Friday, December 26, 2014

Making Peace with Christmas ... WWBD?

When I first began practicing the teachings of Buddha, I wasn't sure how to reconcile my Christian roots. More specifically, I wasn't sure if I should celebrate Christmas. 

I grew up loving all the holiday traditions. I didn't want to give up decorating a tree or hanging the stockings by the chimney with care. On the other hand, I felt like a hypocrite celebrating a Christian holiday when I didn't believe in it the way that (many) Christians do. 

I like to think that I follow the teachings of Christ, just as I follow Buddha’s wisdom, but if don't call myself a Christian, should I celebrate Christ's birth? Am I just in it for the gifts?

Of course, there's a lot of holiday excess and bling that's not very Buddhist —or Christian, for that matter. Not to throw the Baby Jesus out with the bath waterbut the holiday has become one of our culture's ultimate expressions of attachment — and Buddhists consider attachment one of the Three Poisons (or delusions) that keep us trapped in suffering. 

We long for something, and we're dissatisfied because we don't have it. We spend a lot of time thinking about this longed-for thing or event. We forget to be present and grateful for all the gifts we already have. Then we get the gift (or relationship or job or possession) that we longed for, and we suffer when it (ultimately) goes away.

Is the answer to not to celebrate at all? No. In its purest form, Christmas is about spreading happiness and love,  peace on earth and good will to all. These intentions are at the core of Buddhist principles. So, when it comes to honoring the holidays, I need to consider, "What would Buddha do?" (WWBD?) 

Buddha would consider the facts. After more than 2000 years, Jesus teachings still encourage us to be our best selves. Sure there have been miscarriages of his wisdom, but there has been far more positive change in our world because of him. That 2.2 billion people aspire to follow Christ's teachings today—especially when there is so much suffering and delusion in the world — is a miracle. 

It's so easy to become polarized about our beliefs. But spiritual practices don't have to be mutually exclusive. It's not a competition. The Buddha certainly wouldn't care that Jesus has more followers or Facebook friends. From what I've read about the Buddha, he'd be the first person to "Like" Jesus. The Buddha would definitely celebrate Jesus' birth. Just because Jesus’ teachings are more popular, the Buddha wouldn’t pout like an Auburn fan after losing the 2014 Iron Bowl to Alabama. The Buddha would shout, "Go Jesus! Go!"

So this year, at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Jack, Jason and I bundled up and walked three blocks to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church for their Christmas Eve service. When Jack made feint protest about attending, I heard myself say, "The whole reason we celebrate Christmas and have all these gifts under the tree is because Jesus was born."

Even my tenacious pre-teen couldn't argue with that logic.

"No matter what we believe, Jesus has inspired a lot of people to do a lot of good in this world," I said. "For that reason alone, we should honor his birth."

I'm still trying to define my own traditions, but for now I've resolved my holiday spirit. With renewed enthusiasm, I'll continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who brought us enlightened teachings about love, compassion and forgiveness and so much more. And I will continue to practice Buddhism, which encourages understanding, equanimity, meditation and mindfulness. And like the Buddha, I will say, “Go Jesus! Go! Enlighten the World! Happy Birthday! And Merry Christmas one and all— everyday of the year!”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Santa of My Understanding

It finally happened. A few weeks ago, Jack cornered me and demanded the answer to the one question I have long dreaded. I'm prepared for most of the biggies: "How exactly are babies made?"  "Did you ever smoke pot?" "What happens when you die?" and "Why did you and Dad get divorced?" But (strangely) I caught off guard by this simple quiz:

Look closely and you'll see evidence
of Santa's existence.
"Is Santa real?" he asked.

Honestly, I didn't think Jack believed in Santa anymore. I suspected that he'd heard rumors at school and was just playing along.

"What do you think?" I said, deftly lobbing the ball back into his court. I needed to at least buy some time and see where this inquisition was coming from.

"I dont' know," he sad. "That's why I'm asking you."

Crap. My question deflector failed. Time for tactic #2: Change the subject.

"OK," I said. "So ... what do you want for dinner?"

Yes, I was tap dancing for time here; and it worked momentarily as Jack lobbied to have pizza for a second night in a row.

"But Mom," he said. "You didn't answer my question: Is there really a Santa Claus?"

Dang! I was backed into a corner now. There was only one thing left to do: Be honest.

"Well, I believed in him when I was a kid," I said. "And I still think he's real."

I paused for a moment.

"Yes, as far as I can tell, Santa IS real," I said.

"Yeah," Jack said. "I think so, too."

And that was that — for then. The subject came up again the next week, and again I testified to my belief  in Santa and the conversation ended. But Jack isn't convinced and I'm sure it's hard to be a Believer these days when your almost 13 and there's a lot of Santa smack talk going down among your peers.

But in the best possible way, Jack's query tested my own beliefs and made me think. I do believe in Santa, but who is Santa?

The Santa I have come to know and see at work in the world at Christmas time is the embodiment of happiness, unconditional love and joy. The Santa of my understanding is generous and playful and spontaneous. He inspires the world to look for opportunities to give — and to receive —with gratitude, not just at Christmas, but year 'round.

Toward the end of his life, the renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung was asked an equally tough question in a BBC television interview, "Do you believe in God now?" Jung paused, looked right into the camera, smiled and said, "I know. I don't need to believe. I know." By this, I think he meant that he had seen evidence of a Divine power in the world and therefore there he no longer had need for blind faith or belief.*

So if Jack should ask again, I will rely on a mind far greater than mine and borrow Jung's response. I don't need to believe in Santa. I know Santa, I know.


*Jung provided this explanation of his statement in a follow-up letter to BBC TV:
"Only my experience can be good or evil, but I know that the superior will is based upon a foundation which transcends human imagination. Since I know of my collision with a superior will in my own psychical system, I know of God, and if I should venture the illegitimate hypostasis of my image, I would say, of a God beyond good and evil, just as much dwelling in myself as everywhere else: Deus est circulus cuius centrum est ubique, cuis circumferentia vero nusquam. (God is a circle whose center is everywhere, but whose circumference is nowhere.)"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Do-Over Life: 4 Years Later

Some people believe that four is the number of completion. There are four seasons, four directions, four elements, four cycles of the moon,  four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and, of course, four Hunger Games movies ...  I'm not sure of its karmic significance, but four years ago, I began this blog as a chronicle of my spiritual journey. I wasn't so bold to announce that I was on a quest for spirituality, but that's exactly what it was — and continues to be. And four years later ... here I am. 

