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Compassion, Wisdom, and TeeTee the Turtle (IDP Seattle Blogger Group)

I'm terribly late, a fact which my 18-month old son Oscar apparently does not understand. The whole morning is like nails on a chalkboard played in slow motion. In need of coffee, I set out from home under clear skies.

With TeeTee the turtle in tow, of course. He paddles along slowly, overturns at the small drop between the curb and street, and, in the interest of my time, needs to be righted immediately. A good distance behind me now, he labors over a section of sidewalk uplifted by tree roots and plods through a collection of dropped and rotting leaves that line the grass. With his shell illuminated by the morning light and his orange top hat like a beacon, his little bell rings his arrival with each step: HERE. NOW. HERE. NOW. HERE. NOW.

Then there is silence. And silence means stopped, which is even more excruciating than the slow speed of travel of the six tiny legs that are trailing behind. I too stop, turn on my heel, and look behind me with dagger eyes that only a mother deprived of caffeine with somewhere to be can muster. Oscar stands in airplane pajamas and a dirt-streaked fuzzy coat with the gnome hood pointed upright, a leashed TeeTee dutifully and motionless at his side. He leans back, looks up into the vast sky, points, and exclaims, “Moon!” I follow his gaze and see the clear crescent in full view. The daggers drop; I dissolve as I pull him close and say, “Ah, the moon hasn't gone to sleep yet.” As Oscar's weight shifts in my embrace, TeeTee gives a half ring as he's pulled toward our moment in the here and now.


That was two years ago, but every time I notice the moon in the daytime I'm brought right back to that moment – to the crispness of the morning air, the way Oscar’s hood slid off as he tilted back to gaze and point, the way it no longer mattered that I was late or under-caffeinated.

Now it is fall again, with breathtaking sunrises over the eastern mountains. The moon is currently waning, and I've been watching its diminishing face each morning as we plod through our ritual commute of lunchboxes and laptop to preschool and work. It’s like a touch of magic.

I've heard it said that the moon symbolizes compassion and the sun wisdom. This morning, with both looming above the horizon, I was struck by the interconnectedness of compassion and wisdom, how we cannot fully embody one without the other, even though these qualities exist unconditionally, whether we can see them or not. This small experience of inseparability reminded me how in Buddhism we are always joining things that western culture may have us believe are opposite, even incompatible – sadness and joy, heaven and earth. When I began to seriously practice three years ago I was admittedly skeptical. I was also a train wreck and knew that I needed to do something radically different in order for my son and me to survive and flourish. In meditation halls and on the floor of my apartment, I learned how to lean into the sharp edges of my suffering; I practiced staying. This process is far from complete, but it is not without some fruition. I emerged from that darkness not only a better mother as I’d hoped, but having touched my deepest sadness I became a better friend to myself. That sadness in turn gave way to a stronger connection with others, to a greater compassion. At first practice and study seemed like a morbid fascination with my private depression, but it quickly became a source of curiosity and connection, an empowerment. Although it once seemed impossible, I even started to experience joy.

The crescent adorns the lower curve of the moon in the autumn sky above, parts its lips, and smiles.

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