My son and his father are quietly playing downstairs as I write this.  They are drawing pictures together at the dining room table and I am staying out of their way as they re-establish their bond.  Earlier in the morning, they were playing upstairs, loudly and boisterously, and H was throwing Sami around and doing all of those physical things that I have limited capacity to do.  

This morning I watched Sami climbed up his father’s tall, strong body and touch the ceiling.  They clashed and banged around and did alpha-male stuff.  I try as hard as I can to rough-house with my kid, to provide that outlet that he needs, but I’ll never be as good at it as his dad is.  

What a cascade of emotions I have gone though already this morning!  Listening to them playing so happily upstairs, listening to Sami’s unadulterated, joyous peals of laughter, I felt anger.  Where the fuck have you been, H? my mind declared angrily.  Where the fuck have you been for his third year?

I saw the anger creeping in, the hatred, the self-righteous thoughts, and I saw the illusion in my boiling blood, my shaking hands.  My son is laughing and happy, and I am reacting with negativity and hatred. What a strange thing.  Can I see how ridiculous such a reaction is?  Can I see the overlay of my own pain, taking over, coloring the present with the putrid hues of the past?  Can I make a conscious decision to let go, and to choose the present moment instead?

In taking some time to breathe, I saw that now, right now, in this very moment, everything is beautiful.  My son is having a great time with his father.  I get a little chance to catch up on some things I have been wanting to do.  I downloaded and posted his 3rd birthday pictures to family and friends.  I smiled at the memories of that joyous celebration, and was reminded how blessed I am to be part of such a loving community of family and friends.

Then I took a deep breath and wrote an email to friend of mine who is dying.  Her name is Judi Chamberlin, author and activist.  She is a leader in the movement of “psychiatric survivors” or the “mad movement” - people who have been labeled, coerced, and oppressed by mental health systems, and are now advocating for human rights and meaningful input into the policies and treatments that are supposed to serve them.  I have found that people in this movement are on the leading edge of our society - revolutionaries and visionaries promoting holistic health and wellness for all people. They demand not only just and humane services for people who are suffering but also a just and peaceful society, in which we all take care of one another and see it as our personal responsibility to keep each other healthy and well.  

Judi was such an inspiration to me when I was a young woman, coming to terms with my frightening, traumatic adolescence, made more traumatic by incarceration and forced mental health treatment that demeaned me and nearly destroyed my spirit.  To know Judi subsequently and to work with her has been a tremendous honor.  She will be remarkably missed, but her vision will live on on in the hearts and memories of all the people whom she has touched with her courage. 

Ah, silly me!  I contract so easily into smallness and meanness - clutching on to old hurts for dear life, as if I think they will save me from something.  But as I write to someone who is dying, I am jolted out of my temporarily small self and am reminded of the greatness of the human spirit.  Our nature is to love and to serve and to relieve suffering and to live from a place of compassion and joy.  Buddhism, with all its talk about suffering, is really about the end of suffering, about a joyous path of service and connectedness.

I’m a slow learner, and need constant reminders of this.  I’m lucky that life is always giving me new opportunities to practice and to re-learn what I already know, what I’ve always known.  What I so easily forget.

So I sit and listen to the sounds of my son reconnecting with his father, and endeavor to see it all from the perspective of my big self, a big self that sees these wounds, these past hurts as tiny islands in a vast sea of love and presence.  From this place, I can feel my grief, my anger, my sadness transforming into sympathetic joy, as large as the endless sky.