It was a big deal to visit my cousins in Minneapolis. They were on the cusp of all that was new. It was the summer of my 10th year. I arrived on Greyhound bus. My aunt came to pick me up at the station. My cousin Shawn, just a year or two younger, carried a bow, dull-tipped arrows, and a world of imagination. These were the days when this was enough to protect you at the bus station.
Slung across his shoulder, the plastic bow looked marvelous. Of course I wanted one. Just the same. We could go to Target on the way home, my aunt said. Target. My very first Target visit. It was big and red and glorious. And even at 10, it wasn’t lost on me that with a name like Target — this was the perfect place to buy a bow and arrow.
She bought me the same one as Shawn. Armed against nothing in their back yard, we started to shoot the arrows straight into the sky. They were dull, as I said, but anything falling from the sky was a danger for sure. My uncle Mike, when he saw us, told us to stop immediately. I’d like to think he was worried about the top of our heads, but he said something about not wanting any arrows on the roof of the house. I had already pulled back the elastic string, and one more flew from my bow. I watched it go higher and higher. I started to pray. Don’t let this be the one to hit the roof. The wind was leaning it toward the house. It started to come down. I prayed faster. I closed my eyes. Plunk. It missed the house by a few feet – (it missed our heads as well). I never shot one again.
As a child, I was able to let things go. I don’t remember worrying about the arrows. We laid them down, and went on to play something else. It was over. Had this happened as an adult, I’m sure I would have gone over it and over it in my head. Replayed the conversion. The warning. The praying. The what-ifs. Maybe even beating myself up for firing that last shot.
There is a Buddhist parable about this – the second arrow.
The parable of the second arrow is about dealing with life, suffering, and circumstance more skillfully. The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. Being struck by an arrow is painful. Being struck by a second arrow is even more painful.
The second arrow is how we deal with things. It’s so easy to add misfortune to our daily living. For an example, there was a woman who told of her family’s recent struggle with Covid. The whole family got it, but she noticed a difference in the reactions. She, herself, was angry, questioned how she got it, why she had to get it, why the world was in such a mess… but she noticed her two young children — when they felt a little better, they played softly, and when they were feeling ill, they rested. No second arrows.
A lot of the “first arrows” in this life are unavoidable. Most of the second are. It’s a practice, and a difficult one, but I want to live this way, avoiding the second arrow. This morning I look up to a clear blue sky. Let my head and heart remain the same. Good morning!