Tie Up your Camel


There’s a great Muslim proverb that teaches about the balance between action and acceptance, control and allowing, trust and responsibility. “Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.”

Zaida (my daughter, 9 years old at this point) and I pulled up on our motor bike in front of Earth Cafe. We pulled right into the very first spot to the right of the stairs (rock star parking, even in Ubud). We were just stopping in for a minute to buy some goat cheese for her to bring with us to our dinner date with Rex 15 minutes later. Even before I put the kickstand down I knew there was a lot of slant to the road there, and while I knew the bike would be stable enough, it occurred to me that it might not be wise to loop our puppy’s leash over the bike’s mirror like I usually do. I did it anyway.

Right away Zaida called out to another dog that we often see near there, who responded in kind and came wagging up. I started up the stairs into the store, thinking we’ve just got a few moments and I want to be sure we’re on time to meet Rex.

“Awwww, pupppppyyyyyyy,’ Zaida was cooing. If I ‘force’ Zaida to come in now, she’ll feel disappointed, I thought. “Zaida, I’m going to go in and buy the cheese, okay?” She ‘uh huh-ed’ me.” “Will you be sure that you don’t go into the street?” “Yep.”

Even before I took one step up the stairs into the store, I had the feeling ‘it’d be more ‘noble’, more fatherly, more kind and loving, for me to be patient, to stay here with her, to then go in to the store together.’ I took the first step. By the time I got to the third, even before I heard the sound, I felt the alert ripple through me. My body went tingly with a wave of pre-adrenaline. My mind went clear and sharp. Time slowed. Then the sound.

By the time I turned around – I was on the third step by now – the motor bike was already on top of her. Literally and completely on top, with her small body, the one that I still think of as fragile and needing my protection, curled face-down into the pavement. Instinct. I leapt, landed on the downslope side, squatted, and put my hands on the bike’s frame. “You’re okay.” I said it to her before I knew it was true – even if I did know that she was breathing, and alive. There was a ripple of panic around us, a bubble where even though there were a bunch of people around, no one was moving. One word came from my lips “Help.”

My eyes did not stray from Zaida, from the bike. In a second there was a man to my left, who, when we righted the bike onto it’s wheels, took the weight of it, balanced it, allowing me to reach down to Z. Not only could she move, she was crying, and turned toward me as I got my hands under her arms. For this situation, these were all good signs. And while I was far from at ease, some measure of relief washed into me as I took the risk that her spine was okay enough for me to pick her up. I pulled her onto chest, her legs wrapping around my waist in a move we’d practiced a thousand times. Her helmeted head, lumped over my shoulder and while it emitted cries and airy gasps of her trauma, this time when I said it, I had some confidence in it: ‘You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay.”

“I got it.” The man beside me was now on to getting the bike stable and the puppy unwound. Of course when the dog Zaida had called came close, our puppy, Kiva, had jumped to play, which is what pulled the bike over. As I stepped away from the bike with Zaida, I saw that the man parking the bike now was the same one we’d passed on the road a few moments before.

He’d stood out to me in that he’d done two unusual things.

On his bicycle, riding up Jalan Hanuman, where we bikers – push or motor – have only one narrow lane, he’d been ‘looking back aware’ of our presence behind him for a little ways, aware that I wanted to pass him. I was attempting to keep far enough back so as not to rudely pressure him, yet also be close enough to pass when the opportunity arose. When we got to the ‘cobblestony’ section of the road, he veered, rode to the left of the rope-rail that separates ‘sidewalk’ from road and ascending to the people-less sidewalk, left us the bike lane free. His awareness of us behind him was notable, yet it was the act of taking the sidewalk, while clearly knowing first that there was nobody walking there, that struck me as one of great presence – and even more impressively – kindness in his consideration of us.

By the time I got all the way up the steps to the terrace, and – Zaida still monkey-clutched on to the front of my torso – sat down on the bench, facing out to the street, my system had relaxed enough that my own tears started. My breathing now going bigger and softer, I looked up just as that man turned from the now-stabilized bike and looked up to where we sat. I nodded my thanks and he nodded his ‘you are welcome.’ That’s when I realized it was the same man from the push bike. Zaida looked up at me with a bit of surprise when my own crying now included a gasp not dissimilar from hers a few minutes before. “Papa, are you crying because you were scared I was hurt?” That brought me a chuckle, and I, now on the edge of snotty, smilingly nodded my ‘yep, that’s exactly why I’m crying’ nod.

The number of lessons I take from this 5 minute experience are many. There’s a great intersection between two apparently contradictory pieces of wisdom.

The first – expressed well by Brene Brown in her theory of vulnerability shielding, she calls ‘foreboding joy.’ It’s something like the tendency we have not to let ourselves appreciate things, people (especially our children) for fear that something bad will happen and we’ll lose them later. If we have too much love or joy now, the pain of loss later would be too great and would crush us.

On the flip side, the Stoic philosophers, especially Seneca, instructed that regular contemplation of the loss of that which we love leads us to greater appreciation of them now. It’s training ourselves to combat the tendency to take for granted even the most precious gifts in our lives (our children, partners, friends – even the material objects that could bring us pleasure). Let’s be clear about this: there was not one shred of conscious ‘I’m going to practice or get a lesson for me in this episode.” I was not thinking.

In fact, that’s another lesson for me. Again. Listen to the voice inside. In this case it’s the voice that said not to park the bike like that (or to tie Kiva differently). It told me to let go of my hurry to get stuff done and stay there with Zaida, to keep us together as we spend a moment with the other dog. I note once again (helping me get that lesson more) that usually when I do that kind of thing, the timing works out perfectly anyway, better than when I try to force things.

Now, later, having ‘survived the trauma’ – and with full awareness that this is nothing compared to the traumas that so many beings are fighting their way through on the planet today – I can breathe, write, and tell you about it. I hope it somehow helps you to listen to the ‘still small’ voice inside you, to find ways today to extend kindness, like our friend on the bike did and to appreciate more and more the gifts in your life.

‘Trust in Allah, and tie up your camel’ has become: ‘Trust in Ganesha, and when your bike is parked on a severe angle, make sure your puppy’s fittingly secured.’

Hmmm. It’s original, though ‘Allah and the camel’ is more expedient.