This afternoon, on my way home early from work, throat burning, fever racking my body with chills, I listened to the most delightful dharma talk by Roshi Bernie Glassman, founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order.  I was struck so hard by something he said that my eyes welled up with appreciative tears:

“Take the ingredients you have and make the best meal you can.” 

The context for this quote was that Glassman used to think when he was a young monk that he had to be “enlightened” before going out and making a difference in the world.  After an awakening experience that he had, he discovered that this notion was “bullshit.”

I’ve been thinking that instead of obsessing over the return of the ex, instead of allowing myself to be consumed by my own unhealed wounds, I can ask some positive questions.  

What can I make out of these ingredients?  How can I serve?

Most immediately, how can I serve my son?  How can I facilitate his having a relationship with his father again?  How can I do my very best to protect him, but then let him go and be with his dad?  

We are taking baby steps.  My ex sent me a schedule of times he would like to come and see Sami over the next six weeks until we can agree on a set schedule.  He’s agreed to come with me on Monday nights and pick Sami up at school, so Sami can get used to seeing him in that context.  We’re starting off with short visits and working from there.  

I may not like the reality, but the ex is an ingredient in our lives now.  For however long that lasts. It’s amazing what a difference it makes in my attitude if I look at how I can make the best meal I can, if I put the focus on how I can help my child rather than how I can make myself feel better about the situation or “get over” my anger at the ex.  The past has happened and it has impacted on the present - it’s still impacting on the present, but I can choose to give it its proper weight, to live for today, and to let the future take care of itself.  

My evening with Sami was blissful and relaxing.  We did every puzzle in his puzzle collection and he praised me highly when I got a piece in its proper place - “Nice job, mama!”  Parenting is often a thankless job, so it’s cool to get some validation - even if he was just talking about a puzzle piece.  (I’ve written before about being a praise junkie.)

Tonight I chose to nourish myself with music, which I have been doing a lot lately.  Tonight I blasted the “Swingin’ Christmas” station on Pandora.com.  I’m Jewish but Christmas music soothes me, reminding me of happy moments from my childhood: visits to my family in Milwaukee.  The smell of my grandfather’s car, the roughness of his cheek, the cloying mixture of his aftershave and my grandmother’s perfume, of breath spray and stale cigarette smoke.  The olfactory remembrance of being little and loved and doted on by grown-ups I looked up to. Memory is weird like that - Christmas music evokes all of that for this Jewish girl.

Tonight, our house felt cozy and full of life, even if it was just the two of us rattling around in it.  I felt connected to my child and not off in my head in a world of fear, doubt, and insecurity.  That world is always there for me when I choose to dwell in it.  But I am also able to make a different choice and to pull out of the tailspin.  It takes a lot of strength and courage to choose to respond in a new way, even when all our thoughts and behavior patterns are pushing us to a habitual response.  I am not always up the task of making a different choice, and more often than not I get swept up in reactivity.  The results always amaze me when I am willing to try something new.

So tonight, I am swallowing past a sore throat, bundling up against chills, and dreaming up a most delicious recipe, lovingly crafted out of the ingredients of this strange and wonderful existence.