Almost exactly 8 years ago, I gave birth to my first daughter and 6 weeks later, began practicing as an attorney. The scariest part of my job was going to the border. It took awhile to learn how to shoulder the burden of my clients' expectations and fears, how to prepare them for the worst case scenario without making them so anxious as to cause them to bring it about. The worst part was the waiting-- sitting with a client and giving them the impression that everything was under control while my own stomach was churning as we waited to ask a government officer to pretty please let them come work in the United States.
Sometimes we would be there for hours in the same room. I was still nursing my baby, and a few times I was stuck there so long I started leaking milk. I remember the agony of putting on my shoulder belt in the car afterwards. I suffered in all manner great and small. Nothing to follow in my entire career has yet been worse than balancing all of those things in those still hours. And nothing was more important in shaping me.
In those hours, I instinctually returned to the yogic breathing I had learned during my pregnancy, centering myself, remembering how in giving birth, my job was to step out of the way of what would happen naturally, how that is always my job. To be present. To breathe. To witness. To step aside for what is larger.
And still my mind was frantic in seeking out comforts for itself. Often it would settle on the very old or the very young who also sat waiting-- mothers holding sleeping babies close to their hearts, old couples conversing-- people whose essence was not modified by the stressful environment because it could not be altered by anything, was immutable, a step removed from the commerce of the world. They stilled me. The babies would stir my milk, summon it down, remind me of my connectedness.
After 8 years, I view the same waiting room quite differently; it is a comforting place, the scene of years of pleasantries and happy clients. Stress no longer transforms me when I wait there. It is a time of stillness and conversation, a blank, electronics-free space in which the ancient practice of human interaction is still alive if I cultivate it. My clients are no less stressed but I become like the baby for them, the person they look to for comfort because my essence is unchanged by the environment. And they tell me all kinds of wonderful things when I poke them. I think stress loosens the lips. They will tell me things they wouldn't tell their priest. It's like magic.
Going to the border is now fairly routine for me. I know how it works, I know the people. But the other day, I had a similar experience, of trying something new. I went to immigration court for the first time in my practice. It was for a case that arose out of a border issue. Again, there was a waiting room. (Any life event of any significance is preceded by an antechamber; if you are in a waiting room, pay attention. It's important). And while we were there, a mother sat down with her sleeping toddler molded into her shoulder. Suddenly, I had the physical sensation of milk letting down, even though I stopped breastfeeding my second baby over three years ago. It was a bodily reminder, an echo of that distant time. But I was not frantic this time, I did not feel like I was searching out comforts. I just found one-- or it found me-- anyway. And I felt myself again part of a very old and very large family, and was surrounded by it. It is everywhere. And for me, the coincidence of my first child's birth with the beginning of my practice, seems like no small thing. Both called on me in a similar way, to give through a stillness and presence that came from beyond and through me, and are forever intertwined.