In his introduction to The Snow Leopard, Pico Iyer writes, “Sometimes we have to move away from that which we love the most” in justification of author Peter Matthiessen’s decision, just a few months after his wife died, to leave their young son for a trek through the Himalayas. This seeming abandonment has been one of the main criticisms of Matthiessen over the years. How could he do such a calloused, self-serving act?
Six years ago, when my youngest son, Zeke, was fourteen I left him and my husband to go to China for a year. The previous year we had pulled him out of junior high to try to save him through homeschooling from failing seventh grade. Fourteen is a vulnerable age for any child, a time when they need a grounded life, balance, security.
To this day I don’t know if I made the right choice or not. I like to tell myself that going to China set me on the path to becoming a stronger, more complete woman who is now able to be more present not only for my children, but for everyone in my life. But I can’t deny that I was mainly thinking of myself.
Tomorrow my oldest son turns thirty and in ways I abandoned him as well while he was growing up. As a young single mother, I was full of ego, making my way through the university and from one relationship after another believing that if I could only find true love, I would be happy. I spent more time on my own romances than wondering how this ever-changing procession of boyfriends would affect my son.
Eventually, I did find love, but one that allowed me to indulge rather than transcend my flaws. Psychology claims that we recreate early patterns, especially from childhood, not because they work for us, but because they are familiar. We’ll even endure pain because it’s familiar.
So now I’ve come to India, but for the first time on a journey that doesn’t feeling like I’m running away from anything. Nor am I running toward anything.
As I move deeper into Buddhist thought, I’m learning to simply observe my feelings, but not place too much importance on them or on any epiphanies I might have. For someone who has long been ruled by emotion, this has been huge. We tend to believe so strongly in our thoughts and feelings; we accept them as the ultimate truth. If we think it, then that must be how it is. One night on a mountaintop we believe we see things clearly and so commit it to paper. Those words become our evidence. We can’t see that it’s only our idea of truth and nothing more, an idea that is fluid as water, as changeable as the wind. So often it’s our own rigidity or inability to see things from any point of view but our own that is damaging to those around us. Sometimes we have to let go of what we think is real in order to be free. Sometimes we have to leave what we love.