28 September 2012

Chicken Little Dharma

I think my father has started to lose his marbles.  He has listened to right-wing AM talk radio in his car for the last 25 years, but beyond that he's kept the expression of his social and political views limited to the occasional offhand comment and his vote on election day.  Now, he's joined the ranks of those who send out those alarmist emails that take a quote from a candidate or a candidate's spouse and blow it up into a portent of world transformation of the most negative kind.  How do I know this?  He's added me to his distribution list.

Everyone's got a hobby, and if he's now discovered the fun of using the internet after all these many years, that's fine with me; it keeps him busy in his retirement.  Both right- and left-leaning groups have their set of alarmists who bear more resemblance to Chicken Little than to Jeremiah or Isaiah; Chicken Little was frantic, but essentially harmless, and a right-leaning Chicken Little is no less harmless than a left-leaning one.  It's funny that he's got me on the distribution list, though.  I'm not at all sure what the point of that is.  Surely – surely – he knows I'm not going to read an email like that, change my political colors, and pound the pavement for his side with the zeal of a convert.  (At least I think he knows that....)

So what gives?

I have to wonder if the newfound shrillness isn't tied up with him getting older.  I know of a couple of other septuagenarians who also became alarmist email distributors, too, and as the son of one of them put it, "My dad is discovering that he no longer recognizes the world he raised his kids in, had his career in, etc.  Time has passed, things have changed, and he realizes he's powerless to stop it.  And he's fearful, since he can no longer find his bearings."

It's an interesting idea, and it has implications that reach far beyond the Medicare Plan B crowd.  Don't we all get frantic and shrill when we don't know our way clear?  Isn't one of the fruits of knowing the way clear, or prajña, the Brahmavihara, equanimity?

Fact is we are always bouncing along an ever-flowing stream.  Fact is there is no refuge to be found in the world of birth-and-death.  When we can't see that, we freeze, panic, reach for whatever we think we can hold fast to, and clutch for dear life.  For a while.  Then the bough breaks, and we reach for the next thing to grasp.  And on and on.

Until we finally stop grasping, and all is as it should be.

My dad's new hobby is a warning to me: do what you can before it's too late.  Age sneaks up on us all.  Death and illness, too.  Wake up!  Wake up!

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