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Lions Roar : July 2015
“What’s wrong with you?” my wife says. “Nothing.” “You’re lying.” He doesn’t look at her. He knows this woman can take him down with kindness. To look at her is to look at defeat. “Something’s up,” she says. “You’re acting weird.” It isn’t weird to the Southsider. It simply is. “Nothing,” he says. “You’ve been like this since morning.” “Like what?” And this is when he looks at her. With that smile. With that attitude. Like a challenge. “Like this.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He really doesn’t. Because to a Southsider, to admit something is wrong is to admit a flaw. A Southsider is not flawed. “Don’t talk to me until you’re better,” she says. This usually does it. This wakes him up. And what follows, though he abhors it, is an apology. Guilt A Southsider can be from anywhere, not just Chicago. I’ve met some in upstate New York, in Florida, in Ohio. They usually hail from dying cities, like Cleveland, and Rochester, and Pittsburgh. They grew up in middle class families. Some of them, like me, have been far removed from their Southside roots, yet they can’t fully shake the Southside out of them. They cling to that part of them like a security blanket. And if they do forget, even for a minute, guilt, heavy and suffocating, sits on their chest. Lesson At Sunday school, during Buddhism class, our Ajahn, monk teacher, told the story of Angulimala, a serial killer turned monk. I wasn’t the best student. Usually, I sat in a corner of the room, doodling. This lesson, however, caught my attention. It was the detail of the severed thumbs that did it. The tale of Angulimala was like most Buddhist parables: a man takes a wrong path and continues along this path because he feels he is far beyond saving. The path Angulimala was on was one of a murderer. As a young man, Angulimala’s teacher, jealous of his student’s virtuous nature, gave a false prophecy that if Angulimala didn’t kill one thousand people, he would risk an early death. Out of his mind, Angulimala began slaying anyone who crossed his path. He cut off his victims’ thumbs as memorabilia, and at first, hung the thumbs on trees, but birds carried the thumbs away. For safekeeping, he began to wear the thumbs around his neck. Years and years went by, and finally Angulimala needed one more victim to reach one thousand. He saw two people on the road—one was his mother (the Southsider’s weakness!) and the other Buddha. He decided to kill Buddha, so he chased after him, his legs working hard on the dirt road, but he never gained ground. The harder Angulimala ran, the further he was from Buddha. It seemed improbable that a man who dashed at full speed could not catch a monk who walked. “Yo, Monk,” Angulimala said, panting, “What’s up with you?” Buddha turned to Angulimala, head glowing with wisdom, and said, “What do you mean? “ “Why don’t you stop, so I can kill you?” Angulimala said, still winded. “I have stopped, man,” Buddha said. “You haven’t.” These words saved Angulimala, of course, and he became a disciple of Buddha for the remainder of his life. Afterwards, Ajahn said that most of us possessed a good and a bad, two identities intertwined in one body. Enlightenment is the merging of the two, which would lead to a deeper under- standing of existence. What purpose, one should ask, does each identity serve? Purpose? a Southsider would say. What the fuck? In Buddhism, the purpose to life is to end suffering, Just as Angulimala ended his after realizing his sins and adopting the Buddhist path. But the Southsider is in many ways the embodi- ment of suffering. He is a suffering boy, in a suffering neighbor- hood, in a suffering city, in a suffering country, in a suffering world. He is drowning in it. Highlights Once the Southside me emerged and wrote a letter to his South- side friends about how much he hated them; it was scathing in its delivery, prose littered with capital letters and exclamation points. Once the Southside me emerged and pushed a kid so hard against a locker it dented. Once the Southside me emerged and dirty danced the shit out of a blonde at a nightclub. After the dance he grabbed her face and kissed her. They never exchanged a word. Once the Southside me emerged and rolled a bowling ball out of a minivan going sixty miles per hour. He wanted to test that physics law he learned at school. Once the Southside me swung the car around mid-traffic to address a man he saw kick a dog. He didn’t care about the car horns or dirty looks. He said to the man, “You kick that dog again, I will fuck your face up. Got me?” Once the Southside me emerged and whipped a chair across a classroom because of a bad breakup. He was sent to see the school psychiatrist and commenced a forty-minute stare off, which he won. Once the Southside me emerged and sat in front of his house on a lawn chair with a baseball bat and a bucket of golf balls. It was Halloween, and this Halloween he’d be damned if someone was going to fuck with the mailbox again. Once the Southside me emerged and threw quarter sticks of dynamite out of his car in the Forest Preserves. Why? Because it was fun ➢ page 87 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 51