By Holly Herring
Do you remember when the world became real to you?
As a small child living on a midwestern farm with my best friend Marco the (actual) goat, before I even knew that Kindergarten was coming for me one day, I thought I had access to the whole world. I knew that the world, at that time, was 40 acres big, and on one end it was mostly tall weeds but good for the occasional adventure and the other side had all my farm animals and fresh tomatoes growing on it.
My mother was probably the queen and she did things I didn’t know anything about. Grownups couldn’t be accessed or understood, they were far removed from my simple life of eating mud pies and chasing ducklings. I was very cosmopolitan at age four and had explored every nook and cranny of the great big, 40 acre world.
My mother was royalty and I carried out every command she issued from her Lazy-Boy recliner throne (that I was not allowed to sit on) because that’s what loyal subjects of the farm did.
Looking back, I realize I had this reverence for people with even the tiniest bit of authority in my life—like the lunch lady.
She lived a very mysterious life surrounded by grilled cheese and cafeteria pizza I could only dream about. At the sound of the bell I dumped anything left on my tray and marched my insignificant butt right out the cafeteria doors. I was not about to discover what happened if I were to dilly dally around after the declared lunch hour in the lunch lady’s territory.
I lived a life that existed roughly a few feet in front of my face. Sure, I read articles and watched news stories about far off places and events that might as well have been imaginary fairy tales. Right, there’s this land with castles and a Queen and this princess was in a tragic car accident—England. How gullible did I look? I knew none of that would ever come close to touching me.
People in the government, people who wrote the books I read and people who decided how much a parking ticket would cost me, were all on thrones completely out of reach in places the books called “City Hall” and “Best Seller List.”
I was watching this documentary about kids who were housed in a kid jail in California awaiting trial as adults. One of the kids said something that made complete sense to me. He said when he was little his mom was like an alien. She wasn’t real to him as a human being. Another kid awaiting trial told a story, and he was sure to mention it wasn’t a story about him but his homeboy—a 12-year old walking into the backyard late at night to see his step father attempting to take his own life. That was when his step-father became real to him.
Now it all made sense to me. Life got real for that kid when his caregiver became human to him.
I finally understood that feeling I had growing up in my world as a peasant in a make believe medieval world. When people became humans, I had to grow up. When my mother displayed real emotions in front of me, she wasn’t a queen anymore. When my teacher told me about how his son had died, he came off his throne and sat at a regular student desk with me.
It was about time I contemplated the Buddha on his lotus in that far away Nirvana land. Who was that guy really? I heard he was a prince or some kind of royalty. Sure, I followed him in spirituality but he was like my mother the Queen and the lunch lady—out of reach. I had to make the Buddha real somehow. I knew I would have a better relationship with this guy if he was human, just like me.
I wound up in this crazy rabbit hole of research and discussion and I got about 100 slightly different origin stories. There was one explanation that made spirituality obtainable to me and made the soon-to-be-Buddha less of a historical figure and more of, well, a “dude.”
The story was that he wasn’t a prince in the way I was picturing a prince. His family wasn’t royalty the way I imagined royalty. Prince Siddhārtha, as explained to me, was the son born to a wealthy family in an aristocratic clan. It wasn’t necessarily a kingdom but more of a republic. He had a wife and a baby boy, but he lived a pretty sweet life, far removed from regular struggles.
Now I had something I could work with.
If this was a more accurate description of Siddhārtha Gauatama, I could relate a bit better—a guy with his family, just getting a view of suffering outside his protective wealthy walls. I could imagine that guy now, kissing his wife and baby boy on the forehead and slipping out his front door to stroll around the world as the majority lived it—as part of it.
It was so hard! Everything was expensive when you didn’t have money and getting ill without luxurious comforts sucked.
Siddhārtha gained insight and compassionate caring led him to decide there had to be a way to transcend all this suffering. He had to have been a Systems Thinker, like myself. We sit on the floor surrounded by the mystery and break it down into bits before building it back up in a different way—a way that functions better than when we found it.
Now I had a spiritual leader who I could identify with and the entire basis of how he got to that point in his life, well, I could grasp that.
With a better understanding of the world and in the humanity I was a part of, I could place a different kind of importance and value on myself. I was a spoke in a big wheel with lots of moving parts and I was vital to the operations. Everything I did affected the rest of the Humanity Wheel and things happening at the opposite end of the wheel affected me over here on my little spoke too.
The world became huge and people in government (even the lunch lady) became people I would walk right up and talk to. We were all just parts of the same wheel. Things happening in Ukraine are tugging at my little spoke here and I can feel it; I feel for Ukraine without ever visiting there. All that Aqua Net I used in the 80’s really was messing up my ozone layer. It took me until 2022 to realize it, but I get it now. It’s time to toss the plastic straws off the Humanity Wheel too. Maybe we can stop holding Shamu the whale captive while we are at it.
“I am because we are” – Ubuntu – we are all connected.
The Buddha is real and the lunch lady is too. Who knew?
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