I began writing about my interest in Buddhism and how I was incorporating the Buddha's teachings into my daily life as a writer, Mom, friend, sister, etc. I embarked on a new phase of my life and I found writing about it helped. I suppose I shared my experiences as a means of validating them. Some of my blog entries received praise. Some people ridiculed me, pointed out my typos and grammatical lapses, gaphawed at my home-spun Buddhist-Catholic wisdom. (And yes, I do realize that was not a reflection of me as much as it was of these critics.) Accepting this criticism was a gift since it marked a tremendous hurdle to cross as a writer and a person, who used to look to others for my value.
Where it all began ... 

Over the past 48 months, since I launched this blog, I've accomplished a lot. I reported stories for NPR and Marketplace. I attended retreats at Thich Nhat Hanhs' monastery in Mississippi and studied with Rabbi Rami Shapiro in Tennessee.  I stopped smoking after more years than I care to recount of being addicted to nicotine. I joined a 12-Step recovery group. I've met a lot of wonderful people along the way and have been inspired to keep going on my path.

In the past four years, I've also experienced significant loss. My marriage legally concluded, and I had to let go of the dream of having a "traditional" family.  I said goodbye to my friends, Jenniffer Franks and Wendy Rooney Beadle, both of whom succumbed to cancer. I've seen age take the form of wrinkles and jiggles and aches that weren't present in my youth. I've set aside longed for outcomes that I realize (now) were egocentric aspirations. (For example, I will never be Terry Gross' replacement on Fresh Air.)





Of course, I had a lot of starts and stops. Dating again after 15 years of marriage was an eye-opener to say the least. Online dating was a major fail, with the exception of meeting a few really nice guys who are now my friends. Only when I let go of my idea of love and romance did I meet Jason. We've been together now for almost three years. Amazing. I've learned to create a new "traditional" family in a new home of my design.


My career has also seen it's share of twists and turns and continues to unfold in interesting ways. Over the years, I've had to resign accounts and quit jobs to remain healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically. Freelance writing seems to suit me. Although the uncertainty of income is difficult at times, I love the freedom it affords. In the past year, I have written a book (or two), which is the realization of a long-held goal.

I've learned so much over the past four years! That's certainly self-evident in these 120+ blog entires. Recently, I've been asked to share some of my experiences as a teacher for the Institute for Conscious Being. In my workshops, I teach students how to use writing as a tool for spiritual practice. Indeed, I've found writing and meditation have a lot in common when it comes to discerning truth. 


When I consider all that has transpired over the past four years, if feels like a rebirth. I was given another chance by — for lack of a better term —God, who I perceive to be a compassionate power far greater than me and my ideas. 

I believe we all have lives within our lives. Every day, when I wake up I have the chance to respond to life in a healthier manner. And that wake-up call is not just in the morning when I first get out of bed. Waking up can happen at anytime, any minute of any day. At anytime, I can stop and determine to live a healthier and more authentic life. I don't have to wait until 12:01 a.m. on January 1 to give up negative habits or start practicing positive ones. As soon as I discover a motive, intention or response that I'd like to change, I can change it.

In her book, No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, my favorite Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron says, "At some point, we need to stop identifying with our weaknesses and shift our allegiance to our basic goodness. It’s highly beneficial to understand that our limitations are not absolute and monolithic, but relative and removable. The wisdom of buddha nature is available to us at any time." 

The Way of the Bodhisattva was written by the 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva. It outlines the method for becoming a wisdom being who will return again and again (as necessary) until all sentient beings reach enlightenment. In this way, a bodhisattva is sort of a fire fighter of the Buddhist world. She will will not rest until every cat, dog, fish and cockroach is carried out of the smoke and flames of delusion to spiritual safety. Yes, it's a big job, to set aside my ego and see the perspective of others. But as Chodron puts it, "Life is too short to stay addicted to ego." 

And so I continue on. I have no clue what the next year —let alone next four — will bring. I do know that the seeds of healthy intention planted four years ago will continue to grow and flourish as long as I tend my garden well. Thank you for joining me on this journey and reading along.  

xo -B

Monday, October 27, 2014

History in the Making

His Holiness the Dalai Lama made his first appearance in Alabama this weekend. For me his visit to Birmingham was the culmination of a long spiritual journey — and I got the distinct impression it was the same for many of those attending Sunday's events. Shortly before the interfaith dialogue began, a man in a rumpled jacket and jeans took his seat next to me. I turned to him to say hello and we struck up a conversation. He was of Indian descent but grew up in Canada. "I'm a truck driver," he said. "When I heard the Dalai Lama was speaking here today, I asked for this route. I parked my rig a few streets over."

The Dalai Lama's presence unites spiritual leaders at the
Alabama Theatre's Beyond Belief interfaith discussion.
More than 2000 people coming together on a Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama to hear the wisdom of a non-Christian spiritual teacher would have been unheard of a few scant decades ago. Indeed, the softening of racial and religious lines was almost as inconceivable as say, being able to make a phone call via a satellite in 1962, the year I was born.

How many actions both subtle and overt, conscious and unconscious, led each and every one of us to the Alabama Theatre? For various reasons, we were there to listen to the teachings not just of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion (also known as Tenzin Gyatso,) but from various religious leaders representing the great religions of the world.

On the stage with His Holiness was an Iman, a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Christian minster (and president of Urban Ministries) and a professor of religion and democracy. Each contributed his or her answers to moderated questions. The result was, well, impressive. All these leaders in "the God business," as Reverend Eric Andrews, president of the Paulist fathers (an order of Catholic priests based in NYC) put it, are seeking the same thing: peace, love and harmony. And while that may sound trite, if you were sitting in that beautiful old downtown theater listening, you may have felt what I did: This was not lip service.

Interfaith discussions aren't new, but to be presented by a municipality like Birmingham (once known as "Bombingham") as a means to promote peace and understanding is (hopefully) a trend that will continue. And although many spiritual leaders strive to reach across the aisle of the mosque or church or synagog, it seems the Dalai Lama is uniquely equipped to effectively unite those with differing spiritual convictions. Why? Sure he's super smart and kind and gentle, but the most amazing thing about the DL is his beautiful sense of humor. The Dalai Lama's laugh alone might be enough to stop violence in the world. His laugh is a child's laugh, spontaneous and open and filled with appreciation and pure joy. He does not take himself too seriously, which is sort of amazing considering the very serious issues he ponders everyday.

