I was in the car with the Spotted Opossum recently and out of nowhere she said "Daddy, you know how your wish came true?"
"Some of my wishes have come true, Honey. Which one do you mean?"
"When I was still in my Mommy's tummy, you wished that I would be a girl. You remember that?"
"Yeah, I remember that. I thought it would be fun to have a girl." I really did kinda hope for a daughter, but of course I wouldn't have been upset if it had gone the other way. I told her I had wanted a girl one day when she was talking about how much she prefered girls to boys. She's really opposed to boys right now, with a few exceptions. Boys are too rowdyand rough and don't follow the rules the way they should and they have little or no appreciation for cartoon ponies.
"Well, my wish came true, too, because you're my Daddy."
I teased some clarification out about that statement and what it came to was that, before she was born, when she was still with God, she wished that I would be her Daddy and her wish came true. I am her Daddy. She says things like that occasionally, incredibly touching and loving statements that make my heart swell and give me the ability to tolerate countless tantrums, fits and random bouts of obstinance. I'm sure all parents have stories about when their brats said amazingly sweet and endearing things.
The notion of a crowd of babies hanging out in Heaven waiting to be born is one we're all aware of, whether we actually believe in it or not. I don't know where it came from, certainly not the Bible. The Judeo-Christian tradition, which includes Islam, holds that all individuals exist in the mind of God before they are created, but there's no Biblical evidence that those individuals have any way of determining or influencing where, when or to whom they will be born. No before-life existence is postulated: the soul enters the body at the same time the sperm penetrates the egg, the individual lives for as long as they live and then go wherever God decides they should go, according to His Divine Judgement, which seems kinda arbitrary and harsh at times. I don't know where we got the idea of a Heavenly nursery filled with baby souls waiting to be born, but it seems to be associated, in my mind at least, with storks.
Eastern religions, of course, do offer a before-life existence. Hinuism, Buddhism and all their various tangents and offshoots postulate reincarnation. Souls, or monads, pass through physical bodies repeatedly. One's actions in any given lifetime determine the circumstances one will be born in next time, a theory known as karma. This is generally presented as a system of justice: if you're and asshole in this incarnation, you'll come back as a dung beetle, so be nice. John Lennon was using that idea with "Instant Karma". It's slightly better than the idea that you're going to burn in Hell forever and ever and ever for consensual sodomy or picking up sticks on the Sabbath, but only slightly. I personally find it hard to believe that the Universe turns according to such a petty little reward/punishment mentality. Reward and punishment are educational tools, not ends in themselves. I reward my daughter for good behavior and punish her for bad behavior because I'm trying to teach her certain values.Kicking people when you don't get your way is wrong because it hurts the other person, not because it results in no dessert. My goal is to instill in my daughter the idea that hurting other people is wrong in itself. Withholding dessert is a way of getting her attention and illustrating that actions yield consequences. The Law of Causality is one that Hinduism and Buddhism establish first and transcend later. I'll do what I can to help the grrrl transcend the cause/effect dichotomy when she gets to that stage, but first she's gonna have to stop kicking me when I say she can't watch just one more episode of "My Little Ponies".
Karma is an impersonal force like gravity. Karma isn’t doing anything to us. Karma just is. We can learn from karma, but first we have to think of it as a thing we learn from, as opposed to a Thing that punishes or rewards us according to some Celestial Code of Conduct.
I like the idea that we have some choice regarding our education, that there is a period between incarnations when we are at one with the One – Brahma, God, Wakan Tanka, or as a friend of mine says, the Great Whatever – when we are freed from our temporal attachments and concerns and can look at our progress without bias, when we can look with “eternal eyes” if you will. Seeing ourselves and our growth from this perspective, we can evaluate what we’ve learned and decide what we need yet to learn. I see the period between incarnations as a break between college semesters when we can sit down, look over the classes being offered and figure out what options would best educate us.
