I can’t say if April really is the cruelest month. From my position here throughout April and into May, it feels pretty shitty. I am a cheerful person — some friends might say, relentlessly cheerful — yet, I feel edgy, unsettled, depressed. My next book review was going to be the redacted Mueller Report. But, as the days passed, something always came up to keep me from opening the ebook version of the report that I had downloaded. There is a disturbance in the force, methinks.
Why might this be? There have been a lot of deaths and serious illnesses among my friends this year. And we’re not that old! We are not yet the advanced elderly. My friends have been felled by drop-dead heart attacks, dementia, Parkinson’s, cancer. Other friends have gone under the knife for leaky heart valves, possible cancers in the lung and in the belly, and an array of ortho procedures. OK, I expected the hip, spine and foot operations, but the life-threatening stuff? Not yet! I thought I had seen what illness was about in my decades as a doctor, but seeing my friends and their families go through such suffering disheartens me.
Even the pets are sick: lymphoma, seizures, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Then there’s the political climate. So much lying. We all know it. The Mueller Report only gave the chapter and verse. What does it say about the state of affairs that I think it’s even odds between our President and North Korea as to who is telling the truth about the two million dollars for Otto Warmbier’s release?
You know when you’re down and everything that bothers you seems connected? Well, years ago, I had a very bad run-in with a relative. They were litigious, quarrelsome and twisted every fact to their own self-serving interpretation. Seeing some politicians unartfully spin lies and browbeat others is like re-living the emotional trauma of being abused by my relative. And other politicians who, opossum-like, do not protest such treatment of their citizenry, remind me of the relatives who were afraid of the temper-tantrum throwing one.
The proliferation of racist hate crimes upset me. There have been so many shootings in churches, mosques and synagogues. I never thought I’d worry about my grandchildren because they are Jewish.
Also, the melting Antarctic, immigrant children ripped from their parents, transgendered folks being forced out of the military, millions in fear of deportation, people going broke from medical bills, farmers going broke sitting on tons of soybeans, factories closing, black men getting shot by cops. So much misery, and much of it societally self-inflicted.
Even getting HBO this week to watch The Game of Thrones hasn’t gotten me out of this funk. I knew something was wrong when I didn’t get excited about the running shoes I had ordered online that were even more comfortable than the ones I had worn out. Instead of dancing a jig, I muttered, “Okay.” It may be my imagination, but I think my cat Lily has been looking at me with concerning glances.
Or maybe, my mood is just a drug side effect. I started on Zocor for cholesterol less than two months ago. It could be something as simple as that. A good friend suggested that possibly I was let down by the Mueller Report itself. We had waited for so long, and in the end, the wrangling continues. So, perhaps it’s not so mysterious that I never got around to opening the redacted Mueller Report.
Looking on my shelf for another book to write about, I found The Guardians of Being, with words by Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, and pictures by Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the comic strip Mutts. My son gave me this book a couple of Christmases ago. I enjoyed it at the time, and then I put it away. This time, I found great solace.
Through full page illustrations, some of them in the style of Japanese woodcuts, Tolle and McDonnell gently nudge us to get out of our minds. They advise: “Be still. Look. Listen. Be present.”
Being present requires stillness — to tune in to Nature: the sound of rain, the song of birds, to really see a flower. Taking the book’s suggestion to heart, I decided to take a walk in my neighborhood. I let my surroundings come to me. I just took them in. It was an overcast, coolish day, typical for this rainy April. Everywhere I looked, vistas of lawn and trees in soothing shades of green met my eye. A spot of color would pop up like a birthday surprise: dogwoods in white and pink; azaleas in red, white and light purple; cherry blossoms. In close ups, I notice the miraculous “lobster claw” bud that would become a full-blown iris in about a week, the flashy, tarty tulip and the insouciant lilac bushes with their cloying scent and circling bees.
Nature was going on, oblivious to my swirling thoughts. In fact, at least for a while, the swirling slowed considerably. So much so that I was absolutely delighted when geese parents hissed at me when I ran into their little familial gathering.
Another part of Nature lives with us. Our pets! According to Tolle and McDonnell, “When you pet a dog or listen to a cat purring, thinking may subside for a moment and space of stillness arises within you, a doorway into Being.” They also say, “The vital function that pets fulfill in this world hasn’t been fully recognized. They keep billions of people sane.” They are the Guardians of Being.
When I got home, I cradled Lily in my arms and took some deep breaths. As Eckhart Tolle says, “I have lived with many Zen masters, all them cats.”
Tell me: Who is your Guardian?