View from the Jumbotron:
Tibetan monks perform a traditional prayer before
The Dalai Lama's speech at Regions Field.
This weekend, as I spoke with friends about the Dalai Lama's visit here, I was reminded of the great example this man sets for us. In 1959, he fled his homeland in Tibet, which was under siege by Communist China. He was only 19 years old and already the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Many loyal Tibetans, who were not so fortunate to escape to India and beyond, were tortured, imprisoned and/or put to death rather than renounce their traditions. The Dalai Lama could be angry, resentful, or even filled with hatred towards the government that oppresses his native land and people, and yet, he teaches compassion for all. "A person who creates a problem for you is God's creation," His Holiness said during his visit. "You must respect him."  In fact, we owe the presence of this great spiritual teacher to those who drove him from Tibet. Had the communists not threatened his life, he most likely would not have become the very public spokesman for peace and understanding that he is today. Incarnation or not, he is an admirable being who practices what he preaches and we are fortunate to have him among us.

"We need a sense of oneness," he said to the crowd at Regions Field, during his second talk on Sunday. "We are individuals, but without other people, we cannot survive. We depend on others. The future of the West depends on the East, the Eastern future depends upon the West. Humans must work together."

He went on to say, "I never asked for this (to become the Dalai Lama). If I make too much emphasis on being the Dalai Lama, it creates a type of prison. (If you say to yourself) 'I am something special' it creates your own prison. We are all the same. (That's why I) emphasize oneness of humanity."

What influence will the Dalai Lama have on our city? As he concluded his talk to more than 7,000 people who gathered at Regions Field, he turned his message to the young people in the audience (like Jack, who sat beside me, quietly munching popcorn and Dippin' Dots).

"Eventually, we should think with vision," he said. "This century should be the century of dialogue. The proper way to resolve conflict is through dialogue. To create a peaceful, compassionate, non-violent world, we must make this the century of dialogue."

Too often, I am so caught up in my own stuff that I don't recognize and appreciate what is right before me. But yesterday, sitting with my family amongst thousands of other well-intentioned folks at Regions Field, listening to this great man speak, I had to consider how fortunate I am to live in such a time that Christians and non-Christians can come together to celebrate peace. No matter how much hatred and violence there still is in this world today, we continue to move towards a more loving society. It will take time, of course. Patience is key. But this is not a passive patience, but an active commitment that, in time, the Dalai Lama's dream — and the dream of Dr. King, and Gandi and every spiritual and peaceful leader who has walked this earth — will be realized.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Walkers Gotta Walk

By now you'd have to be brain dead, or at least way, way off the grid, to not have heard about the phenomenon that is AMC's The Walking Dead. The series about the post-apocolpytic world run amuck with zombies — eh, Walkers, as they are called in the show— has lifted the interest of some 17 million viewers during it's Season 5 premiere. That's a lot of (live) viewers, 2.5 million more, in fact than watched Sunday's NFL  match up on network television, according to the Nielsen ratings. Why in the world would 17 million people want to watch a TV series about the gruesome end of the world as we know it? Well, I have my theories.

The Walking Dead is the latest in a popular TV series genre that throws a variety of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters into a fictional extreme circumstance to see just how far they will go to stay alive. A few years ago, ABC's Lost was a very successful example of this brand of survivalist drama. (By comparison, for its fifth season premiere, Lost, drew a paltry 11.35 million viewers, according to lostpedia.wilia.com.) Although the survivors turned against each other from time to time, at least Lost had its share of philosophic overtures about the meaning of life and death. (The island outpost was called the Dharma Project, hello!) The very dark world of The Walking Dead may pose a problem for spiritual practitioners of any denomination. I mean, it is hard to find any sense of redemption in a world that's overrun by non-sentient beings. 
A zombie horde in AMC's The Walking Dead.

In the initial episodes we learned that a virus is the cause of the mayhem. At first, it's thought that it is transmitted via the bite or scratch of an infected person, but as the show progresses, turning zombie is an inevitability brought on by a little factor called death. Everyone is infected and it's only a matter of time before you die and transform into a flesh-eating wraith with one and only one response motivation: consume other beings. There is no thought to this action, no malice, nor prejudice, nor merit. It's not personal. Walkers gotta walk. Killing is a pure craving that cannot be sated. And yet, as we enter the series' fifth season, it's clear that the dead are not nearly as disturbing as the living.
The racist mob in the Universal Pictures' film
To Kill A Mockingbird.

In the world of TWD, society as we know it has shut down — literally unplugged overnight. It's hard for me to wrap my head around what our world would look (and act) like if that were to happen. Our reliance on electronic communications systems, fossil fuel, infrastructures, technology and manufacturing renders us rather helpless when those things are systematically taken away. We are all so interdependent that collapse becomes inevitable. With no one to run Google, man the latte machines, and repair the DSL, our society crumbles and what is left — humans without a system of checks and balances — is really scary. And yet, that world existed here in the South more than 50 years ago.

Over the summer (while TWD was on hiatus) Jack and I did something radical. In the evenings we put down our electronic devices ... and read a book. And not an e-book, mind you, but a real, live paperback version of a classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. I had not read the novel since I was in high school. At first Jack resisted since the book seemed like ancient history and didn't feature boy wizards or zombies, but to humor me (and extend his bedtime by 30 minutes,) he acquiesced. Now it is all I can do to keep him from reading ahead. Yes, the content contains some mature situations and language, but sharing this book with Jack has become one of the most important deliberate acts of parenting I've accomplished.


As it turns out, Jack is the exact age of Jem Finch, one of the central characters. The story is told by Jem's younger sister, Scout, which makes the tale highly relatable to my inquisitive 12-year-old. Harper Lee's portrayal of the children's loss of innocence is one of the most beautiful accounts I've read in literature. As their father, Atticus, defends a black man (Tom Robinson) accused of raping a white woman, the children see a side of their tranquil southern town they didn't know existed.  In the late 1930s (when the story is set) the penalty for such a crime was sure and certain death—and often not via the US judicial system.

In one poignant scene, Jem and Scout seek out their father, who is sitting vigil in front of the jail where Tom Robinson is being held the night before the trial. They witness a lynch mob threaten Atticus if he doesn't step away from the door to allow them to take the alleged assailant. Driven by fear and hatred, the mob is bent on taking justice into their own hands. As a group, they set aside their individual humanity and assume a sense of collective righteousness. Things seem dire until Scout innocently speaks to one of the mobsters (the father of a classmate), and reawakens his humanness by reminding him that he, too, is a father. The mob disbands without completing their intended mayhem. The following day, Atticus explains what happened:

"Every mob in every little Southern town is always made of of people you know—doesn't say much for them, does it? ... It took an eight year old child to bring 'em to their senses didn't it? That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human."

