You Are Good

“Security is mostly a superstition,” said Helen Keller.  “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing.”  –Helen Keller

In the middle of the day on a Tuesday just after Thanksgiving, on Park Avenue in Manhattan, I was assaulted and robbed. Of all places. As if any place is right. But still, it wasn’t a dark and deserted side street. It was lunchtime, on a crowded avenue.

I was meeting a friend from my meditation sangha for lunch. He was shaken by the death of a friend, and I wanted to sit with him and hear about her. But the subway from Brooklyn was delayed.

“Life,” I texted my friend, after he texted saying that the subway he was on was just sitting in a tunnel. I meant that things never go exactly as planned. “Meditate,” I texted, meaning just sit there and notice  what is really happening. “Yes,” he texted. “Thank you.”

I thought I found just the place for lunch. The cafe in Scandinavia House is quiet and cozy, decorated with twinkling lights, nestled behind a shop that is full of Scandinavian sweaters and scarves and little carved reindeer.  A refuge.

“I’m out out of Grand Central Station, on Park,” he texted. “I will walk up and meet you,” I answered. I was in the middle of texting “west side,” meaning that the cafe and I were on the west side of Park Avenue, when I was tackled to the ground and robbed of my purse.

I saw and heard my assailant briefly before it happened: big, rough, white, dark hair, possibly Indian or Hispanic. He rushed towards me, too close, muttering “donations, at least $5.” Instinct made me veer away and step it up, leaving him behind me. But he must have turned and followed me. I was pushed hard and hit the sidewalk. I held onto the strap of my cross-body bag for dear life, but he pulled on it until the strap snapped. He was in a fury. I yelled for help and three men took off. He knocked down one man who stepped in his path. A line backer on meth. On something. And he was gone.

My dear friend found me standing on a street corner talking to two English women who witnessed the robbery. My thumb was bleeding from holding on and my knees were scraped and bloodied. Just like the men who instantly responding, running towards danger, he responded, holding my hand, applying bandaids and antiseptic and caring attention. This, too, is important to note.

I’m sharing this story not to upset you but because I am freshly reminded of certain crucial truths: all kinds of things happen to us in this world, including hard things. One way of understanding impermanence is that anything can happen at any time. We can be attacked, even sometimes by people who are supposed to be our protectors. We can be robbed, and maybe not just of our purses but of our trust and faith in love. And here comes the important truth: It’s Not Your Fault!

There is a tendency in us to blame ourselves when bad things happen. This can be subtle–we split ourselves off from others, or we split off that long-ago part that was abused or abandoned. We make it part of our story. Did I attract this? Did I deserve this because I wasn’t looking or leading him on? Am I cursed? NO!!!!

In my case, I was wearing that little cross-body bag in front of my body because about seven years ago my wallet was stolen at JFK and I blamed myself–I wasn’t paying attention, I was leaning over the luggage carousel, etc. And I’ve been robbed and mugged before.

Was I assaulted on Park Avenue because I looked weak? I read that predators like to go after the cow that is apart from the heard, the spacey or sickly little cow. Was this me? Did I project some message that invited this. Hell No! I was a brave and upright dharma teacher, striding up Park Avenue to meet her friend. I was mindful and happily looking forward to seeing my friend. I was tackled from behind.

“It’s true that you have suffered an unusual number of these incidents,” said my sister. She happens to be the widow of a Navy pilot. “But then again, I know a young woman who was married to three pilots, and all of them died. She was widowed three times. Statistically improbably but true.”

There is an even deeper truth. We have within us an enormous capacity to heal and open our lives. There is no time limit. The radical promise of the practice of presence is that we can be loving awareness. As we bring loving awareness to this body, extending gently, patient compassionate attention to our feelings as they appear–we slowly settle down and open up like flowers.

“How are you feeling?” my friend asked. “My body hurts. But mostly my feelings are really hurt. There is also sadness and fury.”

He listened, putting little bits of hummus and pita bread on my plate, which I couldn’t eat, pouring water. Sometimes, often, the best thing we can do for a friend is listen and offer glasses of water.

There is darkness in the world. Random acts of violence and exploitation. And yet. But still. There is light. It turns out that spiritual practice doesn’t always prevent hard things from happening. But it clears a path inside us. It reminds us of all the love and goodness that is here. You are good.

“Although the world is full of suffering,” wrote Helen Keller. “It is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.