“Make a series of smart choices,” I’d said to a friend before he left on a bender weekend in New Orleans. He laughed and said, “I’ll probably make a series of mediocre choices.” “Fair enough,” I thought. Mediocre is better than bad, but not as good as smart. But at the end of the day, isn’t a series of bad, mediocre, or smart choices what define us?
Last week the monk talked about wisdom. He defined it as a virtuous, intelligent mind that functions mainly to dispel doubt, hesitation, or confusion. The constant questioning, “Should I do this or that?” A type of understanding that induces peace of mind by seeing clearly what will cause happiness. The moment when we see clearly—when something clicks through listening, meditation, or contemplation. And while these definitions made sense to me, I didn’t have my own strong “aha” moment after the talk. So I went about my week. I exercised every night. At barre on Tuesday the teacher asked if the leg lifts hurt. With a pained look, I answered “yes,” pointing to my butt. She laughed and said, “That’s muscles,” affirming that my series of smart choices to go to barre twice a week for the month of October was paying off.
On Wednesday I volunteered at the Ballard Food Bank with a colleague. I was surprised how much I liked bantering with the customers and the thoughtful strategy of bagging groceries. I ran into a former coworker I’d worked with 18 years ago—hugged her warmly and caught up. I thought about how glad I was that I’d set up my work-sponsored volunteer day at the food bank. Then I ran three miles before doing another two hours of volunteering at the Ballard Senior Center. Afterwards a friend came over to visit and I shared the pumpkin cardamom cupcake I’d been coveting because that was a smarter, kinder choice than eating the whole thing myself. It was a day of smart choices.
The next day I was Tina Turner. For Halloween, but also because I’d always wanted the chance to be this firehouse of a woman. Ever since I read her most recent autobiography around New Years and noted her series of “second acts” (divorced at 40, #1 hit at 45, married her love at 74) I’d wanted to channel her. I’d also hoped to use the Halloween deadline as an incentive to get my legs in shape. But life happens. Poor choices happen. Cookies are good. Cocktails are good. And my plantar fasciitis just won’t go away. And yet the Tina wig I’d bought in February sat in the top of my closet like in “Miss Nelson is Missing.” The day before Halloween I decided that the wise, Buddhist thing to do was to live in the present. To grab that wig and be her anyway, even if I didn’t feel perfect or ready.
I started the day in a “Tina lite” costume: heels, jeans, a sparkly top, and the wig. Even “lite,” people complimented the look. I oddly felt like a better version of myself. Midday I changed into a leather miniskirt and tucked in a black negligée as a top. The skirt could have fit better. My thighs could have been smaller. My heels from my teaching days were worn down to the nail. A series of mediocre choices. But the sun was shining and I had a team of friends who’d taken their lunch break to film me attempting to act like Tina. So I strutted to “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” Tight skirt, big thighs, worn heels and all.
The month of October ended quietly. I’d gone to barre twice a week, just as I’d committed to myself on the first of the month. I’d attended and written about weekly Buddhist meditations. I spent Halloween night not out drunk, but at home listening to Tina’s “Steamy Windows” watching my cat clean her lady parts. I ate one mini Snickers I’d grabbed from the candy dish at the gym and saved the Reese’s cup for another day. Another series of smart choices. I don’t know what happened on my friend’s weekend—but those are his choices, not mine.
I admire Tina for her ability to not just emerge from the flames of life, but to strut away from them—in heels. I admire her tenacity and series of choices to redefine herself. Tina’s also a Buddhist. Buddhism brought her the strength and serenity to get out of her marriage with Ike. I haven’t emerged from any fires in the way that Tina has, but I did make a series of choices this month that were better than the last. So what’s Buddhism got to do with it? Maybe more than I thought.