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the end of suffering

I stop cold for a few moments, silent, trying to decide what to do. The girls are in the back, unknowing, V still singing the song I abruptly stopped singing only a second ago.

Am I strong enough? 

I listen to a few bars of "Winnie the Pooh" before I can muster the courage to look. Finally, I glance up in my rearview mirror to study it again.

Shit, it’s still there. But I didn’t do it. This isn’t my mess. Why do I care so much?

"Mommy, what are we doing?"

Decision time.

I pull the SUV into a driveway and spin around to head back the way I just came. The half-flattened, freshly hit squirrel is in mid-squat stance, fighting to try to stand. I stare at it, and somehow I feel like it’s staring back.

Just do it already. He’s suffering.

But as I prepare to floor the gas, he miraculously perks up a bit. Sure enough, he begins to walk, then scamper, back into the woods. I turn the car around yet again and head home, my head spinning, thoughts racing through my mind. Was I in such a hurry to put this squirrel out of his misery that I almost killed him unnecessarily? It would appear so. But what does that say about me?

Maybe I’ve always been this way, but it wasn’t until I had children that I’ve realized how difficult it is for me to allow others to be subjected to unpleasant experiences. Once, Nate and I were in couples counseling, and the therapist asked Nate a question. Nate paused for what seemed like too long, and I immediately jumped in to respond. The therapist stopped me and asked me why I felt the need to interject. I pondered and said "I guess I felt like the pause was too long and awkward, and I was worried you would feel uncomfortable," to which he sarcastically quipped "How nice of you to be concerned with my feelings. But aren’t we here to discuss your feelings?"

I’m currently reading a woman’s memoir that highlights suffering and the quest to terminate it. She says wise philosophers, spiritual or otherwise, point out with certainty that "the end of suffering happens at the end of wanting." Clearly this statement means little to the squirrel in the road, or to anyone enduring physical pain, but it speaks volumes to me and my desire, nay, need to squash suffering. There are times when Vivi dares to introduce herself to strangers at the playground, and they do not answer her, typically because they are much older or in the midst of a game. My instinct is to swoop in and protect her from any hurt feelings, but at this age she takes the slight in stride, continuing about her play. I know one day she may take it personally, and when that times comes, I will be forced to make a choice. To swoop, or not to swoop. I hope I will have learned by then that wanting to spare her the pain does us no good. In fact, it could be that a little suffering goes a long way to teaching a lesson, and if I intervene, I rob the sufferer of their due education.

This morning, as I was doing the dishes, there was a giant "BOOM!" in the next room, which brought with it such a calamitous vibration that I thought a car must have driven into my home. One, two, three seconds…. "AAHHHHHHHH!" Nope, it was just Vivi, who apparently somehow launched her forehead full steam ahead into the living room wall, resulting in a waterfall of tears and a nice-sized welt. I swiftly took her into my lap and quietly calmed her as she cried the pain away. V’s head bump reminded me that there are times where swooping is in order; and in those times, I will be there to end her suffering.