It was a transcendent moment, and I say that knowing just how sticky and ill-used that word has become.
Some time ago (not the transcendent moment, but necessary background for it), I found myself in that positive frame of mind that causes you to send friend requests to people you once kind of knew but not very well but who, for some reason as you scroll through names of the people who bothered to identify themselves as members of your college class, suddenly appeal to you as potential Facebook friends. Maybe it was nostalgia for a college experience I didn’t actually really have. Maybe it was optimism about the human race and the possibilities of Facebook. Or maybe I was feeling particularly brave or particularly lonely and hit the “send friend request” icon before giving it too much thought.
Whatever the reason, I found myself Facebook friends with someone I now wish I’d been friendlier with when we were at college together, the kind of genuinely nice guy who likes pictures of my kids and posts the occasional eighties’ reminiscence that I can enjoy without feeling impossibly old because it has about fifty responses from other people who also graduated from high school nearly thirty years ago.
A few days ago this Facebook friend of mine posted a reference to his first concert—the Doobie Brothers—at the Forum. I, naturally, shared with him the fact that my first concert experience also took place at the Forum. I saw The Knack.
This provoked an enthusiastic response and some discussion about Sharona in 1979 (when she attended the high school from which I would later matriculate) and a couple of decades later when she became a realtor and sold a number of very excited people my age their homes. I checked in on this thread Saturday morning, as I was cuddling in bed with Lily and my iPhone. My eighties-loving college classmate whose first concert was the Doobie Brothers had, bless his heart, posted a video of The Knack singing “My Sharona” especially for me.
“Do you want to watch something with me?” I asked Lily. She is not quite four years old, but I felt the magic of The Knack would not be lost on her.
She answered with an enthusiastic affirmative, probably because she thought I was going to show her a video of princesses or cute animals doing something cute.
I hit play and there it was:
Skinny ties and men with blow dried hair. Pogo dancing. Short sleeved shirts with the sleeves carefully rolled to reveal milky white biceps. I could practically smell the Paco Raban.
“I used to watch them when I was young,” I said, my eyes moist with fondness for the girl who wore her father’s old shirts and heavy black eyeliner and carried a lot of innocence along with her thick calculus book.
Lily watched carefully as the video panned an audience of frizzy perms and the occasional unfortunate mustache. “Where are you?” she asked. “You said you were watching.”
I was forced to explain that I wasn’t in this particular video, though as the camera pulled way back so the stage became a fuzzy yellow square that resembled a Starburst you wanted to pluck out of the screen and chew, it occurred to me that I may well have been at that performance because that fuzzy yellow Starburst-like square is pretty much what the concert looked like from my seat.
This made me recall how my sister had been forced to take me with her as a condition of car key privileges. And how it felt to be twelve or thirteen years old and convinced you are much older than you really are. And this made me relive, in those few minutes with “My my my my Sharona” bumping into my ears, the expansive sense of feeling both old and young at the same time. Of being fifteen or twenty and enthusiastic for a life you don’t really understand. I was naive and confused in a way that was often quite painful at the time but that I now find unbearably charming. Life was one big, fizzy bottle of Champagne just waiting for me to pop the cork.
Revisiting this person I can’t quite believe I was while at the same time cuddling my round-cheeked, curly-headed four-year-old daughter provoked a wisdom that, honestly, did transcend the usual limits of time and place and memory. For two-and-a-half minutes of New Wave bliss, I was both a brainy blue-eyed high school girl in Los Angeles and a mid-forties mother whose eyes are still blue but adorned by those things called crows feet that we had heard of in high school but never once thought would happen to us no matter how much Johnson’s baby oil we slathered on our bodies as we baked in the sun.
Normally, I’d have been tempted to parse the distance between those two selves, to take advantage of the sweet-and-sour tug of memory to assess how I’d ended up here, with my perfect little girl and her equally perfect brother. I knew whatever had come between that The Knack concert and this morning in bed in Asheville was worth it, and with that knowledge in my back pocket I was tempted to review some of the choices I’d made and to put them on a big, fabricated self-scoring card. I am not new to this exercise because, let’s be honest, who hasn’t done that Revolving Doors thing where you imagine how totally fabulous and worry-free your life would have been if you’d just had the guts to major in theater or if you’d given that nerdy guy with the bad breath who in retrospect reminds you a lot of Bill Gates a chance?
On this morning, however, it was enough to feel the churning of nostalgia without riding it anywhere other than right there with my daughter.
I was, I decided a short time later, finally understanding yoga and life and the passage of time, in a way that makes me hopeful that it won’t feel so sad to me any longer. What I understood was just how easy it is to second guess our choices in life, then to loop around and justify them, and finally to settle with a small melancholy sigh and maybe a dollop of rah rah forced optimism with where we ended up.
The truth is, there isn’t any grand design that turns on one or two momentous life decisions. We’re not all engaged in a cosmic game of Monopoly where a combination of the roll of the dice and our ability to manage fake money determines the outcome.
To put it in yoga terms, we don’t control where we end up. My life isn’t what it is simply because I made it this way, although I’m not denying some moments of courage and clarity and a lot of luck. But replaying the reels as if I can dissect each action and take credit for every step way overstates my power, even over myself.
Not surprisingly, the Dalai Lama explains it best:
Buddhists do value the existence of a self that changes from moment to moment, designated in dependence upon the continuum of mind and body. All of us validly have this sense of “I.” … With this “I,” all of us rightfully want happiness and do not want suffering. It is when we exaggerate our sense of ourselves and other phenomena to mean something inherently existent that we get drawn into many, many problems.
(from How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life (2002), p. 149)
It’s a tough idea to grasp: There is an “I,” but don’t exaggerate it. Don’t fool yourself that it exists in some manipulatable and manipulating form. Somewhere between nothing and exaggeration lies who I am.
It strikes me that describing this concept as “selflessness” draws a direct line between knowing ourselves and parenting. We’re always either trumpeting or complaining about the “selfless” acts one is somehow compelled, by dint of a mysterious animal-like need, to undertake for our children. We totally get that life would be a whole lot easier without them. We sure as shooting aren’t in control of them, can’t make them be any particular thing even if we did quite literally make them. But we parent them anyhow, often without exaggeration. We do what we think is best and we wait to see the outcome.
Selflessness, I now understand—and with it the kind of steady happiness that comes even when there is a touch of melancholy in the middle—is watching a video of The Knack with my four-year-old on a Saturday morning and being both there and here and knowing that both places are just where I am meant to be.
Yes, this counts as yoga: I suggest watching a video that reminds you sharply of some time when you were a different person. As you watch, resist the urge to try to figure out the path that brought you from there to here or to examine your choices or to judge anything at all. See if you can’t simply be both of those people while exaggerating nothing.