Our afternoon plan was to attend a travelling carnival in the Villa Linda Mall parking lot and then scoot over to Toys “R” Us to buy London his first bicycle. His older sister Poppy was excited also, even though she had already experienced such rowdy rites de passage years prior. The only hurdle to our fancy plan was London himself who seemed to be of two minds. His abstract mind embraced the idea of riding in shiny cars, eating a hive made from flossed sugar and buying a vehicle with a plastic horn loud enough to scare the neighbor’s dog. But his animal mind didn’t want his body to be covered in clothing. So when my Zen friend Nell called, we were, as seasoned parents say, in the thick of it.
“Rob, I just have to tell you about this koan lecture I went to yesterday. I stayed up all night thinking about it.”
As a childless Buddhist, Nell doesn’t understand that I no longer have sympathy for anyone losing glorious sleep unless it has to do with fevers, nightmares or projectile vomiting.
“Uh-huh,” I grunted, eyeing London who was hurling a pair of hiking boots across the living room.
“I hate those boots,” he screamed. His fists were in the air. “They’re so, so, brownish!”
“The talk was about Hakuin,” Nell said “You should really go to one of these. You’d get a lot out of it.”
“Hawking?” Did Zen study include falconry now?
“Hakuin, silly.” She laughed. “He’s famous for the koan about the sound of one hand clapping. Here, I’ll tell it to you….” Nell enthusiastically recited the meditative question, but my attention was occupied with more present and dramatic concerns. Even though we were running late, London was naked except for a pair of Batman underwear he yanked on backwards. Lala held up three T-shirts, each different in color, cut and logo but, like Wilmer Valderrama at a Texas Kmart, London wanted nothing off that rack. Lala glared at me, and I pointed to the phone, which was about to become enlightened from all the Zen jibber-jabber floating through the wires.
“Should we hold him down?” Poppy suggested, gleefully recalling our family SWAT team efforts trying to get London to swallow medicine to reduce a high fever. Even after restraining him with a bath towel, London managed to spray us with the red goo. It looked as though we had all come down with a strain of bloody measles.
Lala and I have surrendered to the idea that our son is a sweet and funny kid around 85 percent of the time. Once in a while, however, he becomes possessed with the spirit of a NBA star after a fan throws a soda on him. He just loses his shit and nothing will placate him, not even the jumbo joyful dream of a dizzying carnival followed by a goddamn bike.
“So what do you think of my koan?” Nell asked, but I could barely hear her over the sounds of Lala pleading with her son to get dressed as London ran around screaming with his shorts on his head. Nell took a deep meditative breath and then calmly exhaled. “Sounds as if you have your own koan brewing right before you,” she said.
“No shit,” I answered her. “But now we have something in common.”
“You and I both know the sound of one boy wailing.”
Reproduced with permission granted by Santa fe Reporter.