Monthly Archives: July 2016

Wanting Too Much

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops boulders in her pond.Consider all the ways we cause our selves and others suffering. If, once in a while, we were to borrow another’s view of life, we might find a path to peace.

Late on the second day of excavating to make the pond accessible for swimming, the prized boulder that had been fished out years ago suddenly slipped from the excavator’s grapple and sank into the water, cracking the new concrete staircase as it fell.

“Why is everything going wrong?” I whined to the guy operating the excavating equipment. I didn’t want to yell at this gentle person who, for weeks, had helped me plant flowers and pull up pondweed. He was a Buddhist, I’d heard. But even he was riled now. I’d been greedy, dancing on the deck as he worked, hollering to him over the clatter of the excavator, “yay, let’s move this stone over there next, and that one over here….”

He staggered down off the excavator. Together, we contemplated the maybe-500-million-year-old rock now stuck in the pond on a steep downward-slanting ledge. It would be submerged when the water level returned to normal after this dry summer.
“We can’t just leave it there,” I whimpered, expecting a barrage of cursing. But he simply grimaced, and stuffed his words into small grunts. I sobbed, “It’s like losing a daughter.”
“It’s not moving,” he said. Calmly. Then he gathered up the equipment, and left.

I cried. I sat by the boulder until it got cold and dark out. Grief and shame were like rocks in my gut. My head pounded. The boulder. The Buddhist. All the money I’d spent. Two sleepless nights went by. Then I googled “Buddhist Principles” and found the four Noble Truths:

Pain and suffering are integral to life. When life doesn’t go our way we make ourselves miserable with wanting. If we learn to love what we have and live each day at a time, we can overcome our suffering. We must face reality and open our hearts to change.

In the early morning, the dog and I stood looking over the mess. We sat quietly in the tousled soil by the boulder, long enough that frogs moved in around us. The sun rose. Birds sang. It was beautiful. It was enough. And – call me crazy-lady – I begged forgiveness of the boulders, and told them I would love them wherever they ended up.

What will I say, I wonder, to my Buddhist?

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What Lasts Forever?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a daylily on top of a boulder in her rock garden that could be two million years old.“Another boulder,” I hooted, as Excavator #5 dislodged a large mud-covered rock. That made four. Four boulders now sat in my yard. Solid. Substantial. They would outlast me by eons, hanging out on this land forever. Always.

If a stone in Central New York could tell its story, it would reveal that millions of years ago it was detached from its parent rock by weathering and erosion. It was then pushed and dragged by glacial ice, scraping over soil and stone. Sometimes stuck in stream beds, the rock’s rough edges were rounded, worn smooth. Once settled, it sat for ages, being built around or buried, or left alone as forests grew up around it. A rock in New York could be two million years old. This is why each boulder I find, I love.

My biggest boulder had been pulled from the bottom of the pond years ago. By Excavator #4, shortly after my daughter died. The pond was deteriorating. Muskrats. Weeds. Algae. I was trying to save it. Marika and the muskrats were the only ones to swim regularly in the pond. When she died, I had told people, “I feel like frozen mud, like a heavy lifeless rock.” And then the excavator found the Pond Boulder.

The Pond Boulder must have first been unearthed back in 1998 when Excavator #3 dug the pond and then left the heavy nuisance he found at the bottom. My third pond. Built with my second husband, by the third excavator. It was my third home on the same land. Nothing lasts forever.

For many summers the Pond Boulder sat as children swam above, kicking and splashing on pink Styrofoam noodles. Years later the huge rock, fished out by Excavator #4, was rolled to the base of a nearby tree. And last week Excavator #5 bunched all the boulders together into a kind of giant rock garden. My boulders. Like I could ever own them. Or hold on to anything in this world.

“Come see my boulders,” I said to the friend who planted daylilies in my yard in June. “And will you look at the lilies? They’re not doing so well in this drought.”
“They only bloom for a day,” she said, watching me pick off shrivels of spent blossoms. “That’s why they’re called day-lilies.”

 

What lasts? What can you count on to be there when the world as you know and love it is washed away?

 

 

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To be the Mother of a Young Black Man

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs some mother's beautiful black son.I know how it is to lose a child. An almost-adult child I loved and had high hopes for, whose life my own life revolved around. She was, and still is, half my world. “Always,” she used to sign her letters. Now, she is “always” in my heart.

I know how it is to worry about a son. To stay up beyond my bedtime, wondering when he’ll come home or if he’ll make it home. There are so many things that can happen to a young man these days. “Mom, seriously? You worry too much,” he says. But maybe he’ll run into a bad situation some late night. And what if my son, the other half of my world, were to get stopped by a policeman? Would he find help? Advice? A warning? A sympathetic ear? Or would he find trouble?

I do not know what it is like to be the mother of a young black man. In a country where every day so many young black lives are wiped out, the mother of a black man must surely pray her son will not find trouble, will not find himself in the presence of police. “Please let him be safe. Please. Let him come home.” Always. Night and day. Fear for the life of your child could strangle the life out of you.

Another day, another killing. Another brokenhearted mother. And just the thought of that mother’s world collapsing around her, the memory of what it was like to see my own daughter’s lifeless face, the knowledge that another mother will never again see the sweet eyes of the child who lit her life – makes my heart tremble and howl.

 

Thanks to fellow student Travis, for his smile, wherever he is these days. My regards to his mother.

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Wishing Away Time

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her young children growing like weeds.Decades ago every event or holiday was an opportunity to dress my young children in colorful costumes. Our calendar was always full. Parties and picnics. School celebrations. Parades. Pleased with their new outfits, and anticipating the festivities, my kids posed, sometimes smiling, for the camera.

“I can’t wait for them to start school,” I often said back then. “It will be so good when this day is over.” Motherhood was exhilarating but exhausting. I was always wishing time away.

Yesterday a friend dragged me out to a park to see the fireworks. I couldn’t remember when I’d last walked in the park, and was amazed at the hundreds of young families in small clusters in every direction. We sat on the base of a lamppost by a family camped out on a blanket. The little girls swatted each other and blew bubbles. Giggling, in polka dot dresses, they swirled around with glow sticks. I watched them as much as I watched the show in the sky.

“Growing like weeds,” people say about children. Yes, they grow up and away. Too quickly, it seems, looking back. And suddenly you find yourself mesmerized by the sight of other people’s laughing children, like they’re rare creatures from an old dream.

 

What moment in time slipped away too quickly for you? If you could spend an evening back in your past, what and where would it be?

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