unfamiliar territory

Last night, Oldest came home from a four-day marine biology field trip.  As we turned up our street, I asked him how his mood had been during the trip.

“At night, looking at the stars, I got depressed.”

Ah, familiar territory.

“Because they make you feel insignificant?”

He nodded. I can’t really argue against the idea that any human life is a futile, meaningless and empty endeavor, dwarfed into nothingness by the vastness of space and the distance of stars.  Beginning when I was considerably younger than he is now, I have come to the same conclusion repeatedly over the years.

And yet.

What follows is a story of how, through the act of mothering, we can leverage ourselves beyond where we would go on our own behalf.

Because I find myself searching for the argument.  I fumble around. I don’t want him to stay there, where I have been for so long, with the meaninglessness of it all  At the same time, I am compelled to show him first that I understand how he feels, because I do, and also because I feel that is the most – maybe the only – comforting thing.

“They can definitely make you feel your own meaninglessness,” I said.   A pause.  “But there are those (note that I don’t actually include myself among the optimists) who believe the opposite is also true.”

More silence.  I can feel him listening.

More silence.  I try to figure out what to say.  I try to think how to say that it is possible – in that scenario – to reverse the meaning.  For the vast thing to be found in the tiniest.  But how to say it?  And then it appears.  From somewhere, some book, some website, some talk.  I take it gratefully and run.

“There is a Zen saying that the entire moon is reflected in a dewdrop.”   

More silence. But different.  Contact has been made.

We drove on and once home and eating dinner he – with much laughter – recounted stories from the trip which, he said, "would have been terrible if there hadn’t been so many funny kids on it."

Turns out, the saying I mangled came from the book that has been sitting on the back of our toilet for oh, I’d say about five years. 

With apologies to Zen Master Dogen for mangling his words, here is the entire passage that I cribbed from in a moment of motherly seeking:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.  The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.  Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.  The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grasses, or even in one drop of water.

Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water.  You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky.

The depth of the drop is the height of the moon.  Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.

          Zen Master Dogen, Moon in a Dewdrop edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi



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