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Lions Roar : March 2013
“The only way to fix a spirit is with lots of love and kindness. And with long walks outside, in the fresh air. That’s the way to heal a lot of broken parts.” This makes good sense to him. The evening routine hops back onto its tracks; the storybook is chosen. I tell him not to wipe snot on his shirt. Or the wall. He laughs, then, and pretends to wipe it on my shirt instead. I begin to read. Soon, he is asleep, his spirit safe in his small animal body. BUT THE ADULT TRUTH IS more complex. After all the appetite, after countries, languages, lovers, music, after the long, rich, wasteful search for wisdom, at times so pointed and fierce, at times meandering, undisciplined, and always just like anyone else’s, perhaps the only question I have ever sought to answer is the one my son asked that night. What grief it has brought me, that the only broken spirit I could learn to fix was my own. It has never seemed like enough. Recently, I sat down one afternoon to meditate upon my brother. Or just to meditate, and allow the thought of him in, at last. He had not been in contact for over four months. No one knew where he was. He is usually good at keeping in touch, even when he has fallen off the wagon and started using again. He was supposed to get out of jail in July, but it was October and there was only silence. I had begun to consider the possibility that he was dead. I had to begin preparing. He had been suicidal before going into prison—a state of despair that he had never experienced before, at least not to my knowledge. He had phoned me, sobbing, dis- traught about his latest descent, which had been a long, hurtful one. I talked to him. He was going to check himself into the hos- pital, but we both knew that they would release him the next day, as soon as he was sober and coherent. I was over two thousand miles away, but even if I could have gone to him, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help. Within a few days he had put a band- aid on the problem by getting into enough trouble to be sent to jail. It was the first time in more than a decade that he had been incarcerated. I had hoped—and he had believed—that that part of his life was over. For him, returning to prison meant utter failure as a man. I thought that maybe something bad—something worse— had happened in prison, and that he might have been released and taken himself off, figured out a way to disappear. It was not his style to do something like that, but when a person sinks down deep into the shame and muck of self-loathing, he is no longer himself. Sometimes he cannot pull himself out of that viscous, poisonous substance. It had already happened to another sibling of mine, an older sister, decades ago. Suicide can infect families like a virus, even generations apart. I decided it was time to stop running away from the thought and, therefore, was feeling silently, secretly frantic. It was a subject that I dis- cussed with no one. Well, not exactly. Just when I was beginning to use the word, in my own mind, in regard to my brother’s fate, one night my son when I thought that I knew my brother as well as I know my child, and I was wrong. It happens that the question my son asks me this evening is one of the large ones. It is, perhaps, at the core of all religious and philosophical inquiry. Psychologists and psychiatrists would be happy to weigh in on this subject, but, alas, the only expert this five-year-old has tonight is his mother, exhausted after a busy day and anxious to usher him into sleep. But first I must respond to the query, “Do I have a spirit?” “Yes, my love, you have a spirit. All people and animals have spirits.” “Where is it?” “It’s in your body. And your mind. And your heart.” “It’s in all of me?” He puts his hands on his chest. Then on his bare heels. “Every part of you.” Already I have given up rushing him. Here is a window into the boy’s private mind. I lean in, gingerly, and look around. “Right now? Can I feel my spirit right now?” “Can you? Take a deep breath, then let your breath out slowly.” He inhales, exhales noisily. Sticks a finger up his nose, digs. “There. Did you feel your spirit?” His face articulates a peculiar, small smile. Secretive but joyful. Almost an adult expression. “I feel it! My spirit!” “That’s great. I’m glad.” “But we can’t see it, the spirit?” “Well, you can see your body, and your spirit gives your body life. So, in a way, you can see it.” “But if it’s also in your mind, it’s invisible.” In a past existence, did he go to school among rigorous Jesuits, I wonder? “That’s true. You’re right. So we can say that the spirit is also invisible. An invisible energy.” The pause spans three or four colossal seconds. Invisible energy whirs inside him like a dynamo, but his voice comes out surprisingly quiet. “Can a spirit get broken?” I look into the small, finely sculpted face. Only one scar on his entire body, and it’s on that beautiful face. His right cheek; he fell. It’s already faded, though, hard to see unless you know it’s there. “Sometimes a spirit gets broken when frightening or painful things happen to a person. And if that person is alone, without anyone to help them at the right moment.” The theoretical disappears like smoke. Tears stand in my eyes as he gazes into them, but he doesn’t notice because he is busy following his line of inquiry. “Do you know how to fix a spirit?” he asks, meaning, If my spirit got broken, would you be able to repair me? “Do you know how to fix a spirit?” Timo asks, meaning, If my spirit got broken, would you be able to repair me? SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 75