Zen (AF)

Driving in and out of New York City is rarely uneventful. The Bruckner Expressway, which I loathe, is the most direct route for me to get in and out of Manhattan. The Bruckner is almost always jammed up along the way. Leaving the city, as you enter the onto the Bruckner, there is a merge. No less than half of the drivers getting onto the Bruckner are hustling to scam the merge system. To these people: the fair and correct way to merge is to alternate cars from the two combining lanes: you go, I go, you go, I go….and so on, and so forth.

Last Monday I had to race home from work in the city because Calum had a fever. Fevers will continue to be an issue for us until Calum finishes treatment and, at this stage, the fevers are probably the main thing that cause me stress pertaining to Calum’s cancer. It always means a trip to the hospital, day or night, and they are also indicators of infections which can complicate things. Basically, it sucks, but it is what it is for the next couple years.

On my way home from work to get Calum, as it was about to be my (long-awaited) turn to enter the single, merged lane that would bring me onto the Bruckner,  the car behind me tried to sneak in front of me. Due to the circumstances, it aggravated me even more than usual. I decided to retaliate and jerked my wheel hard to the left as if to say, “I will punch you in the neck” with my car. Not surprisingly, this move did not elicit the desired effect, and only angered my aggressor more. He proceeded to come all the way around the other side of my car to get side by side with me so he could yell at me out his window. I was weak. I saw him coming and I fully engaged. I rolled down my window and waved the tallest finger on my right hand at him while yelling, “MERRRGE! MERRRRRGE! It’s called a MERRRRGE! Look it up, asshole! LOOK IT UP!” Then I figuratively dropped the mic by turning my head forward and rolling up the window so he’d see me un-acknowledge him. This is just one tiny example of how highly evolved I have become as a human being. Namaste.

Anyway, the thing is, I really did need to get home in a hurry and I felt this man’s antagonistic driving, all to get one car in front of where he would have been, was short-sighted and unacceptable. There is nothing I can do to change the way people drive on the Bruckner but, in truth, we both acted unreasonably. This man had no idea I was going home to get my son to bring him to the hospital and, who knows, maybe he was in the midst of an emergency, too. After reacting so quickly and with such insult over his merge-ignorance, I probably then went on to cut-off 75 more drivers in my attempt to get home faster, therein doing the exact same thing I’d gotten so angry over this man doing to me only minutes earlier. I’m such a hypocrite!

Because of what we have been through with Calum’s cancer over the last year, Mike and I have often discussed that you truly never know what someone else is facing in life. It has propelled us to be more sensitive to this notion, and it is a good reason to cut everyone a little more slack, particularly during interactions with strangers where you really have no insight into their lives. While keeping that in mind, of course we can’t be expected to always have the power to accept bad behavior from others. Personally, I am just trying to work on my recovery time. Just like with exercise, the cardiovascular shape you are in is determined by how quickly your heart rate returns to resting after intense exertion. Being human, you can’t be expected to never react or become frazzled, but you can recognize when its happening and train yourself to calm down after you’ve blown your top. The faster you can recover from a situation that angers you, the healthier you will be mentally (I’m still trying to get over the merge-tastrophe, by the way).

The first few days of last week were really, really hard for me. I haven’t had a true break from the kids in months and we have been scheduled to go away this past weekend to ski in Park City, Utah. I have been looking forward to the trip for months, but the thought of being away from home brings a lot of worry, and I find it almost impossible to mentally sign on to going anywhere because of the constant threat of an emergency with Calum, particularly during a week where the kids have been sick. It made me so uneasy about travel that, I thought if I went, I may not even be able to enjoy it. The truth is, Calum had been on the upswing throughout the week and, had it not been for the fact I was supposed to be traveling, I would not have been worried about him. When setbacks like sickness and fevers arise, it is easy to regress and feel worse about the effect of Calum’s cancer on our lives. It circumstantially makes you more upset about what has happened. Why can’t we just go somewhere for a weekend without having to worry about an emergency?

I am listening to an audio book by an author named Eckhart Tolle, a well-known psychiatrist. Tolle discusses the idea that, if we resist the hurdles in our lives, they will only become worse. I have touched on this before in terms of accepting the obstacles presented to us in order to move beyond them but, for most of us, it is difficult and, if you’re even aware of trying to accept life’s challenges for what they are, it is still a constant mental exercise.

Tolle tells a story of a Zen master who lives in a village in Japan. His neighbor’s teen-aged daughter becomes pregnant and tells her parents that the Zen master is the father of her child, after which the father marches over to the Zen master’s home to give him a piece of his mind. Upon hearing about the pregnancy, the Zen master’s response is simply, “Is that so?”

