These past few weeks were filled with emotional ups and downs in my family. My former husband's mother was in and out of the hospital, then to the nursing home for end-of-life care under hospice supervision. Relatives came and went, saying their good-byes. Margaret tried to stay cheerful as her body weakened, and we all finally knew that any day could be her last. She died on March 16, five days before her 94th birthday.Margaret's death brought many important realizations. Driving to and from the nursing home, I was engulfed in memories of my life with my gay husband, with its mixture of happiness and conflict and the upheaval that ended that marriage. Thrown together almost daily with my former husband was confusing. There was a constant overlay of past and present. I was the bridge between the family of my past and my happier present reality, smoothing the way for superficial but well-meaning conversations between two men who could not be more different.
Even more difficult was balancing opposite philosophies and spiritual practices among family members. Margaret's memorial service last week served as a magnifying glass to emphasize those differences: Baptist vs. Buddhist. Materialist vs. Idealist. Narcissist vs. Selfless. Past vs. Present. My tension was palpable.
Finally it was over. Margaret was interred in Lubbock, next to her beloved husband of more than 50 years. My ex-husband and sons went back to their own utterly dissimilar lives on opposite sides of the country, and I was left in blessed quiet to explore what it all means.
By chance, I heard a Dharma talk titled "Spiritual Wealth," by David Chernikoff, leader of the Boulder Insight Meditation Community. He recalled a Native American traditional story that I've been pondering since. His tale of two wolves is a metaphor for the tension I've just described--and it points to an ancient, reliable solution. I want to share this story with other straight spouses, with hope that it will guide them as well.A grandmother is teaching her little granddaughter. She says, "Two wolves are fighting inside you. One of the wolves is hateful, angry, aggressive, envious, resentful, guilty, and despairing. The other wolf is compassionate, joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, kind, generous, and forgiving. These two wolves are always fighting inside you."
The little girl thinks about this image of opposites for a moment, then asks, "Grandmother, which wolf wins?"The wise elder replies, "The one you feed."
This simple story brought my own internal battle into sharp focus, renewing my personal determination to feed my peaceful wolf. I believe that we create our own lives through our choices: Love or hate, peace or war, resentment or forgiveness. Ultimately our lives are shaped by countless accumulated choices and we gain mastery over our own thoughts. In any given situation, we can feed one wolf or the other, and our choice will determine our outcome.