Yesterday afternoon I hit the story of the author watching an interview with the actress Susan Saint James, whose son was killed in a plane crash.
Then, emanating deep calm and assurance, she made this most astonishing comment: "His was a life that lasted fourteen years." I gasped. Could I make that statement with such equanimity should one of my children or grandchildren die? I still don't know the answer to that question. But Susan Saint James's words and the serenity with which she spoke them entered my heart that day. Ever since, when I find myself in grief and despair over the many losses I've had to face due to my illness, her words are my equanimity practice.The idea of saying, "This is a relationship that lasted for 10 years," with cognizance of the past tense (that this relationship is Over), is of course Relevant To My Interests. I'm not sure it's an equanimity practice I'm ready to embrace, of course...
When I feel myself mourning my lost career as a law professor or a lost friendship, I say to myself, "This was a career that lasted twenty years"; or "This was a friendship that lasted twenty-five years." If I feel overwhelmed by the loss of my health and its consequences, I say to myself, "This was a body that was illness-free long enough to be active in raising my children and to not be a burden to them when they were young; to be a part of their weddings; to teach and be of personal support to many law students; to travel and keep company with Tony out in the world."
Inspired by Susan Saint James's courage, which reinforces the teachings of the Buddha that I've learned, I'm able to say these equanimity phrases without bitterness. I can even be genuinely grateful for those years.