Today is one of those days when I feel the world shrinking, when the the mountain range of things I can't control (always there in distance, like the Rocky Mountains) just laughs at me and my approaching level of incompetence.
I think of myself as a river pebble. Sometimes I get knocked around by the current. Sometimes I bump up against other pebbles, bigger rocks, a fish, a cricket, a tadpole, or a plant. Sometimes the current lodges me somewhere: I get stuck in the mud, or between a couple of other pieces of detached sediment. But water is as caustic as it is refreshing. And the current is always in flux. Being, as I am, a river pebble, I pick things up as I go. But I continue to struggle against what wasn't passed on to me to begin with.
I really like the house my wife and I live in. It's an old house, and has old house problems. A good many of those problem are things I'm able to fix. Most simple repairs, for example. I've changed power outlets, hung shelves, patched and painted walls. Replaced toilet seats. These are things I've picked up over the years: like changing a tire, a battery, or the oil. I know a little about a lot of things, actually, which makes me at least moderately useful maybe 80% of the time.
But the things I do know stand in relief against all that I don't. And while I try not to dwell on the reasons why, since the slim difference between a reason and an excuse is a dollop of self-pity, the fact is it's difficult not to track it back.
My grandfather, my mother's dad, was a carpenter. He smelled of saw dust, coffee, and nicotine. He used to scribble little projects on scraps of paper, pieces of paper towel. I used to sneak into his workshop just to smell the smells. My old man ran a jet repair crew in the Air Force; he knew how to work with his hands. There was a wealth of knowledge there that wasn't passed on. I don't know if any of it would have interested me, but I wasn't given the chance to reject it, either. I was a sickly kid and protecting me meant keeping me away from certain things.
The things I HAVE learned, I sought. And I do think there's something to be said for being the active seeker of knowledge. But there's something else about the heritage of knowledge. I've had a lot of teachers over the years, but it's difficult to trace what I know down to a single heritage.
In the Chinese tradition of Zen, heritage matters. It's how teachers become teachers; the monastic certificate program. The master discovers who the next in line is and, through a ceremony , the dharma is transmitted and a new master in invested. And depending on what school you look at, the issue of heritage matters. Heritage gets a bad wrap in America because it's been all wrapped up in nationalism and narrow views of patriotism. Heritage and tradition have become tropes, and our culture chases them like they matter. Whether it's being a Harvard Legacy, a third generation Teamster, a fourth generation military volunteer, or a trust fund baby, we chase heritage like it matters more than the life right in front of us.
Maybe it's because we're a country of mutts. Those inbred Aryans -- the Proud Boy incel types who think blood heritage matters at the expense of common sense and history -- chase heritage like merchant social climbers Jane Austen is still read for writing about. Our need for a royalty formed out an imaginary meritocracy makes us chase celebrities and social media "influencers." Maybe we do this because we're more than a dozen generations past the place where most Americans can easily trace where they come from and we're stuck with 23 and Me.
The good thing is I'm still not scared to learn. And that's a kind of dharma, too.