Due to the accusation, the Zen master’s reputation in the village is now mud, and no one will speak to him. When the baby arrives, the parents come to essentially dump the baby with the Zen master. The Zen master lovingly cares for the baby for a whole year when, finally, the daughter confesses the child actually belongs to a young man from the village. The parents come to apologize and say their daughter had lied to them, to which the Zen master again replies only, “Is that so?”, as he gently turns the baby back over to its family.

Tolle comments that, because the Zen Master has the ability not to react to the false allegations or become bothered by them, he is content. His mind is not consumed by the obscenity of the situation, he accepts it without ego, and is able to fully maintain his composure. It’s safe to say that, after hearing this story, I’m no Zen Master. You better believe I would have a phone call into the Maury Show with the paternity test reveal on national television. I’d wear tear-away track pants and do the tootsie roll right in their faces when Maury announced I was “not the father”.

What I am capable of, however, is realizing that I am allowed to enjoy life in spite of Calum’s cancer. I can accept this difficult situation and simultaneously appreciate the other joys that life has to offer.  After stressing all week about whether or not to travel, I consulted his doctors. They agreed that Calum was not at any greater risk than usual and, honestly, the overall state of his health is stable, so I decided to go and take advantage a few, much-needed days out of the house. I would have probably gone camping at the bottom of my street if it meant getting out of the house.

Park City was a ton of fun, and we traveled with an amazing crew of family and close family friends (the Devaney’s and Shea’s), but let me say this: after 33 years of skiing, I still don’t know why I put myself through it. I can’t figure out for the life of me why anyone would want to put 75 layers of clothing on, followed by a pair of plastic boots that are stiff, painful and impossible to walk on stairs in, then clip those boots into two long, metal blades, then WAIT IN LINE to sit on a metal chair that goes 45-feet above the ground in the dead of winter up the side of a mountain, only to have to dismount that chair at the top of the mountain into a crowd of people, whereby your only way to get back to civilization is to glide down the mountain on said metal blades, whilst trying not to hit a tree, then WAIT IN LINE to do it again. Also, it costs $150 a day, which does not include ANY alcohol. Now imagine you’ve got to pee. I’d like to suggest a ski-slope at Gitmo.

In all honesty, the first full day of skiing was a blast, and that night we had a wacky group dinner followed by some fun back at the house. People were tired from the previous day of travel, full day of skiing (and apres-skiing), so most went to bed. I stayed up a little later, though, with all the four siblings from the Shea family (and a Connolly). The Shea family are long time friends of the Murray family and their dad, Joe, was Mike’s dad’s best friend. Their mom, Nancy, was back in Larchmont helping Rita take care of our kids. Joe, their father, was tragically killed on 9/11, along with his brother, at the top of the World Trade Center. The Shea kids are all a couple years apart and the oldest, Pat, is four years younger than me so the youngest, Dan, is about ten years younger than me. Pat was just starting high school when his father was killed in the terrorist attacks. Each one of the four Shea kids is cooler than the next and, honestly, I could not say which of them is my favorite; they are all my favorite. They’re all really different, too, but what they have in common is an incredibly astute sense of the world and people, and the most comfortable, natural dispositions.

After the trauma they went through at a young age, and living with the loss of their father, it is almost unbelievable how well-adjusted they are. I admire them so damn much and am inspired by them during this time in my life. Being with them helps me realize, if they could all come through that horrific tragedy, then we can get through this. We talked about Calum and we talked about Joe, and the perspective they offered makes me feel stronger than I did before the weekend. The time away was not only a great break, but another opportunity to learn from the power of the human spirit. #neverforget #gocalumgo

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I’m smiling because we are on the gondola, which is enclosed.

4 thoughts on “Zen (AF)

  1. I hear your MEEEERRRRGGGGGEEEE!!
    And I’m with ya on skiing – even having enjoyed learning how to ski on ice (Vermont winters)
    Love Tolle but NOT his voice:)
    SO happy to hear you and Mike got away for a few days, celebrated the birthday, and heard another perspective from the Shea’s.
    Did you ever have “prolific writer” in your future??

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  2. Thank you for sharing; you are the zen master and have learned well. Training is tuff but the rewards are great!
    Love you Kaitlyn you Callum is always and my prayers! I feel really good about his recovery! Keep on writing you inspire everyone you tough!
    Love, peace and light.
    Maura

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  3. You are truly amazing Caitlin! By the grace of God, you have managed to keep your awesome sense of humor intact! This is probably what keeps you going (oh ya maybe Mike and the kids have something to do with that also)! Keep staying strong and positive and you might think about taking the train or an uber to work! Xo❤️

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