Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Life's Too Short for This"



I walked into a coffee shop I hang out at a bit in downtown St. Paul. Among the folks in there was what I've come to term "the family." Over the last ten years or so, I've found myself in the company of this couple and their increasing number of children on dozens of occassions.

The scene is always the same. The children, in various states of unkemptness, run wild, while the man, older and dominant in a quiet sort of way, pontificates to his younger wife about some Bible passage. He frequently takes shots at all ogranized churches, and includes them among Satan's work. Meanwhile, for a long time, I wondered if the children were even getting home schooled, given how little they seemed to be able to read, write, or interact socially.

So, there they were doing there thing today. I sat down, and the guy sitting behind me starts leaving a message on the phone about a Bible study session. For a moment, I thought "Man, you're surrounded," then let it drop.

Over the years, I've struggled to not run a litany of jugdments through my mind about that couple and their kids. Until a month ago, I'd never said a single word to any of them. Then the wife turned to me, as I was working on a blog post, and said "Aren't you that guy who goes to that Buddhist place?" I said I was and she looked at me, paused, and then said "I always found it funny that people would worship a guy who isn't a God." I smiled because it probably is funny from the outside, what we Buddhists are doing.

I'd forgotten that exchange this morning as I sat down and opened my laptop. As the couple gathered their children and started to leave, I was reading a post on someone else's blog. For some reason, I looked up just as the wife said "I'm wondering if ..." (short pause) "if you'd ever consider being challenged on you views?" Now, in the past, I probably would have been interested in such a debate. To prove that I could stand up as a Buddhist, even if the discussion went nowhere. However, as she said those words, I just thought "Life's too short for this." So, instead of engaging, I just said "I don't think it would be worth our time." And she nodded, stepped back, and said "Everyone has free will." And walked out.

The guy behind me, who was reading a passage in the Book of Romans (he'd said as much in the phone message he left), says "Do you know that woman?"

"Barely," I said, not knowing how else to explain this odd connection we'd had over the years.

"What was that all about?" he said. And I sat for a moment, wondering if telling him what it was about would just open up the same issue I had just cut off.

"We could have a long discussion about it, but it probably wouldn't be worth it."

He laughed a little at that, and said something about how that had been an odd exchange between her and I. I agreed, and then he went back to his Bible, and I to my blog. Which is where I am now, no less worn for wear.

10 comments:

Robyn said...

...wondering if life is too short to point out that "even homeschooled" is quite an insult to those of us devoting a gigantic portion of our short lives here on earth to that endeavour.

LuLu said...

I enjoyed your thoughts today. Even her choice if words was funny, "challenge." I wonder why people always want to challenge. To win? To convert? Faith or practice or lifestyle just doesn't have to be so unanimous.

Was Once said...

An "Ah, Hah" moment.

Nathan said...

Sorry, Robyn, if that statement offended. I guess the thing is, if you had seen these children, you might wonder the same thing. I have friends in my sangha who were homeschooled, or who have homeschooled children. It's impressive when people do it well, and definitely a lot of hard work.

This post wasn't about taking a shot at homeschooling. These kids seem neglected; that was my point.

Arun said...

I really appreciated reading this post, Nathan. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Your exchange was very appropriate, in my opinion :)

Magpie said...

Always fascinated by people who want to challenge another person's beliefs. I used to find it a bit of an irritant, especially as a vegetarian, it has never occurred to me to ask someone why they eat meat, not sure why they feel the need to ask me why I don't :). Anyhow, excellent example of your practice by declining!

Algernon said...

You couldn't write better dialogue than that. In so few words, everything was so clear and honest. If you wrote that in a play, somebody would tell you, nah, people don't talk that way. Yet sometimes we do. (Usually in surprise.)

Shirley Maya said...

Sometimes life is just too funny. What's worth it, is that you took the time to blog about this incident and allow other people to learn from it or just share thoughts on it. At least, we are all 'challenged' to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. The lady's most intelligent line, to me at least, is "everyone has free will". Amen :)

Nathan said...

Yeah, it was all pretty clear and compact - took maybe two minutes total to occur.

Funny how people expect something different from writers.

Emma said...

I think this is probably my favorite post of yours - beautifully written and profound. I felt like I was in that cafe with you. It makes me sad to think of those children being neglected in that way.

Your response reminded me of what I wrote last week about walking off the battlefield. Sometimes we don't have to engage, or be challenged, or prove our point of view - we can just disengage.