Accordingly, I choose to believe that when I was last between incarnations, I chose to be reborn as a white male, mostly heterosexual (I confess to having a slight crush on Daryl Dixon, the redneck character in The Walking Dead, though that might be because I like to think I’d be that much of a badass in the Zombiepocolypse), in 1969, to certain parents, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, with a predisposition toward drug and alcohol addiction and a uni-polar depressive disorder. I chose this life because it offered me the best opportunities to get the education that my eternal Self knew it needed. The fact that that could be a steaming load of happy horseshit doesn’t change the fact that holding that belief gives me a sense of control over the circumstances of my birth and encourages me to look for the lessons, the growth opportunities in my life. Life doesn’t give me lemons. I chose a life that includes some lemons for reasons that I do not presently understand, but I did choose it. And I chose education for the sake of education, not because it was a means to an end. That’s where the idea of incarnations as college semesters breaks down. Most college students are in college to get degrees that will lead to jobs, not because they want to learn, an unfortunate result of living in a goal-oriented, materialist culture, but the metaphor still has value.
It is right and good, therefore, that I embrace the lessons my life offers, whether they are easy or difficult, comfortable or painful. Most assuredly, I do not enjoy every lesson. When I was in college, I liked some classes and hated others. Abnormal Psyche was lots of fun; Introduction to Statistics sucked. I have liked some teachers and hated others. I have had to repeat some courses many times. Fortunately, I got Pell grants for college and there is no tuition for life. I have not used my degree professionally – I’m not even sure where my diploma is at this moment - but the process of getting it did have profound effects on how I live my life. Some of the information I got at college has come in handy: anybody who intends to become a parent should learn a bit about childhood development and behavior modification. Mostly though, the three years I spent getting a two-year degree changed my perceptions of myself and my abilities, altering my life trajectory in profound ways that I do not yet fully comprehend. It’s important to remember that one doesn’t have to fully comprehend the educational process for it to work.
Remember The Karate Kid? What’s-his-name had to wax all Mr. Miyagi’s cars in order to learn how to block a punch. That’s classic Japanese-style education. You do what the teacher says even though you don’t see what it has to do with the education. Later, it all makes sense.
The problems that I face right now are lemons that I have to wax. I don’t know what I’m going to learn in the process, but I have reason to believe I’ll learn something. I always have.
It follows then that my daughter, who I consider a more advanced monad than myself, chose to be enrolled in a semester of life as a white female, of as-yet-undetermined sexual orientation, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, with me as her Daddy. Her statement about “wishing” to have me as her Daddy meshes perfectly with my own beliefs about incarnation as education and I have no reason to doubt her. That I frequently doubt my own fitness for the job means that I am a person who frequently doubts his own fitness for anything. Beneath that temporal insecurity, deep down at the eternal core, I must know that I am exactly fit for the task. She knows it too.
I still have to study and work, of course. I still have to try hard to do well. I do believe that my actions will yield results on some level. A friend – another recovering alcoholic – once said that alcoholics who die drunk come back as dung beetles. I replied that alcoholics who die drunk come back as alcoholics until they finally learn to stay sober, which my friend agreed was a harder lesson.
I want to enter every learning situation with a positive attitude. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I get frustrated with my apparent lack of progress. Sometimes other people get frustrated when I haven’t learned things they think I should’ve learned – that happened at work last night. I try not to be too hard on myself because I find it doesn’t help. Obviously, it behooves me to extend that attitude to other people. The person who scolded me for fucking up at work last night was working with incomplete information – the fault was not all mine – but she was partially correct, so rather than argue with her about how somebody else’s fuck-up fucked me up, I just accepted what she said. Some of the fault was mine and I need to work on that.
I’m going to go get the Spotted Opossum from school in a bit. We will not be watching My Little Ponies today. I’d be okay with watching one episode, but I don’t want to deal with the fit that will happen when she wants to watch a second one and I say “no” so I’m just going to nix the whole Ponyville gang entirely. She’ll be cranky, but hey, she’s the one who picked me to be her Daddy.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.