About twelve or thirteen years ago I met Angie, one of the wisest, kindest, strongest-in-the-tiniest-of-bodies people I ever met.
We were living in San Francisco, and a few of my kids were having some sleeping issues and a friend suggested I try reflexology. It’s like acupuncture, my friend explained, but on the foot. Every spot on the body corresponds to a place on the foot.
Angie made big promises. I cure people from cancer. Get women fertile so they can have babies. Stop high blood pressure and ulcers. And calm body from so many nerves.
Angie was from Shanghai. She had survived (barely, I eventually learned) the Cultural Revolution, an arranged and painful marriage, and a C-section by acupuncture. Let’s just say that she was tough. No nonsense. And whatever story you had, she could top you.
Eventually I started seeing her. And she’d begin each session by asking how I was. I would instinctively give the bland American answer, fine. Then she would cock her eyebrows, as if to say, I don’t believe you, and say, No problem, the feet will tell me how you are.
And she was never wrong. Forget tea leaves! Sore kidneys meant I was afraid; sore lungs mean I was sad; a sore liver meant I was angry. After she’d find the spot that hurt, she’d tease out of me how I was really doing, and then she’d offer advice. Which was always some variation of be more yin.
Be like water. She would explain, Imagine a river. What happens if a rock is in the river? It flows around the rock. If you throw fire in a river, the flame goes out. If you try to beat river with a stick, the stick goes through. Water cannot be destroyed because it knows how to flow. No one can destroy you if you know how to flow.
I remembered this conversation yesterday, as I walked down King George Street in Tel Aviv, listening the audiobook of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, to the scene when the great-grandmother Buddhist nun character asks her bullied at school great-granddaughter, have you ever bullied a wave?
The great-grandmother Buddhist nun explains that you cannot bully a wave; or rather a wave cannot be bullied.
I heard these words and stopped in my tracks. Literally, I stopped right there on the sidewalk. Because, I had spent the past few days dealing with some difficult relationship dynamics; I had allowed some recent uncomfortable conversations with family members to well, kinda flatten me. I had become disconnected, untethered. And pretty fragile.
Hearing Ozeki’s words reminded me to be more like water. She reminded me that I can decide how to respond to life. I don’t have to get offended. Take on other people’s shit. Pick up the pieces from others’ bad decisions. Allow another’s bad day to become my bad day. Take on their fear or anger.
So, right there, standing in front of the little stall where the sleepy man sells cinnamon sticks and dried ginger and perfectly salted pistachios, I made a vow.
I will be like water. I will be responsible for how I greet each moment.