Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Rescue Workers Know and Women Don't

Sundays, I like to go to church.  There isn't an American Zen center in my city, but I wouldn't leave my church if there was; I've been a member there for thirty years, and they've helped me through sickness and loss. I've gotten to know a lot of nice people there. I ran into three (3!) of them at my local library today, perhaps because we were all not at the OSU football game.

Maybe my long tenure there has meant I feel free to misbehave.  Often, the music and the sermon inspire me to write a poem quietly, on paper with a pen, not on my iPad.  If that bothers someone, they should sit with that, as we say in Zen, meaning, they should meditate on, What's my problem, anyway?

But last Sunday I was inspired not to poetry, but to some notes on self-compassion. What, have compassion for yourself?  You're a woman. Who has time?  Exactly.

Who has time to meditate, for example, to name the overall best way of taking care of yourself by reducing your stress.  I once heard a self-styled spiritual person say that.  Really? I thought thoughtfully.  But she worked, and had a family.  And after all, meditation - time to accomplish nothing at all in a certain way - is a luxury for those who don't have to work all their waking hours.

As I thought about self-compassion, and taking better care of This Wun, I remembered the fireman [sic] I once was doomed to work with; we co-edited a manual for fire fighters.  We'd have gotten along better if I'd said to him early on, "Look Ron - you know how to fight fires.  I don't tell you how to fight fires.  I am a language person.  I know how to edit.  Let me do my job."  In part, I kept silence out of a not-unreasonable fear of macho guys with big chips on their big shoulders.

From working with that book I learned the first rule of fire-fighting, whether you're a smoke jumper or a small-town volunteer:
       Save yourself first.
A rescue worker is a very important part of any community, as communities are places where people live in shelters, and shelters are important to animals.  So, you know those adorable pictures of a firefighter streaked with smoke, lovingly holding a tiny kitten?  If he or she* endangered their life to save that kitten, they will get chewed out mercilessly by the captain, and by Ron.  Because a trained rescue worker is more valuable than the idiot who started that fire by smoking in bed.  That's how Ron explained it to me, in more colorful language.  It's expensive to train a rescue worker and it can take years before you tame down their hero fantasies and they become good team players.  So Ron said.   

Women of the world - whether you fight fires or a harassing boss, are a mother or a daughter, a politician or a postal clerk - you are important, too.  Yes, even though you don't have a penis.  This is still news to many people.  Change comes slowly.  The general culture keeps subtly putting women "in their place" even if your parents were liberated and you are, too.  The comic strips are full of jokes about women working two jobs, the paying job, and that second shift they work when they come home and take care of a family.  But it really isn't funny.

When you fail to take care of your own needs - and who am I to suggest daily meditation? I'm not your mom - you are spending the vital chi you were born with.  It is exhaustible. 

I think that the reason most people stop meditation practice is that their truth is threatening to break through the boredom.  It does do that, and when it does it's a good thing to be working with an authentic Teacher.  Be prepared.  As my favorite author, Terry Pratchett, has written, "one edition of the Ankh-Morpork Times says on the masthead, 'The truth will make you fret.' (Other editions assert, 'The truth will make you free,' and 'The truth will make you Fred.')  There is debate about who first added an estimable second clause to that famous sentence, maybe Dead President James Garfield, who is not credited in this pretty poster -
Some prefer Gloria Steinem's version.
* Rescue Workers have to wear so much gear, and lift so much weight that few women can qualify or, indeed, have dared to aspire to the job.


  1. Nope, it's not funny. Somehow my mother still lacks a degree, but my father managed to get one. My father managed to finish a 21 year career in the Marine Corps, and my mother is still looking to start one. Who had the kids? Mother.

    1. Thanks, Kogen. How old is your mother? (BTW, are we the only two people left in America who know that word? These days, it's all "Mom." In my day, by god, a mother was A Mother.)

  2. I just found your blog yesterday :) I am reading your back posts, some about acceptance and some about letting go. Thank you for your blog and especially this post. I am 61 and have been a mom, grandma, mother, etc. I just have found Buddhism in Aug.2012. I will always be a Christian but am happy to live abt 45 min. away from a temple. I am accepted there and learning a lot. Just wanted to say thanks for this post which will help me to remember to take care of myself. Kathy C in Illinois

    1. Thank you, Kathy. This led me to reread my post, and it's an odd coincidence, because I just finished my practice plan for the coming week. My overall focus is going to be on taking good care of myself. No kidding - it's called "beneficial action" in Buddhism. So I appreciate your part in leading me to circle back to myself on this.