Take it or leave it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


There's this really lovely passage in the Bhagavad Gita. And by the way, the Gita is not some obscure text that a few devout Hindus wearing turbans and living in some remote village in the dusty backwoods of Bombay are able to understand. Its influence in Western affairs is very much alive. Consider that when the Manhattan Project successfully detonated an atomic bomb, project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted the text, proclaiming: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." And the popular novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was also made into a movie starring Matt Damon, is a symbolic interpretation of the Gita, with the scripture's battle being a game of golf, and the bellicose adversaries being competing athletes, and Will Smith standing in for Krishna, Lord of the Universe. Damn, Fresh Prince is moving up in the world!

The Gita states in Chapter 18, "It is much better to do one's own work even if you have to do it imperfectly than it is to do somebody else's work perfectly."

How smoothly the world would run if we all complied with this simple piece of advice. Consider how often you find yourself conveying messages from one friend to another - I do it all the time, with loved ones calling me to ask about my mother's health, when they could just ask her! - or allowing your own jobs, chores or errands to be performed by friends, loved ones, employees or the stranger on the street tasked with picking up your litter.

My father taught me this valuable lesson by example when I was a boy of eight. I had been playing kickball in our cul-de-sac when the school bus came to take me to school. "Take my ball into the house for me, will you dad?" I said while giving my father a kiss goodbye. I came home from school to find my ball in the bushes where I had left it. My father didn't do as I had asked. Luckily the ball had not been stolen. I complained to him later, saying what if he had entrusted me with the care of his briefcase and I had left it unattended by the side of the road! He'd be furious, wouldn't he? And though my father didn't explain himself (he has been called passive-aggressive, not always unjustly), his actions sent a strident message which was: I should occupy myself with my own affairs. It was my ball, I had been playing with it, and it was up to me to stow it safely inside when I had finished. Who was I to order him around?

Ironically it was my father who recently violated his own advice when he asked me to pick up a bottle of holy water he wanted my mother to have. I don't believe in the merits of this water, even as a placebo, and so I gently reminded him of the Gita quote and asked that he deliver it to her himself. He said he understood and did what I suggested. Of course the following week he made the same request, as if he'd forgotten our previous exchange about the matter, or maybe believing that persistence pays off.

Why must I be your stand-in? I want to ask. If you hadn't had your affair twenty years ago which broke up the marriage, you would be here tending to mom's needs, as her husband. And I could ask about her and sometimes come to visit, bearing gifts to ease my conscience. Instead I'm the one who has had to sign away his existence, to watch her die, and it's killing me. I'm your son. I deserve to have my life. It's not fair. This should be you! I want to cry. But I say none of this. Because shit happens. And it's all good. Can't you tell? So I go grocery shopping. Because we need food! And the holy water goes undelivered. Mom is being treated for her condition with meds much stronger, so it's no biggie.

Spend today mindful of the things that others pawn off on you, duties that really are their own obligations, and notice how many times you expect the same of others. I'm not saying don't cooperate, ask for help or offer assistance to those in need. Only that it is a good idea to remind oneself what you are best at, what you have been assigned to do, and to make these obligations your priority. Even if you do your duty imperfectly. After which you can get right back to helping others - and if you have the time, treating yourself to a nice massage. Because you deserve it!

Philosophy aside, I think I understand now why it is that people have children: So they can tell others what to do. Maybe when I'm done editing this post I'll see to it mom gets her water. Because in this drama called life, I get to play the part of dutiful son, and my father needs his peace of mind.

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