion to my own pains and patterns, joys and strengths, and the humility of seeing the road to wisdom disappearing into the distance ahead.
Now I’m laughing at myself for getting so ridiculously riled about that Cracker song lyric. I actually find myself in agreement: “If you want to save the world, shut yer mouth!”
The poem’s last phrase, “To stay young, / To save the world, / Break the mirror!” That’s the commandment. Don’t live in negatives—don’t spout invectives, don’t let rage be your food, don’t let your present life and work waste away for want of nourishment while your soul is mourning things on the other side of the earth: BE PRESENT. Here and now, live in affirmation. Rather than talk about injustice, practice justice. Do something. Live: build create nourish strengthen grow teach learn inspire breathe and be.
A while back, another great teacher told me to make wise choices, because I might be the only bible some people ever read. I still believe in the spirit of that advice. Every choice we make in our worlds matters. Every dollar we spend is a vote. Every bit of love we put into the world, every song we sing, every rift we mend, everything that we learn and teach and learn again—it continues outward, weaving in, passing the thread hand to hand, rippling out until our one tiny moment has touched people in places and times that we will never know ourselves. Our present, our presence, every minute act—positive or negative—has great power. It colors the threads we spin. It stains the fingers of every other person who touches these threads, blending with their own colors, passing on and on and on, under and over and under again.
We are so powerful. Wield with care.