Harper Lee published To Kill A Mockingbird four years before the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in public facilities and education. This amendment to our nation's constitution encouraged humans to "do the right thing," and was necessary to forward the civil liberties of Americans regardless of their ethnic background or skin color. Without the this Federal law, would people have integrated schools and businesses? Maybe. It certainly would have taken more time though. And, arguably, the sense of society we enjoy today would not have unfolded as it did without a higher power (our judicial system) setting the rules. Many people in this country wanted to uphold "liberty and justice for all," but may have needed a law to back them up.  Fear of consequences from those who wanted to maintain segregationist status quo might have silenced a lot of well-intentioned folks had it not been for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It seems humans create the power (in this case, our democracy) to help us do the very difficult things we cannot accomplish as individuals. We may not always agree on the rules established by our federal, state or local governments, but as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of this essential piece of legislature, it seems these entities are necessary to maintain a healthy and altruistic human nature.



Left to our own devices (and not mobile ones), humans will do some horrible stuff to each other in the name of survival. And that's what was demonstrated during the record-breaking season five premiere of The Walking Dead. Mankind, sans any sense of kindness, has turned upon itself, like the Ourovoros Ophis, the tail-eating snake, which appears throughout ancient cultures as symbol of the endless cycle of life and death — what the Buddhist call, samsara. Eternally, the snake consumes itself and must begin again. At this rate, it's hard to imagine what in the world will be left to consume by the series' sixth season.

I believe humans are, by nature, compassionate, but we need support to demonstrate compassion when things get tough. Sure, our world is far from perfect, but to think we would be better off without structure and a check-and-balance system is as crazy as the Governor believing his dear little, flesh-eating, zombie daughter will be restored to her Shirley Temple-like self. Perhaps that's the reason why millions of people tune in to The Walking Dead on Sunday nights. We need to be reminded of what can happen if we lose our humanity, and to be grateful for what we've got.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

No Small Miracle

I used to think of miracles as rare, supernatural phenomenon that defied the laws of science and nature, like the person who survives a shipwreck and is washed up on shore with hardly a scratch ... or the transforming of water into wine. But I see now that miracles happen around me everyday — if I'm willing to see them as such. Among the greatest miracles of my life are my relationships with my friends.
We met by chance more than 30 years ago.

When I consider how many events had to line up perfectly for me to have met some of the most important people in my life, I'm rendered rather ... speechless. (For those who know me, that's saying something — or rather, not saying something.) Millions of actions both subtle and overt had to occur for me to "happen" to meet any one of my friends. And when I consider all the actions that my parents and grandparents and great-great-grandparents had to take in order for me to end up perfectly at a certain place and time to say, meet Christina in Little Rock, or Janet in Knoxville, or Lesley in Atlanta, or Sandi in Birmingham, the expounding factors really boggle my mind. 

I've often wondered why in the world I've been given so many awesome friends. One might argue that I just make friends easily, but I don't think it's that simple. I mean, why would I manage to become close friends with certain people and not others? There are a lot of wonderful people in the world, many of whom I will never meet, let alone forge a friendship. Turns out spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle has an answer. “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness," he writes in his best-selling book A New Earth. "How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment." 

Apparently, the experience I need is to be surrounded by a lot of smart, funny, loving people. 

Recently, I spent a long weekend with a group of smart, funny, attractive, successful, loving people. They happen to be my six girlfriends from college. I've known these women for more than 30 years and being back among them is always a refreshing reminder of who I was and who I am. Our chance meeting on a college campus more than three decades ago was nothing short of miraculous. Somehow over the years, we've managed to not only stay in touch, but also remain close friends. Yes, there have been years when these get togethers have been difficult because I felt my life wasn't where it should be and I struggled seeing these friends who all seemed to have it all together. But now I see that even when my life was falling apart, the relationship we share was solid and abiding. No one judged me for my first — or even my second — divorce. Everyone was supportive when I resigned my job at Turner, and when I was downsized from Time. Being back among these women this year I particularly appreciated the walk-on-water phenomenon of our friendship.
Boys night out is a miracle too.


While I was lounging at the beach with my pals, another miracle was unfolding back home. I received evidence of it via text message on Saturday evening. My dear boyfriend Jason had taken Jack to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Alabama game. Afterwards they went back home for copious hours of MineCraft. And although I often take this relationship for granted, it too is a miracle — and not a small one.

More than two years ago, Jason entered my life in the same manner in which all my friends entered my life: totally unexpected, and with instant rapport. We just "hit it off."

What I could never have imagined is that Jason would also hit it off with my (then) ten year old son. I've seen all the awful movies about kids who resent their parent's new romance. I resigned myself to the fact that, even though I might have a boyfriend at some point, our dating would be relegated to weekend outings that did not include my son. I never dreamed I would stumble into a relationship with a man who loved my son and whom my son respected and loved back. In fact, it was Jack's idea for Jason to move in with us over a year ago when the lease to his condo expired.

"It would just be mean to not let Jason come live with us, Mom!" Jack said.

Lest I add to the pile of mean-Mom infractions I'd already accrued by that point, I happily acquiesced. Only later did I come to see that this intermingling of lives was nothing short of parting the Red Sea or the curing of malignant cells. No amount of holy water in Lourdes could have manifested the little family I now enjoy. Often when we sit down for dinner in the evenings I am humbled by this gift. This what I always wanted and more — and yet, I could never have made this happen. Even my ex-husband loves Jason! No, this is not of my doing. Not by a long-shot. Lazarus jumping up from the dead's got nothing on this.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Zombie Sons

I love my zombie son.
When we arrived in Grantville  there were zombies all over the little town square. We knew very little about what to expect. Jason, Jack and I heard about the game two months ago when we visited our friends here. A long time ago, I lived in this town. Ten years ago to be exact. There were no zombies back then. There weren't that many among the living either. The town boasted a population of 1,200. Now it had grown to more than 5,000 residents—most of them human.

The last time I haunted Grantville's downtown, I was a new mom. I had never changed a diaper before Jack was born and motherhood did not come natural to me. Fortunately, there were some wonderful women in this town who knew a thing or two about infants, and I found expert help when I needed it. Returning here ten years later with my 12-year-old in tow reminded me just how far I'd come—and how far I had yet to go. Going through a divorce is not exactly the ideal circumstance for a kid. I worry all the time that I'm a terrible mom. Somes times my fears are validated. Suffice to say a lot has happened since I left this sleepy southern town.

