After my friend — the idiosyncratically brilliant spiritual poet John Brehm — and I finished our dinner at The Sudra restaurant, we strolled around the block to his car and then stood there talking for a few minutes, on Mississippi Avenue.
There was an open parking space in front of John’s car, a pretty large space actually, and someone was trying to park there as we chatted, but that person clearly did not know how to parallel park. Over and over again, the car tried to angle in, front wheels first, but couldn’t make it happen. At first it just seemed curious to John and me, and then downright distracting.
“Maybe I should go talk to them,” I said. And I walked around the front of the car to the driver’s window. I felt some small trepidation, since I had no idea who was in the car, whether it was just one person or more, and whether or not I’d be received with hostility.
But it was just one person, just the driver, a woman, perhaps in her early forties, with a peculiar face, like a person with Down Syndrome but not exactly, and she looked quite distressed, almost as if she were about to burst into tears. I motioned for her to roll down her window, and she did.
I said to her gently, “Hi. I see you’re trying to parallel park. I’ve done the same thing so many times! But it doesn’t work when you try and do it with your front wheels going in first. You have to back in. You have to angle your back wheels in first, and THEN straighten. That’s the only way it works.”
Then I walked back to where John stood by his car, and together we watched this woman try to execute my instructions. It took her another minute or two – with much gesturing and pantomiming from John and me of when and how to turn her steering wheel (assuming she could see us in her rear view mirror) — but eventually she was able to do it and fit her vehicle neatly into the space.
John and I continued to talk for a few minutes. We noticed that the woman did not get out of her car, and we speculated that something might be the matter with her. After we hugged goodbye and John got into his car, the thought occurred to me to check on the woman, to go around to her window again and simply ask if she was okay, if she needed anything.
But I didn’t do that, because my mind was under the hypnotic spell of “I have things to do” and I wanted to get home.
A few hours later, after dark, I was walking in Mt. Tabor Park. I sat on a bench at the top of a hill and I noticed that my heart hurt, and I realized it was hurting because I had not done the obvious, easy kind thing. I had ignored my heart and let myself be jerked around by my mind back on Mississippi Avenue, after bidding John goodbye.
I knew instinctively that the simple act of showing the woman some care would have mattered quite a lot, even if we had interacted again for only a second, even if she’d just shaken her head and told me no, she needed nothing, and there was nothing I could do for her, as was likely the case, though I couldn’t know for sure. I knew that merely the gesture of me coming over again to check on her would have made a significant difference to her. I simply knew it. I knew she was alone, and isolated, and profoundly lonely. I had gleaned all this just from my one glimpse of her when she had rolled down her window and let me explain to her how to parallel park, even though she hadn’t said a word.
So. My heart hurt a little bit. That was my “karma” so to speak. Not that I was going to be “punished” for my self-absorption or lack of thoughtfulness, but just that my heart carried some hurt as a lingering aftereffect of my dissociation in that moment.
As my inner guru says, and as I’ve shared in this newsletter previously, the heart does not judge the ego; only the ego judges the ego. My heart wasn’t hurting as a result of any self-judgment. It was hurting for the woman in the car, to whom I was (and am) connected, whether I realized it or not in the moment.
My friend Yonti Ma, a visionary musician and songwriter, speaks of our “endless embedded participation” in all things, and with all beings. This is what I was dissociated from in those moments when I declined to check back in once more with the woman in the car. I’ll probably – no, certainly – dissociate again from time to time as I move forward through my imperfect life.
However, I do have a touchstone to remind me what’s important. A few years ago, in a ceremonial context, I received a “download,” which was that my heart hurt a lot because I never even listened to my heart, never spoke to my heart, never asked my heart what it needed or wanted. This was a stunning revelation. And it’s been life-changing – especially when I do actually remember to check in with my heart. It’s extraordinary how often my heart’s needs and desires differ from my ego’s agendas. And I say that with no self-judgment at all. In fact, I bet nearly everyone who has commerce with their heart would say the same thing.
A couple of friends responded to my request to “fill in the blanks” of the song I sang to an old friend in a dream that I described in our last newsletter. I had written that the song had an anthem-like quality, and that the words were both universal to the human condition and specific to a complex relationship with a particular person.
David Opon wrote that the song that came into his head was by “a 1980s Chicago ska band called Heavy Manners. So in my dream, the song isn’t that famous, but the words are powerful. Here they are:
Happiness depends on complicated decency.”
David was also kind enough to provide this link to the first minute and a half or so of the song.
Thank you, David!
Also, my longstanding buddy Frank Sahlem (with whom I walked across the country on the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament) wrote: “Aloha, Marc! The phrase that came to my mind was: ‘Stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s goin’ down.’ Of course that’s sung by Steven Stills on ‘For What It’s Worth’ by Buffalo Springfield.”
Frank didn’t provide a link, but I think most people know that song already, and anyway, it’s easy enough to Google it!
Thank you, Frank!