There comes a time in every practice when you wonder “Why bother?”
Brownies taste good. One more cigarette isn’t going to make a difference. It’s cold out, I can just “meditate” in bed. In a thousand years, who’s gonna care anyway? In a hundred? Hell, in five.
A long time ago, in a very different life, I worked for a doctor in a large educational institution. He invited my family to his Fourth of July party, which was in a rather posh neighborhood. I did my best to not feel out of place, and my financial disparity (poor) was offset by the fact that I had the best-looking kids in the place (yes, that is my unbiased opinion).
My middle daughter Kat was about ten, and at one point in the party I found her sitting alone in my boss’ living room, staring at the large-screen TV which had Toy Story playing. I sat down next to her, just to enjoy it for a bit.
After a moment she asked me, “Dad? Is this the kind of TV that doctors have?”
I sensed it, then. I sensed an opportunity that might never come my way again. I could feel this chance to be the best parent in the world, to deliver a message about consumption and consumerism that might shape her life forever.
I took a breath. I said the words.
“Yes, Kat, this is the kind of TV that doctors have.”
She is now in medical school, struggling mightily. Perhaps it’s for noble reasons like helping humanity or making a difference. But I’d like to think that at least part of it is the hope of the moment when she can put Toy Story on her own big screen TV. There are, I believe, worse motives.
My other daughter, Danica, once told me the best lesson I’d ever given her. The one thing that, in her mind, changed how she looked at the world.
She had come home from middle school where she’d been hanging out with some rather intolerant folks, soaking up their attitudes about gay people. She had proclaimed to me “I hate the gays!”
I didn’t argue with her. I didn’t berate her for being intolerant. I didn’t pull out a book or a list or refer her to a video.
No, she tells me, what I did was simply say, conversationally, “Really? Why?”
Suddenly she was forced to justify her declaration, and in doing so, she heard how ridiculous some of the arguments were. She tells me I kept questioning her assumptions, leading her to rethink things, and by the end of the conversation, she didn’t hate the gays. Not because I’d told her she wasn’t allowed to, but because she could see why it wasn’t right.
Here’s the kicker: I don’t remember that conversation.
Not in the slightest. I don’t remember the day, couldn’t tell you even where it was except in the vaguest of terms. Yet this was the most important conversation that my daughter remembers me having with her. It changed how she thought, acted, changed how she looked at the world.
That’s why practice is important. Because while not everything matters in the long run…you never know what will matter. And scary as that is, it is continuing to practice, continuing to try and live our lives the best we possibly can, that increases the odds for positive outcomes.