According to dictionary.com, a koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.
Years ago I heard a koan that is typically titled ‘The Strawberry and the Tiger’.
Once upon a time, as a man was walking through a forest, he saw a tiger peering out at him from the underbrush. As the man turned to run, he heard the tiger spring after him to give chase.
Barely ahead of the tiger, running for his life, our hero came to the edge of a steep cliff. Clinging onto a strong vine, the man climbed over the cliff edge just as the tiger was about to pounce.
Hanging over the side of the cliff, with the hungry tiger pacing above him, the man looked down and was dismayed to see another tiger, stalking the ravine far below. Just then, a tiny mouse darted out from a crack in the cliff face above him and began to gnaw at the vine.
At that precise moment, the man noticed a patch of wild strawberries growing from a clump of earth near where he dangled. Reaching out, he plucked one. It was plump, and perfectly ripe; warmed by the sunshine.
He popped the strawberry into his mouth. It was perfectly delicious.
This stayed with me for most of my life and I’ve often told myself in moments where I feel I am on a precipice to eat the strawberry.
What this koan means to me is that when the abyss is yawning before me, or something that cannot be stopped is in motion, that I should live in the moment, enjoy the sweet taste of a strawberry before death.
I think it’s normal to resist accepting what we fear is likely inevitable. I mean, the five stages of acceptance is a real thing, particularly when it comes to death. But this can apply itself to different moments, too. The end of a relationship, the threat of massive layoffs.
The Sword of Damocles and all that.
I always think there is an option when something wicked this way comes. While there’s life, there’s hope, after all. I tend to think quickly and I feel I can work out the logistics or a backup plan if need be.
But right now I don’t feel this.
I feel the writing is on the wall for a lot of things. Ending Roe V Wade was never the end goal. We know more is coming. The Supreme Court said it itself:
Justice Clarence Thomas argued in a concurring opinion released on Friday that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage (Politico)
If these items pass, many of my friends could have their marriages nullified and the government’s intrusion into one’s personal life marches on.
You don’t have to agree with same-sex marriage to acknowledge that it’s not up to the government to decide who people choose to marry.
If the goal is to regulate contraception, then it’s not unthinkable that any sort of medical treatment for transgender people could follow.
So, you may feel I am being overly pessimistic but I can’t help but feel and fear that we are on a slippery slope towards any sort of non-binary presentation and medical care being illegal.
What does this have to do with strawberries and tigers? Glad you asked.
Over the last few months whenever I blog or tweet I feel I am being incredibly shallow and superficial. I wonder if people see my posts and are annoyed that I am writing about lingerie while tigers are circling below and snarling above us.
I know the tigers are there. I feel scared and anxious and depressed.
But I also feel helpless.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to stop horrible things from happening. I don’t know how to resist, how to fight for our survival.
And yes, this sounds dramatic and fatalistic and I don’t pretend that everyone reading this will have the same perspective but this is how I feel.
This is also sounding pessimistic. Besides voting for the people I feel have the same values that I do, I don’t know what else to do. I am not a leader in the sense of rallying thousands of people together in an effort to change things. Thankfully there are others doing this.
A year ago things were stressful but even more so today. I can’t imagine what the next twelve months will bring.
All of these fears and feelings of hopelessness were weighing on me especially hard earlier this week. The tigers surround us, the vine we are clinging to is fraying. The question that kept returning to my mind was what do I do?
Like a gentle whisper, the answer came to me.
Taste the strawberry.
So, what does this mean? I will live as much as I can. I will schedule photo shoots and strut through life en femme as much as possible. I will have my head held high. I will have coffee with the T-Girls. I will live a life of quiet defiance.
I hope the vine holds. I still have enough faith that we can pull ourselves and each other to safety but until then all we have is this moment.
The strawberries that I will taste will be sweet.