Categories
cats death loss wisdom

On bad surprises and apologies (and good-byes to Iris)

iris.jpg

Iris, circa 2001

Much has happened since I last wrote. This week brought some bad surprises and a lesson which I will share with you.

  1. Real estate surprise: bad

On Monday, some potential buyers made their second visit to our home. We were naturally excited as second visits are considered precursors to offers. However, it is now Friday and they have neither made an offer nor provided any feedback. (btw: Please, readers, if you are shopping for a new home, remember to pass along feedback. An hour and a half in someone’s house may not seem like a lot to you, but the owners had to clean, stop what they were doing, and go out while you were there.  They —like us—are likely anxiously awaiting your reply.)

Well, we are not really waiting any longer because we suspect we know why those people will not buy our house. To make a long and awful story short, here is the email I sent to our agent after the people left, on Monday night:

“Important update: Today’s people found what looked like the mummified remains of a raccoon in the attic crawl space. I just went in and brought it out and alas, it is Iris. Our long-lost black cat. She disappeared years ago and was clearly not feeling well. I think she went in there to hide and die in peace. We looked and looked, but I guess we never looked at the right spot.

There is not much sign of a struggle. Poor Iris.  I’ll take a picture to prove it was a cat, if you want, but we will bury the corpse. Please pass along that message so that they do not think we have rodents in our attic.”

Awful, right?!

Later that evening when I was up here in my little attic study meticulously grading sophomore essays and blog posts (argh), I suddenly realized that the place where Iris died was directly behind where I sit at my desk–about ten feet and two walls behind me. Isn’t that interesting?

Sweet little six-toed Iris. She was the cat who came with us to France and had that amazing accident in Angers–she fell more than six stories from our apartment balcony to the parking level below–and suffered nothing more than a disjointed jaw. The veterinarian said they see such things all the time. A dog or a person would certainly not survive. But cats go into l’effet parachute after the third or fourth floor (it has to be high enough), and it slows their fall almost magically.

Poor Iris. May she now rest in peace.

  1. Teaching surprise: bad

This week I found myself issuing a veiled threat to some sophomores about what I thought was their disrespectful attitude toward my deadlines. On Tuesday, I said something like, “If your performance report is more than 10 days late—I don’t care if it is 11 days late or 111 days late—your final grade for that performance will be reduced by an entire grade. I know who you are! Turn in those reports!”

On Wednesday, one of the students came to see me and told me that he could not find any trace of such a deadline on the syllabus. He apologized profusely for bringing the discrepancy to my attention. And I felt HORRIBLE.  He was right; I had discarded that policy months ago when realizing that it did nothing to improve learning and only increased the students’ already heavy burdens.  (btw: Notre Dame is a very anxious world. To see the students walking around, earbuds plugged in and cell phones in hand, you’d think they had the weight of the world on their 19-year-old backs, and were dealing with international crises on a regular basis. That their anxiety is largely self-induced does not make it any less real.)

  1. Ending the week on a good note: the lesson

After realizing my blunder, my stomach churned, my head ached, and I sat down immediately to apologize to the class via email. I apologized again the next day in class. The students got a reminder of the fallibility of authority figures, and I implored them to never hesitate asking questions because faculty members—like authority figures of all kinds—often make mistakes. I think we’re all ok. I know I felt better.

Before bed last night, I was reading Subhadramati’s Not Being Good: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Ethics, and came across the following quotes which sum up this week’s lessons.

“Apologizing is a spiritual act because it is a deliberate letting go of self” (110).

“This painful regret, in turn, becomes an incentive to act more skillfully in the future” (106).

***

Hope springs—or rather crawls out cautiously—anew.

 

 

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Categories
creativity Zen philosophy

Ichiro or the yellow cat: who would you rather be?

This semester we played some games in my classes to raise students’ awareness of their environment and how they react to it. This is one.

Teacher pulls out of a bag a bobblehead and a yellow Japanese cat figure, puts them on a table, and asks: “Who would you rather be, the best hitter of the era, Ichiro Suzuki, who led the Seattle Mariners in 2001? Or this yellow cat piggy bank?”

Students laugh. “Ichiro of course.”

The teacher: “Are you sure? Watch his head. Being an unaware human, he is a victim of the Mind. Thus when something bad comes along [Give the head a hard tap], he’s out of control.  [The head continues to bounce randomly, for a good three minutes or so.]. It is the cat we should emulate. The cat, with a low center of gravity, cannot be tipped over.”

This relates to all manner of actions. As Peter Ralston writes,

When our feeling-attention is put in the center region, the intellect does not dominate our actions and perceptions.  … Centering calms the mind, making it clear and powerful, unquestioning and unknowing, thus allowing access to a domain of spontaneous appropriate actions.

Begin by getting in touch with the center region on a physical level. Concentrate on the feet, when you stand in line or do a standing meditation. Notice how the feet constantly relate and readjust in relationship to the earth. It is the transference of weight from one foot to another that allows most of our actions and power. Adjust the waist and legs to accomodate a force. Keep you tailbone tucked under. Support your back and head from below. Remember that gravity is not just a mere “fact of the planet.” It is a profound force and possibility.

Consider this deeply.*

***

*Peter Ralstson, Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power, 10-15.

I will consider it deeply as I head out now for a walk with Honey Girl!