Grantville was recently put on the map one when it was selected as a location for the AMC series, The Walking Dead (TWD). The producers scouted all over Georgia and deemed Grantville the perfect setting for their post-apocolyptic, zombie-fied world. I've never liked the idea of flesh eating anything, but when I discovered Grantville was one of the locations for the series, I started watching. After a few episodes, I was hooked.

For industrious Grantvillians, an entire zombie industry cropped up around those episodes. There are no fewer than three shops that sell TWD stuff and assorted zombie paraphenalia.  Zombie mania is a trend that won't last, but for now, merchants are riding the wave and so are other profiteers. The Zombie Soul Survivor Game was just the latest in the undead-themed attractions aimed at snagging some of the discretionary cash being spent by the living.The game provided fresh white t-shirts for the hopeful humans and, if tagged with a "bloody"(red paint) hand print or splatter, you were then deemed infected and eliminated from play. Simple enough. Jason and Jack decided to test their zombie apocalypse survival skills. To be honest, the idea of  paying $40 to be chased by zombies did not appeal to me much, but my guys were up for it and I went along to provide moral support and visit with my Grantville friends.

As we stood in line to get our t-shirts and sign release forms reliquishing any responsibility of the game maker should we really be harmed in the apocolyptic play, some quite convincingly made-up zombies approached us and began to make "I want to eat your brains" noises. They really were creepy—even at high noon on a very sunny Saturday. I decided to ignore them and not make eye contact.  I looked around, I discovered Jack cowering behind Jason. He wasn't playing; he was really stressed out. We inched forward in line and every step we took—bringing us closer to our zombie-bait fate—Jack became more anxious. Tears began to form in his eyes as we were handed t-shirts. He grabbed my arm and said, "Mom, I don't think I want to do this."

I looked at my pre-teen son and saw a child about to melt down. I wanted to say, "Hey c'mon! We've been planning this for months and you love the whole zombie thing! It will be fun! Lighten up! They're just people in costumes and make-up!" There was also a part of me that wanted to be pissed off because my plan for the day was being derailed. After all, we'd talked about this outing for weeks and spent money on fuel and tickets. Fortunately, I set that aside because I could tell that Jack was really scared. No amount of cajoling would encourage him to release the fear he felt, because at this point, his fear was real—even though the zombies weren't.

Fear is a complex emotion. It's one I've been studying a lot lately as I explore my own fears and how I react when faced with them. The thing about fear is that even though whatever it is I'm afraid of is rarely actually happening—my fearful thoughts are happening and, therefore, are quite real. It is hard to set aside those feelings once they are picked up. Finding a sense of humor is the easiest way to break the hold of fear. Laughter really does combat fear like nothing else I know, but it's hard to laugh when you're (literally) scared out of your wits.

Jack was shutting down. I've done this too. It happened decades ago when I began taking lessons to get my SCUBA diving certification. I attended the initial instructions at a local pool, but when it came time to practice the essentials, such as taking out your mouth piece while underwater and sharing it with another diver (a technique known as buddy breathing,) I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I froze, and refused to get back in the pool. After that night, I dropped the course. It wasn't that I tried and didn't accomplish the feat, or had a bad experience, got water in my nose or anything like that. The thought of being underwater and not being able to breathe scared the be-Jesus out of me. To this day, the idea of SCUBA diving has no appeal to me, and on a recent trip to Cabo, I found I didn't even like snorkeling so much.

So I understand this type of illogical, debilitating fear, and this is what I saw in Jack. He began to cry. Jason said, "Let's just go," but I wan't ready to give up just yet because I do know a thing or two about fear. 

Fear makes me feel as though I have no options. Within the cycle of my fear,  I begin to feel I have no recourse, so I panic and become more afraid, and the more afraid I become, the more my mind clouds and I can't think straight. The more I fear, the more cut off I am from reality and from making healthy decisions, and so I react in panic and (often) fall deeper into whatever hole I'm trying to escape. But not today. Today, Jack was in the hole. But since I wasn't, I could see another option: Go zombie. 

You see, players who were "infected" in the game got made up as zombies and were allowed to continue playing for "the other side."
Polite zombies win the day.

"Why don't you just start out as a zombie?" I said.

After seeing the zombies in person, Jack was retiscent to join their ranks, but our options were narrowing and time was running down. The game would begin soon. Jack agreed to give it a try. I led my boy over to the old train depot where the zombies were being created so I could ask the nice man with the airbrush and artificial scabs to kindly turn my beautiful son into a goon.

Inside the depot was dark. Jack hesitated and didn't want to follow me in. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw the make-up artist transforming humans into zombies with greenish spray paint and blood-red gashes. Jack hung back, eyeing the newly zombie-fied humans with distrust.

"I don't like it in here," he said. "I can't see."
"Let your eyes adjust," I said. "Give it a minute."

There was a group of zombie kids, about Jack's age, waiting for the game to begin. I asked a boy if he liked being a zombie.

"It's fun," he shrugged. "You just run after the people and try to tag them. They tell you what to do and who not to tag."

Jack hung back beside me, listening.

Three ghoulish teenage girls said they'd been here since 7 a.m. and they didn't seem traumatized in the least. (The first event was at 8 before the heat of the day set in. I was seeing the logic in that as the temperature rose past 90 degrees.) 

The make-up artist stopped to eat a slice of pizza, and I stepped up and asked him if he could put some paint on Jack next. He nodded.

"Soon as I'm done eating," he said.

While we waited, I turned to the young man standing next to me.

"Have you been here since this morning?" I asked.
"Yes mam," he said.
"Wow, what nice manners you have," I said.
"Yeah, you wouldn't think that to look at me," he said.

The young man had big plugs in his ear lobes. When I was his age, we'd call someone who looked like him a Punk Rocker, but I have no idea what the young and extremely pierced call themselves today.

"People look at kids like me with tattooes and earrings and they think we're weird, but they don't know what's in our hearts," he said.

You weren't there, but let me assure you that he didn't come off sounding defensive or rude. Quite the opposite. The young man assumed I was being judgmental of his looks—and I was, just a little, even though when I said it, I meant he had great manners for a zombie. But perhaps since I sported suburban Mom Bermuda shorts and a matching cotton top, he judged me too. His eyes were alive and filled with knowledge. Not at all typical of the undead—or of most 18-year-olds, for that matter.

