Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat —
the one you never really liked — will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
One of my favourite poets, Ellen Bass writes compellingly about the challenges of life, always leaving us with an uplift. Right from the first line we are told: Bad things are going to happen. And then she goes on to imagine everything from fungus on your tomatoes to melted ice cream to a shrunken cashmere sweater. From there it is errant husbands or wives, heartbreaking daughters and sons, cat disease and death, loss of your keys, your hair, and your memory. Anything sounding familiar to you here?
Then she introduces the Buddhist story you’ve probably heard – the woman trapped by a tiger above and below, the yin and yang mice gnawing the vine as the woman sees a perfect wild strawberry. So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse / in your throat. This is it, the truth that all these things can happen. And, you can still eat the strawberry, taste the juice and feel how the tiny seeds crunch between your teeth.
Here is the choice: to seize the present moment, to see the gifts before us especially when life is difficult. As Ellen herself says in a 2014 interview: And to praise this gorgeous, tender, terrifying life that is ours for just a second or two.
It’s strawberry season friends – no time like the present to practice. Relax.