Monday, June 29, 2009

success, more or less

Dinner was generally a hit tonight. Mom liked the taste of the chicken, but didn't go for the peanut sauce, which is too bad, because that sauce was a labor of love. She and David ate all of the Korean-style pickle salad I served (my take on Korean oi-kimchi); David and Dad ate all the chicken they were served (alas, Dad also seemed to avoid the peanut sauce), and everyone enjoyed the dessert, which was a lame-looking but tasty riff off tiramisu: sponge cake soaked in cream and alternately layered with chocolate mousse, the whole thing dusted up top with a cherry-chocolate powder-- the latter being from that lovely NALC gift pack we'd received a few weeks ago. The dessert looked rough and was closer to a parfait than to a true tiramisu, but it tasted mighty fine.

In other news, Mom seems less verbal these days, a fact that's worrying Sean. I don't see an obvious problem right now; Mom hasn't taken the initiative in most conversations since this whole mess began. Some level of passivity is therefore expected. But because Sean seems to be picking up on a potential problem, I'll be more mindful of how Mom is over the next few days. A constant worry for me is the return of the tumor. As you'll recall, the only thing that's been done to the tumor, thus far, has been the debulking on April 21; the two days of chemo and radiotherapy hardly count. While the docs assure us that regrowth isn't likely for months, I remain nervous about the sheer length of time that has passed since the debulking operation.

As always, a lot to think about. Meantime, it's enough for me to plan the next meal. As the English-language sign inside Hwagye-sa, a famous Zen temple in downtown Seoul, says: "All 24 hours of the day, don't make anything." It suffices to keep one's mind in the present without carving the world up into this and that and what if and what next. In making mental boundaries, we often end up creating more stress than we might be alleviating. Of the many boundaries we create and maintain, the biggest and most pernicious one is ego: the sense of me as opposed to everything else. As much as I hate Mom's cancer, that hatred doesn't really help matters: it's just a function of ego. The question before us at every moment is, as the Zen masters routinely ask, "What are you doing now?"

Echoes of this can be found in Christian thought. I'm wary of books that turn Jesus into a Zen master; original Buddhism is roughly a half-millennium older than Jesus, and Ch'an Buddhism comes into the picture about a half-millennium after Jesus, which excludes Christ from the Zen dharma lineage. Nevertheless, if the scriptures can be trusted, Jesus did say things like, "Let the dead bury their dead," a pronouncement that any Zennist would appreciate because it cuts off attachment to the past. He also said, by way of cutting off attachment to the future: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow-- they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these." Sometimes the un-self-conscious act of living, of just being present, is far superior to our normal mode of self-conscious, divided-mind conduct. This isn't to say that toiling and spinning don't have their place-- they obviously do-- but it does mean that all that we do requires our full presence in this moment. Even consideration of the future must be done with this in mind. What else is there but the present, after all? The past is gone; the future isn't here. All we have is now.

So: what are you doing now? Now, I'm typing. The keyboard is black. Click-click-click at 50-60 words a minute. And what about Mom's cancer? I suppose it's busy cancer-ing. And we-- Dad and I, and David and Sean? We're here to respond to it in whatever way the moment calls for. One step at a time. Right now, that response is: click-click-click.


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