"You're right," I said. "You are so right. Can't judge a book by its cover. But what I meant was for a zombie, you have nice manners."
He laughed.
"I'm from Louisiana," he said. "Part Creole, part French, part Southern. We were raised with good manners."
"That's great," I said. "I like my son to see older guys like you who still say yes mam."
The young man introduced himself as Zach. I asked him if he thought Jack would be okay as a zombie and he said yes, mam, he did.
"He's just 12, and he was going to be in the game, but he got freaked out," I said. "I'm trying to help him get over it."
And then Zach said something really unexpected. 
"You're a really good mom," he said. "My mom and dad died when I was little and I was raised by my grandmother and when she passed away, I didn't have anyone looking after me. So I never had a mom really. You're really cool to look after your son this way."

I was stunned and touched by his words. I wanted to hug him. I could easily have been his mother. Most of my girlfriends have children his age, even older. The thought of a child—any child—abandoned at such a tender age, made me want to cry. And yet, here he was now, this young man, seemingly at peace with the fact that his childhood sucked. His tone didn't convey the least bit of bitterness or anger. Why had he told me these intimate details of his life? He smiled and affirmed something very deep and real. In that moment, I felt something meaningful pass between us. A sense of warmth and well-being came over me. It felt like ... healing.

I'm not completely sure what happened. At may sound odd, but I can assure you was that the presence of something greater than me was with us in that moment. In an inkling, this complete stranger confided in me and then gave me the message I needed to hear. And I was given the opportunity to affirm in him that he was a great young man with beautiful manners and a good heart.  In that moment, I wondered if this exchange was the reason we had come all the way to Grantville that day.

"You're a very remarkable person," I said. "When the game starts, can Jack go with you?" 
"Sure," Zach said, without hesitation. 

Since you weren't there, it may be hard for you to imagine how I so quickly and willingly turned over the care of my son to an 18-year-old zombie with a hole in his ear the size of a quarter, but that's what I did. Not falling prey to fear, I followed a hunch, and it was a sound one. I introduced Jack to Zach.

"Do you want to be made into a zombie and hang out with Zach and his friends?" I asked.
"Sure!" Jack said, without hesitation.

The make-up artist transformed Jack and he joined Zach and his friends, who all had ear plugs and piercings and tattoos all over their bodies. I felt completely comfortable allowing my child to run off with them. And Jack felt comfortable, too—with the punk kids, and the zombies, and his fears. 

After Jack ran off with the zombie horde, I joined Jason and about a hundred or more hopeful survivors. The game began. Jason and I were infected (tagged out) at the third obstacle as were many of the other participants. Jack remained with Zach and his gang until the game was complete and had a blast.

Honestly, the game itself wasn't really worth the price tag, but to pay $80 to discover that I'm a decent mom after all was a bargain.  I also discovered that mending past wounds is very important work, and you never know when you'll get the opportunity to help heal someone else—or yourself. And finally, I learned even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse there's redemption to be found, if fear is abated. Years from now, if Jack turns up with a ring in his nose, you'll know the genesis of it. Blame it on me for being a "good" mom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

We were looking for the perfect end-of-the-summer activity and we found it: the latest Marvel blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. I admit, I'd never heard of these heroes before I saw the movie trailer earlier this year—and I was only in it for the smack-talking raccoon.

There's something about hairy ...
Image compliments of Marvel Studios,
 Guardians of the Galaxy
Although this latest cinematic installment of Marvel comic series seems an unlikely place to find Buddhist teachings, as it turns out, we have a lot to learn from a genetically modified, wise-cracking, machine-gun totin' raccoon.  But first, I have to say I haven't been this swept away in the pure fun of a film since George Lucas premiered a little ditty called Star Wars in 1977.  With its overt and subtle tributes to the original space epic and its crazy, perfect soundtrack to my youth, Guardians of the Galaxy transported me back to a time not so long ago but far, far away.

On the surface, the film follows a familiar trope. Boy is tragically orphaned. Boy meets fate. Boy is transformed. In this case, young Peter Quill is abducted by an alien ship helmed by a blue-faced incarnation of Merle from The Walking Dead (both characters played by my favorite anti-hero, Michael Rooker,) and turns up 20 years later as an able-bodied space looter.

We're introduced to grown-up Quill (played by Parks and Recreation's Chris Platt) in a scene that borrows pacing and attitude from another George Lucas classic starring Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Quill (Chris Platt) is chasing down a very valuable trinket called the Orb when he's set upon by some space baddies. With a heap of Han Solo bravado, Quill makes off with the treasure only to discover that his problems are just beginning. Yes, when he lands in a prison reminiscent of Jabba's basement, things seem to really go down hill, but that's what makes for the best possible epic adventure, right?

Of course, there's no better place than prison to meet up with the other component necessary for epic cinematic swashbuckling: a ragtag team of unlikely co-conspirators. Quill's Fellowship of the Orb includes Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper,) Groot, a hulking sentient tree (Vin Diesel's best role ever!) , a green hottie assassin princess (Zoe Salanda)—not to be confused with anyone named Leia,—and a tattooed bad ass (WWE champ Dave Bautista.) The ensemble cast—and characters—play well together. But since we're mixing Star Wars metaphors here, actually Rocket and Groot steal the show as the new Han and Chewie. As previously mentioned, I fell in love with Rocket at first sight, and my feelings were not mis-spent.

And then there's the Guardians soundtrack. Quill's beloved Awesome Mixed Tapes pushed all my happiness buttons. I mean, come on! I had an awesome mixed tape of my own back in the late 70s. My prize possession back then wasn't a Sony Walkman (as featured in Guardians) but a Sony cassette recorder. Crazy though it seems today, that hunk of electronics was a phenomenon at the time. I loved that recorder and spent many happy hours poised beside my sisters' stereo waiting for Dream Weaver or I'm Not in Love to come on the local top 40 station and so I could quickly mash down the blue record button and capture the soundtrack to my teenage angst. But I digress ...

It's nice to have a little nostalgia to hang onto because Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot of not so nice villains who could use a pina colada and a walk in the rain. Things start to look very grim indeed when Baddie McBadderton, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), gets hold of the Orb and its powerful contents and sets about the task of micromanaging the galaxy's next Big Bang. In the midst of the imminent galactic destruction, as our heroes—the would-be Guardians—find themselves facing certain death, Quill, digs deep and rallies his companions in a very Buddhist way.

