Every Minute Kindness

Every Minute Kindness July 20, 2010

There’s a story I heard once, about a couple of enlightened Zen masters.  One of them goes to see the other one rainy morning, and when he gets there, the one he’s come to see says to him, “When you came to see me today, did you leave your umbrella on the right side of your shoes, or the left?”

The visitor realizes he doesn’t know, and that he doesn’t know because he wasn’t fully present when he put down his umbrella out in the entryway.  So, without so much as drinking a cup of tea, off he goes, back home to study Zen some more.  He puts in another twenty, maybe thirty years, getting himself well and truly enlightened this time, so he can really call himself a master–

–a master of every minute Zen.

Which is, I suppose, a pretty good thing to be.  But it’s not my goal.  I want to be an every minute Quaker; I want to practice every minute kindness.

I think I already know what that would feel like, at least a little.  It would feel like this:

When I was a little girl, my grandparents owned a cabin–a “camp” in the Maine vernacular–out on a lake in Maine.  There were tall pine and cedar trees, but there were also humming birds, loons, and neighbors stopping in to talk to my grandfather about fishing, or to trade recipes with my grandmother.

And on the door to their cabin was a screen door.  Not a cheap metal screen door, mass produced and for sale at Home Depot, but a proper wooden screen door, with a tightly coiled spring halfway up the door to pull it closed, and a hook and eye you could use to fasten it if you chose, but no real latch.

That screen door stood open, the only barrier between the warm, lumber-smelling inside of the camp and the pine-needles and sunlight smells outside.  That door was always full of breezes, and birdsong, and family and friends coming and going all day long.  And every time it would open, as whoever it was would run lightly out into the world or the world would run lightly in to visit, that door would say the same thing…

ScreeeEEAk… BAM!

My whole childhood, all the memories of water and sunburn and mosquito bites and love, somehow can be translated with the cry of that door:  ScreeeEEAk… BAM!

That, that memory, that sound… that is the sound of a heart that is fully open.  Friends can come, friends can go…   ScreeeEEAk… BAM! 

Or maybe just the sound of the soft breezes in the pines overhead, or the leaves on the swamp maples, the far-off whine of somebody’s motor-boat, or even the call of a loon.  The screen door is open to them all, welcomes them all, stand merrily in the midst of the flow and the ebb of them all.

If my heart becomes like that door–if I can learn to stand open and ready, like that door, I will have learned the art of every minute kindness.  I will have become an every minute Quaker.  If friends stop by, I will greet them.

If God stops by, I will be ready.

Hello, God!  So glad you’re in the neighborhood.  Want some iced tea?  A sandwich?  I was just sitting down to lunch.  Come on in and sit for a while.  Or–I know!  Wait a sec–  I’ll be right out to you!

ScreeeEEAk… BAM! 

(May my heart be open to the breezes, filled with a cheerful noise.  May I grow kind; may I have a welcoming heart.)

Images: Deeds of the Zen Masters, Hotei; Lake and Dock, Peter Bishop.

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