19 March 2009


What on earth is happening to me?

My sister-in-law said she wanted to take her daughter, my nine-year-old niece, Marley, to Disneyland, did I want to come, too? Well, yeah, I sure did.

If I’m lucky, I get to see Marley once or twice a year because they live in Texas so I’ll pretty much go anywhere to see Marley or Ann or my brother, Adam. And two Marleys in the teacups? Eating pink spun sugar? Avoiding teenagers dressed as Mickey or Minnie Mouse? No way I’d miss that.

But once I got there, it was an act of sheer will to move around that park, pretending the person I have always been was still there. I still ate, played, rode, and ran around, and the park was in much better shape – cleaner, more attention to detail, better food choices – than years ago, but all I kept thinking about was: how much money is being dumped here and to what purpose? I guess I should be grateful there were so many people getting a paycheck because of all of the people willing to spend money to go on a ride through a paper maché mountain, jungle, or castle but the fun felt forced, fake, hollow. Did I always feel this way to some degree but never noticed it before? I remember looking forward to going to the Philadelphia zoo but ending up depressed watching all of the big cats pacing in the little tiled cages they used to have. Or am I losing something I once had? I so don’t want to become one of those dour, serious people who can’t enjoy a game of miniature golf or bowling or pinball or air hockey or a couple of days at Disneyland but all I could think about was how short my life is and what I could have or should have been doing. Now I’m sure that’s in nobody’s tradition, wishing you were somewhere but where you are. Two thoughts brought me back.

One, Disneyland isn’t as different from so-called real life as I’d like to believe. Take the longest possible view and nothing I do – whether I ride a ride, or work to understand a faith, or cure a disease – will finally matter. The pursuit of fame or so-called immortal works, for example, is so clearly useless, ultimately, when you think forward a few million years. And yet I also know that what zen teaches, that every action each of us takes affects others and couldn’t be taken without the previous actions of countless others, is true so everything I do matters. Even if it’s just going to Disneyland with my sister-in-law and niece. If I’m fully present. I guess even if I’m not fully present as well but with a different effect, I suppose.

The second thing that brought me back from my dyspeptic ruminations: sometimes I hate myself for this but I’d rather be with the people I love than get more work done. There is a part of me that wishes I were more ruthless, more focused than that, and another part that’s grateful I’m not.