"I look around at us ... you know what I see?  Losers!" he says, sounding like a coach shouting the classic down-by-a-gazillion-to-one  at half-time speech, but he has something else in mind (or the skillful screenwriter does at least.) "I mean, (we're) like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have. Man we have — all of us. Our homes. Our families. Normal lives. And usually life takes more than it gives, not not today. Today it's given us something. It's given us a chance ... To give a shit for once and not run away."

And this is the line in the movie that turns the tide and rallies our heroes. It takes another 45 minutes of crazy CGI action and plot twists and great one-liners, but the unlikely companions do get another chance to right the wrongs done unto them—and by them.

Quill is right. We are ALL losers. We all experience profound loss, sometimes on a daily basis. Sometimes it's big, like the death of a friend or family member or the end of a marriage or demise of a career. But most often it's the small loses, like the passing of a sweet era of childhood. The latter is particularly relevant for me today as Jack enters 7th grade and I relinquish the last of his pre-teen days. As a parent, you look forward to the time when your child will walk and talk and propel himself through the world on his own volition, but when the day comes ... it feels too soon.

And yet, through losses great and small, we experience the death of ourselves (our egos) and this is, ultimately, essential for spiritual gain. Letting go is what allows growth through transformation. Like the Guardians, I have to set aside my resentment and sorrow and self-pity and self-centered interests and let go of my idea of how my life is supposed to go so that I can have that chance to feel the loss and the joy that life provides and not run away from reality. And that requires consciousness.

We live in a society that promotes winning and winners, and to admit that I'm a loser is well, so losery. And yet, in the end, we are ALL losers and this is really, really good news because only when I accept that  loss and death are part of a natural (some might say Divine) process, can I have a chance at true and sustainable happiness. I may not be able to save the galaxy, but everyday—correction—every moment, I have that chance to awaken and right myself. (And to think it all started with a talking raccoon.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why I Loved Lucy

Spiritual allegory or vendetta flick? 
 On Saturday night, I wanted to see Sex Tape. Jason lobbied for Lucy. 

We'd seen the trailers for both films  and I had to admit that Lucy looked intriguing. It's actually the latest in the growing genre of "philosophical action movies." (Think The Matrix, Looper and this summer's Tom Cruise confection, Edge of Tomorrow.) Lucy promised a mixture of ingredients to meet both Jason and my weekend entertainment requirements. On the surface, it had lots of shoot-em-up-action-and-adventure and high-speed-car-chase-scenes (that Jason loves,) wrapped around a thought-provoking pop-psychology, gooey center (that I crave.) It seemed the perfect Reese Peanut Butter Cup flick!

The premise of this Luc Beeson (The Fifth Element) thriller is that the heroine, Lucy, (played by Scarlett Johannson) unwittingly becomes a drug mule. When the synthetic uber drug implanted in her gut ruptures, she starts to experience an extreme and immediate expansion of her brain capacity. Her experience is portrayed as the worst-best drug trip ever. Thankfully, we get help from Morgan Freeman's geeky wise neuroscientist character to explain what's happening to her along the way. (It's a sci-fi scientific perspective, BTW).

But what the film actually portrays is ... enlightenment. Yup. I'm not sure of Beeson's religious or spiritual persuasion, but the concepts he portrays in the film are oh, so Buddhist. Perhaps he was influenced by his film The Lady, the 2012 bio-pic about Burmese  leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is Buddhist. Regardless, some of Lucy's allusions to Buddha's Four Noble Truths are hard to ignore.

At one pivotal point, Lucy tracks down the evil drug lord who cruelly implanted the deadly drug inside her stomach. As she tortures him (not so Buddhist) to extract the whereabouts of his other drug mules, she tells him that humans are blocked by their perception of experience. She says we are hindered from seeing the truth due our own struggles. "Like right now," she says flatly as she stabs him. "All you can think about is pain." True that.

No matter what you think of Beeson as a screenwriter or filmmaker, that is the first Noble Truth, which says, suffering exists.* Seriously, this is the first step to seeing the truth about life. The sooner I accept that there is suffering, the sooner I can find the source of the discomfort. Of course the Buddha wasn't talking about being tortured physically (although that certainly is painful.) The Buddha was talking about good ol' emotional suffering and dissatisfaction, which I experience just about everyday without benefit of anyone stabbing me with anything.

The second Noble Truth is that we become attached to our suffering. Put plainly, I don't see reality because I'm too caught up in the everyday drama of my life. In fact, I get so accustomed to numbing out reality with drama that I seek out drama when things get too boring. (And this may very well be why Hollywood and films like Lucy exist.)

When I finally perceive that I am the cause of my own suffering, and my attachment to wanting life to be the way I want it to be, then I can finally let go of my attachment—maybe. (That's Noble Truth number three.) Then, I can choose a healthier way to go about my life (Noble Truth 4.)

I'm not sure that Lucy really gets to experience the fourth Noble Truth. She does seem to be freed from suffering and the cycle of human existence that includes suffering. At one point in the film she says, "It's like all the things that make [me] a human are fading away." Before she gains full enlightenment; however, she totally kicks ass. She single-handledly takes out an entire Korean mafia and potentially alters Man's (or at least Morgan Freeman's) understanding of life.

Ultimately, Lucy experiences enlightenment—seeing the truth in everything, 24/7—and it's fascinating to watch what that might look and feel like. At least I think so.

Johannson portrays the newly awakened Lucy with a mixture of white-knuckled terror, feral-cat fearsomeness and wide-eyed wonder. If that is anything near what total enlightenment is like, I can understand why we humans want to stay stuck in our humanity. Having the ability to control matter, energy and time is exhausting—and very hard on the body, apparently.

Lucy wasn't a great movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of reviewers beg to differ and take issue with Beeson's creative license with known science, but for me it was a thought provoking film much in the vein of 2001:A Space Odyssey—with a lot more blood and gore and set on earth and not space, and ... well, it was very different, except for thought-provoking part. And for my money, that's always a thumbs up.

P.S. What's the Buddhist perspective on Sex Tape? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with karma. Stay tuned.

* This is sometimes translated as "Life is suffering," or, as M. Scott Peck understated it in his book The Road Less Travelled, "Life is difficult."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Some You Win ... And Some You Lose ... And Some You Get Rained Out

Long, long ago I lived in a quiet city called Atlanta. I moved there in 1990 after landing a job with Turner Broadcasting. I lived in a cute, historic, in-town neighborhood and drove my car to work everyday. If I ran into traffic, it took thirty minutes (tops) to get from my driveway to the Turner offices in Midtown. At the time, there were just under three million people living in the metro area (including suburbs.) Today, there are more than five million Atlantans. Suffice to say, a lot of things have changed.

