08 September 2017

Bull by the horns

The weather took a turn last week, when things got wet and then cold and on my bicycle, riding down and back to Quarter Horse Coffee in town, I noticed the leaves changing on the Bristol Road. People in Birmingham refer to Bristol Road with a determiner, ‘the’ for a reason I can’t seem to figure out, despite the fact that language is my expertise and I am a doctor of it. There is word of a new cycle path, going from the university to the city, and if this does happen, my life will reach a new level of perfection, on my bike that I bought stolen from an Eastern European man on Gumtree and capped with my new Bern helmet. A young man, younger than me, not middle-aged, said, as I was riding up Victoria Road, That’s a shitty bike, and I immediately responded, Well, you’re a shitty person, and felt incredibly smug for thinking of such a great comeback so quickly.

Pithy, belittling replies are something that my bout with meditation has challenged me to give up. Cultivation, the metaphor that the Buddhists use, has been subtly appearing in other parts of my life, like when I am standing barefoot at my computer and notice the feeling of my feet on the ground. Or when I avoid saying something angry to Yoko or the children. We learned about this in Christianity, but under the heading of holding your tongue which is a metaphor followed by a metonymy, and is about self-control. You are bad and you need to control yourself. Now, with no need to be good, the anger you withhold is just about having less negativity around you and in you. I say that as an interpretation of what I experienced. I’m not sure what it is exactly. We all have to fight less now.

I don’t know if this has been noticeable to the rest of the family – whenever I proudly announce a personal achievement, it’s rightly met with scepticism. I’ve been walking with better posture, have you noticed? I cleaned up the garden, did you see? It’s silly. There are enough children in the house, I don’t need to behave like one as well.

Perhaps this is just what normal people do, at normal times. Someone said to me, as I recounted all the restrictions of my visa and what is and is not illegal, You’re very concerned about doing something illegal, aren’t you, and I said, Yes. Yes, if you do the wrong thing, you might get thrown out of the country. Or sent to jail. Or judged by god. I explain this to people, or try to. I grew up in a cloud of fear. The world was ending. Jesus was coming, likely before I had a chance to have sex. There were only a very few people who could be counted faithful. I hoped it would be me, but I wasn’t sure. It might not be and where would that leave me. Burning in hell, for all eternity, that’s where. Think of how that would be. So best try to avoid stupid slip ups, like doing illegal things.

I open my eyes after an hour and look around. Things are brighter and louder and when asked if I have something to say, I genuinely have nothing to say. There is hope, you think, if you have nothing to say, because silence has an untangling effect. Sure, the past remains, but the past always remains, isn’t it. You don’t need a pat on the head for doing right, or Jesus to reward you. The reward is there already. You just have to stand up, breath in and out. Unlock your bike and ride home. The insurance algorithms will protect you or they won't. Who's to say.