Friday, May 11, 2007

On waiting

Dear Sam and Sophie,

The Dalai Lama, whom Tibetan Buddhists believe is the reincarnation of the Buddha, made a visit to Chicago last week to give a public talk on “Finding Inner Peace in Turmoil.” A friend was kind of enough to get us tickets to the sold-out event. That morning your Dad and I packed our blanket, lawn chairs, and some snacks and headed downtown, arriving early enough, we thought, to enjoy a picnic lunch before hearing the revered religious leader speak. We arrived at Grant Park to find extremely long lines snaking around the Millennium Park “bean” sculpture before winding down to Michigan Avenue. Apparently the organizers were requiring each person to go through metal detectors and have each bag searched.

After about fifteen minutes, we had moved a total of twenty feet. So I sent your Dad to see if he could find a shorter line. No luck. By this time the lawn chairs were getting heavy and I was getting hungry. I started to complain about how poorly managed the event was—then felt guilty since that wasn’t a very go-with-the-flow Buddhist attitude. Still, while your Dad chatted with the colorfully dressed Tibetan immigrants behind us, I decided to follow the line to the front to see just how long it was. Then I did the math: We had already been in line almost an hour, and at the rate we were moving, it would be another couple hours before we entered the park.

It wasn’t that hard to decide to give up. It was one of the first beautiful spring days in Chicago and neither of us wanted to spend it in line. We called our friends who had already made it inside (they arrived much earlier) and told them not to save us a spot. As we walked away from the line, I saw an Asian man taking a photo of his infant son, and I lost it.

I burst into tears, aching for the little boy from Vietnam we have been waiting for, overwhelmed with sadness and frustrated with all the waits in my life. Your Dad helped me sit down on the curb and gave me a big hug. “Let’s just go find a nice spot and enjoy our picnic,” he suggested. I agreed, saying we might as well make the best of a bad situation. We’re getting good at that.

Acceptance. Surrender. Moving on.

So we took our lawn chairs, found a shady spot just outside of the ampitheater area, and sat down under a big tree. We ate our chips and salsa, read the paper, and listened to the music that opened the event. A number of people without tickets had the same idea, but the little community that had formed there was quiet and respectful.

After an hour or so, I got up to find a restroom and discovered that the line was down to almost nothing. I convinced your Dad that we should try to get in. We grabbed our stuff, made it through the security checkpoint, and found one of the last grassy spots on the lawn. As we got situated, a man introduced the Dalai Lama.

“I believe life is meant for happiness,” he told us. But that happiness doesn’t have to come from our external situation. “If one were to try to control the entire environment in which one lives, it’s impossible. However, by taking care of one’s own mental state, one can deal with hostility in one’s environment.”

By training your mind to have compassion for others, including your enemies, and controlling anger, he said, we can find the inner peace that surpasses our circumstances, whether they are years in a Chinese prison or the suffering involved with waiting for our adopted children.

“Too much impatience!” he scolded light-heartedly. Our world has become used to instant gratification and constant distraction. If he gets delayed for several hours at the airport, or finds he can’t sleep one night, he gratefully considers the time an opportunity for meditation. “Good! Sit and think! It’s useful.”

Although I have spent a good part of our now 19-month wait for you numb, depressed, complaining, crying, and trying to distract myself from the pain and frustration, I recently was given the opportunity to reflect spiritually on it. A publisher has asked me to write a book of spiritual reflections for in-process adoptive parents.

I'm about a third of the way done, and already the process has been so beneficial and healing. I'm using our delay to sit and think, as the Dalia Lama instructed, and already I'm finding the compassion I need to surpass these external circumstances.

I sign the contract next week, but the book won't be out until next year. My plan is to finish it before Sam comes home. I've given the publisher a deadline for the manuscript of July 1. I hope to share more of my insights in the next month or so, but mostly I'll be busy writing the book. It's a distraction, but a deeper one. I can't wait to share it with all of you when it's done.