Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Blood In The Wok

Tonight, while chopping vegetables for a stir fry, my hand lost its grip on the knife and I sliced my finger. It was a pretty good nick across the surface of my left middle finger, a broad cut that gushed impressively and will probably develop a large scab. Sarah ran for cotton and gauze and here I am, alive and well with at least 9.75 fingers.

Watching my feelings and reactions after the emergency, I noticed the familiar "poor me" feeling and the allure of dread. Did I wash it sufficiently? Is the cut worse than I thought? Should I have it looked at over at Mimbres? Can I afford the hundred dollars? The pace and the level of panic around these voices responded to the pace of my breath and the level of pain in my finger. It was worst in the first twenty minutes, when my finger hurt like hell and I lay on the floor of the living room with a glass of water, having felt faint. Faint! My familiar response to minor injury and pain, and low level illnesses like colds and minor flu, I have always attributed in part to growing up such an urban boy, when the majority of my survival skills were knowing how to access experts to blow on my boo-boos. Poor me. Poor me. I ripped my toenail, all is not well in the universe. Time to revise my will!

The "Poor Me" syndrome applies to larger hurts and disappointments as well as the routine burns and lacerations that come with work done with the hands.

Later this evening, in Erazim Kohak's wonderful The Embers and The Stars, I came across this passage:

There is, in fact, a great deal more rather than less mundane pain in living close to the land. There are the perennial cuts and bruises of the day's work, the hands and the ankles mangled in working with wood and stone, the raw, chapped hands of the winter, the blackflies and mosquitos of the summer, the joints aching with dampness in the spring and fall. Nor is relief nearer. In the logging season, it would take a major disaster to bring work to a standstill for a trip to the hospital. Many of the injuries which keep urban emergency rooms busy warrant no more than a kerchief pressed to the wound and a wave of the hand. It is not that pain hurts less here. It does not, nor do wounds reopen by the strain of continued work heal more quickly. The pain simply matters less. There is so much more that matters. When humans no longer think of themselves as the measure of all things, their pain is no longer a cosmic catastrophe. It becomes part of a greater whole.

And tears soak into the ground, and blood runs into the wok.

My friend Matt asked Zen Master Seung Sahn once about all the war, hunger, and suffering in the world, and whether there was any way to bring the universe back into balance. Kunsunim shot back at him: "What makes you think this is out of balance?"


Kelly said...

Both my husband and I were raised with doctors in the family and an attitude of "you have to be near death" to miss school. Therefore, we both learned to "suck it up" and not make a big deal out of injuries. I'm sure we've passed that attitude along to our kids, too.

I'm sorry you cut yourself, but your reactions always make me want to laugh. Oh, and the title brought to mind when my mother use to kid about getting too close while grating cheese and turning it into "pimento cheese". Yuck.

Debby said...

I'm a 'suck it up' person too. But that can be carried to an extreme, a shield from other people and their concern. There is a happy balance of the two, I think.

Still pondering your final paragraph. It will take a while to sink into the mush that sloshes in my cranium.