Turner Field in all its glory.
Back in the 90s, when I worked for Turner, I spent many a happy summer evening cheering on the Braves through regular season and championship games. I even attended a few World Series games. At a particularly close and emotional World Series game in 1993, I fondly recall hugging complete strangers when the Braves won in overtime. At age 12, my son Jack had yet to experience the joy of a live Atlanta Braves game, so this summer, we made plans to rectify the situation. 

Finally, the big day arrived. I imagined arriving at the game, finding our seats and looking out over the beautiful emerald field. We would sit in the stands and cheer the Braves on to victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. I thought about how much fun it would be to watch Jack chant the "Tomahawk Chop" along with thousands of fans. Of course, to attend a Braves game, you have to get to Turner Field, but I didn't understand the reality of what that meant in 2014.

Since we were staying with friends in the suburbs, I thought it best to drive to a nearby MARTA station and take the train downtown where a shuttle would carry us on to Turner Field. We could avoid the stress of gridlock traffic and hassle of event parking. Before we left the house, I studied the rail line and discovered that, like most metro transit systems, Atlanta changed over from using tokens to a refillable credit card. No big deal. I'd used these cards in NYC and LA and they were simple enough to purchase. All good.

When we arrived at the MARTA station, we marveled at how quiet it was. On Saturday afternoon in the suburbs, we seemed to be the only passengers in the station. We were standing in front of the kiosk that dispenses transit cards, reading through the instructions when a man appeared nearby.

"You know what you're doing?" he asked. "You need some cards?"

I looked at the man. He was probably in his late 50s and from his clothing and general demeanor, he looked as though he might have had a hard life. He had one lazy eye, which gave him a benign appearance. He smiled and held up some transit cards.

"Here, you can use these," he said.

Before we knew it Lazy Eye was shepherding us to the turnstiles, insisting we use his cards. I actually thought he was being generous. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I had that thought, but I promise you I did. He didn't strike me as a panhandler. We were in the middle of a very affluent suburb. It just never occurred to me that we might encounter subway scammers here. Before we knew what happened, the three of us were inside the station and the man was standing on the other side of the turnstiles with his hand out. He wanted cash for the cards.

"I just need to get some food," he said.

Too late, the reality of the situation hit me.  I had one dollar in my purse, and we were already inside the terminal. The man expected to be compensated. It was an awkward situation. We could have just walked away from the guy, turning the tables on him. But we had taken his cards now and we owed him some money. I asked Jack if he had any money and he produced three more dollar bills.

"So we have a round trip on each and can use these on the shuttle to the game?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," the man said. Of course he would have told us that the cards would take us to London and back if he thought that we would pay him.

I was dubious by now, and offered him the four dollars. Lazy Eye made a sour face.

"Aw, man!" he said. "C'mon! I got you three cards!"

Jack had more cash in his wallet, which he reluctantly handed over to me. In the end, we shelled over $15, which is what we would have paid for the cards if we had purchased them from the kiosk. The man thanked us for the cash and hurried away.

"How do we know that guy was telling us the truth?" Jack asked as we proceeded downstairs to catch the next train.

"We don't," I said. "But it's okay. We're safe and we're on our way now!"

Jack had never experienced anything like this before. On our trip to NY a few years ago, he saw panhandlers in the subway, but we had never been approached. I'd forgotten what an unsettling feeling it is when you realize you've been ripped off.

As we rode downtown, I tried to convince myself that the man had done us a service. The kiosk was confusing and he'd helped us, right? We got the passes we needed. But I had an uncomfortable feeling in my gut and as we exited the station at Five Points to catch the Braves Shuttle, my fears were confirmed. We'd paid a roundtrip fare for one-way tickets.

I wanted to believe the man was doing us a kindness, but he had taken advantage of us. Of course, I did try to barter him down, but let's face it, I was a pushover. I just felt crappy anyway I sliced it. A wave of "I shoulda known better" caught up with the sick feeling and began to wrestle with it. There would be no winner. How stupid and naive could I be?! This was Atlanta, not Candyland. In a city of five million, some people are desperate and do desperate things. Lazy Eye was probably getting high right now with the $15 we gave him. Ugh.

We found another kiosk and began the process of reloading the cards so we'd have the proper fare to get onto the shuttle and return after the game. While we stood there, the man at the next kiosk began to instruct us on how to reload the card. At first we tried to ignore him, but he gently walked us through the process. When we were done, he asked us if we could spare some change so he could buy a fare. Without hesitation, Jason swiped his credit card one more time and loaded one ride on the man's card. We thanked the man for his help and proceeded onto the game. 

It was only later that I began to wonder if Lazy Eye had started out like Kiosk Man. Had he helped a confused out-of-town-family load up their MARTA cards and received a free fare for his trouble—when he really wanted cash? Had we just started the cycle of deception again?  My head started to spin when I considered all the karma we were generating on this innocent trip the ballgame. I allowed myself to believe that Kiosk just wanted to ride MARTA home and left it at that.

We made our way through the terminal and out to the street to meet the shuttle, and after a brief ride, finally, we arrived at Turner Field. The glowing stadium lights cheered me, but it wasn't until we arrived at our seats and saw the bright green field and flashing Jumbotron and heard the nostalgic strains from the old ball field pipe organ, that I could shake off the residue of yucky feelings. Jack, who was also disturbed by Lazy-eye's rip off, perked up too. Jason bought us peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jacks, and soon we were all enjoying the game.

I hated that Jack had a negative experience before his first Braves game. But then again, what we experienced was rather benign in the scheme of things. The lazy-eyed scammer may actually become one of Jack's most valuable teachers. Through him, my son learned that not everyone is well-intentioned and honest. He may be more alert when traveling in the city. (I still can't believe how naive I was about this situation!) And—thanks to Kiosk Man—Jack also saw that strangers could go out of their way to be kind. And—thanks to Jason—Jack learned that regardless of what has happened in the past, you can respond with generosity.

Although it wasn't exactly what I envisioned, Jack certainly had a memorable first major league game. It wasn't what I had in mind, but maybe, just maybe, it was what Jack needed and what Jason and I needed, too—or maybe it was about what Lazy Eye or the Kind Kiosk Man needed. I rather like it think we all given what we need.