Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Second Arrow

Here at W & L, we have three more days until the end of classes; finals week follows that, and then Spring Break. 

Just about everyone I see here is sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and bogged down in professional, personal and world drama.  I'm counting myself as one of those people. 

As I walk to school in the biting wind beneath a promising sun, each step feels like one step too many.  I keep tripping on Lexington's famous bricks.  I'm kicking myself for falling back into depression after a wonderful reunion with family over the weekend.  Why am I so bad at dealing with life?  I argue with myself about the best way to deal with my exhaustion:  count my blessings, admire the wild violets in uncut grass (they'll be gone once the lawnmowers move in), make another, better, "to do" list? 

I even stop at a cafe to pick up a cup of chai, a rare treat in these diabetic days.  There, I run into a local pastor who tells me a funny story about some bizarre selection of songs he heard at an earlier gathering, and when I laugh at the story and the pastor's wry, puzzled expression as he tells it, I surprise myself.  I didn't realize I had a laugh in me.

As I walk back out into the street, I remember this story:

“The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is." The Buddha then asked, "If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

No matter how many times I remind myself not to loose that second arrow, the one where I berate myself for being slow, tired, overwhelmed, inadequate or simply bad at adulting ... I do it anyway.  I guess what I should praise myself for is not going on to the third arrow??

Anyway, as we trudge toward the end of this semester, enduring wacky spring weather, meetings, political doomsday, and whatever personal demons are at work ... I'll keep working at catching that second arrow before I release it.  This does not come easy to me.  I think it's important to note that it is much harder for survivors of trauma (that first arrow) - and this group most frequently includes people of color, LGBTQ, low-income and women's communities - to overcome deeply ingrained narratives of blame and guilt.  And being a "survivor" doesn't mean we've left those moments of trauma in the distant past.  It means we're always already survivors, walking through racism, sexism, micro and macro aggressions ALL. DAY. LONG.  When is there time to recuperate?  When is there a place to take refuge?

I'm glossing over huge things here.  Probably because I'm too tired and busy to dive into the places this post could go if I let it.  Some of this, I simply don't have language for yet.  But I want to try.

Little moments of joy do happen.  Maybe it's just a good laugh.  Maybe it's knowing, really knowing for sure, for one fierce moment, that we are loved or protected or cherished.  Time isn't linear.  I'm learning to return to those moments and let them feed me when my soul is starving.  And sometimes there are little gifts, like this morning's violets. 

I'm no Pollyanna.  Life can suck.  A lot. 

Another reason why that second arrow really isn't necessary.  I'll keep reminding myself.  Again and again and again.  Like those wild violets: persistent, resistant, tenacious little suckers. No wonder I love them so much.

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