Last week on NPR’s Morning Edition, in a segment on Story Corps, they played an interview with the first single man who was allowed to adopt a baby in the state of California. It was 1969. The man had always wanted to be a father. He knew it would be hard to raise a child alone but he forged on. His social worker brought him to see a toddler who had been born to a drug-addicted mother. The baby was born addicted to heroin and had gone through the pain of withdrawal in infancy. At 18 months old the boy was already a child with severe behavioral challenges. The man knew he should say no, but he said yes. He entered the adventure.
I knew as the man related his story that it wasn’t going to end well because he only spoke of his son in the past tense. The man’s voice broke when he said his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had died of a heroin overdose at the age of thirty. His body was found in an alley between two buildings.
My first thought was: how do any of us stand it? How do any of us stand living here in these bodies on this planet? We don’t all have stories as tragic as this man’s, but each of us has something, our own private sadness. Life can be joyful, but even the happiest lives are spotted with episodes of such exquisite pain.
My friend Craig was a perfect master. He told me once that between lives we’re all hanging together on the astral planes, waiting to come down here. Finally it’s your turn. You’re born on Planet Earth. You live 70 or 80 years, give or take a decade or two, then BAM! You drop your body and you’re back on the astral plane. All your friends there say, “Hey! How was your weekend?”
What if coming here is like going to Disneyland? Some of us love roller coasters; some of us prefer to float with the Pirates of the Caribbean. When I was five years old I made my mother take me on the Peter Pan ride over and over again because I was thrilled to see his shadow racing across the wall. When I was eight my cousin Jimmy held up my long braided hair over my head as we rolled out of the haunted house ride on Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk. “Look how scared she is!” he taunted, laughing as I slapped his hands away from my head. Sure, sometimes it’s scary, but maybe our sojourn here on Earth is no more real than a trip to an amusement park.
I’ve got no wisdom, just stories. Stories about riding the waves, about enjoying the ride. You’ve got them too. Feel free to share them here with me.