It's been a hard, two-week run of expectations rapidly outpacing resources, with a pace of input so frantic that my sight never felt clear, my head never felt smart.
This slowing down is welcome. And, frankly, wholly unexpected.
I have not taken care of my lawnmower. Not at all. It returned the favor at the end of last summer with weak, polite coughs as I sat on the damn thing, turning the key over and over hoping for a more throaty, consistent response. I blamed myself for my neglect, set aside a couple grand and Googled options for disposing of a cold, dead lawn tractor. But a couple weeks ago, as my unruly lawn began to tank my neighbors' already squeamish property values, I channeled my varied stresses into raising this thing from the dead. Now, mind you, I am a moron when it comes to engines (plumbing, too, for what it's worth). Vegas was not long on my odds here.
All instructions were followed, all parts carefully removed, cleaned, replaced, returned.
My mechanical neighbor watched this all unfold over the last couple weeks, and finally, he was moved to pity. Today, he came over, looked at my work, and declared it Good. He even complimented me on the shininess of some parts that he did not know could actually be shiny. But the damn thing was as unresponsive to me as my kids during a good Tom & Jerry chase scene. He scratched his head and muttered, "it's almost as if you have bad gas in there."
"What do you mean, 'bad gas'?"
I mean, with all the parts that I could see and reach being so tight and shiny, how could the gas being a few months old matter that much?
Ok, now I know.
So, the beast finally turns over, purrs nicely, and then...dies. We try again several times, same pattern.
"It's almost like your air filter is clogged, choking it off....you did change the air filter, right?" (He clearly had lost faith in my grasp of the obvious.)
"Yes. Of course I changed my air filter. I even cleaned and soaked the little green spongy wrapper thing in engine oil like the book says"
But, as it turns out, while a little bit of oil on the pre-screen is good, a lot is not, well...better. I had soaked it too much, effectively gumming up the air flow.
My neighbor finally realized what he was dealing with. "Look," he explained, "all the parts and widgets on an engine boil down to this...they mix rich air and gas with enough of a spark to drive a well-oiled set of pulleys and levers to do something. Your gas is old, your air is dirty -- and you also need more oil, by the way. Air, gas, spark, and oil. No machine, however, well-maintained, will work if the right stuff isn't flowing through it. Siphon the gas, clean your filter and change your oil. Try it."
My lawn is now nicely mowed.
Air, gas, spark and oil.
In grad school I spun out way too many brain cells on the arcane notion of "supervenience," a big word for saying that the grand and abstract arises from the small and mundane. The notion of supervenience has been bantered about academic circles for a half-century or so in an attempt to debunk the Platonic notion of a distinction between us and the divine, between what we do what do and whether it has been somehow blessed by some external power as Good, Right...Beautiful. The idea is that the Big, Well-Ordered, Capitalized Words arise from the lower case and unpunctuated, as opposed to our days being judged after the fact by some Cosmic Court, and then externally shot up with some hypodermic full of Right and Good, some at-the-table turkey baster injecting righteous flavor and Beauty.
But this is a silly digression into a big word inappropriate for such a slow day...
When my hair was longer and I was much more sure that I was right about most things, I poked around in Buddhist texts, now remembering far too little of what seemed so revelatory then. One story has stuck with me, though...
Hearing of the wisdom of a teacher and his followers, a man journeys to a monastery. Greeted at the door by the teacher himself, he is asked, "why do you join us?" He replies, "I am looking for enlightenment. I want to know what you have discovered, the deepest meaning of life."
The teacher smiles, opens the door, and says, "Good. Come in. First, we eat. It is late, and the day has been long." So, he eats a simple but joyful meal with the monks and the teacher. Afterward, he asks the teacher again about enlightenment and meaning. "Of course. Now, we sleep. Tomorrow is a long day." He does, and after being directed to a morning meal, he again asks, "Teacher, I am here to learn, to gain enlightenment. Tell me, please, what is your secret? What have you learned?" The teacher replies, "I know that our crops need tending or we will soon not have food for our meals. Come, help us." Growing frustrated, nevertheless he does what the teacher asks, and for days each request for insight into the teacher's mind is met with another request to eat, sleep, attend to necessary chores, or occasionally sing and dance when the work is done.
Frustrated, the man finally confronts the teacher. "Teacher, I have shared your table, tended your crops. I have talked among your followers, even danced and sang with you all as I have waited to be shown the secret of your enlightenment. Teacher, with all respect, I have been patient, and I have done all you have asked as I have waited to be learn the secrets of your enlightenment. Please, teacher, help me clear my mind, please show me what it all means."
Looking puzzled, the teacher asks, "Again?"
I love basketball, but can't stand the on-again-off-again effort of the NBA regular season. The playoffs, though, are a different game altogether, a rare stage where the transcendent effort and will of a superstar can carry a team, change momentum, create a legend. Lebron and Kobe are rising to their names this year, with Rajon and a couple others unexpectedly flirting at the doors of greatness. I have always been struck by the clarity and consistency of a thread that weaves through how all the great athletes describe what the game feels like when they are at their best. Whether it is locking in on a 97 mph fastball, reading a shifting 3-4 in the shotgun on a hurry-up inside of two minutes, or taking an in-bounds with 5.6-and-everything left on the clock. They all talk of how, in those moments, the what-if complexities just drop away, leaving only the clear sight and sharp mind of what-is. The game, in those moments, just slows down.
This was was an unexpectedly slow day.
The placebo ratchet
15 hours ago