Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Sandwich for Frank

Sometimes I help out at a place where people sometimes need help.  On Monday, I was sitting in the office alone when there was a knock at the door.

“Are you Jeffrey?” she asked.

“No, I’m Jesse,” I replied.

“Oh! Would you like a sandwich?”

flowers crop squareThere was a meeting and they had too many sandwiches, so she was offering the extras around.  It was in a brown, waxed cardboard box labeled “Smoked Turkey,” that was sealed shut with a single piece of Scotch tape.  Not being one to (ever) turn down free food, I graciously accepted.  I wasn’t terribly interested in a sandwich, but just about anything sounded more satisfying than the baby spinach salad and Fuji apple I had brought with me and anyway, I consider unexpected food to be one of the great joys in life.

I set the sandwich aside.  I mused on it on and off for a couple of hours.  I thought about the other person working that day, who was out on an errand.  I wondered if she had brought a lunch and whether or not she liked smoked turkey sandwiches.  I decided that I would save the sandwich for her.

But once time decided to be around 1:30, I started doubting that the other person was going to return in time for the sandwich to be relevant.  I looked at the sandwich.  I severed the tape and opened the box, inspected its contents: one smoked turkey sandwich on wheat, one cookie (looked like molasses, mmmm), and one tiny plastic ramekin of  some couscous-like substance.  The sandwich didn’t look all that appealing to me, nor did the couscous substance, but I had an errand to run at 2:00, so I figured I should probably eat something soon.

I checked in with my stomach: not hungry at all. Usually, not being hungry is no barrier to me eating, but this time my stomach was actually telling me not to put food in it: “Don’t do it. We’re good.”  I hesitated. I WP_20150401_001looked at the sandwich.  I looked at the cookie.  I looked at the couscous cup.  I thought about my salad.  I looked at the sandwich again.  And the cookie.  Slowly, I began to unwrap the sandwich, all the while feeling very apathetic about the whole affair.  Undaunted by my lack of hunger or really any interest at all, I picked up half the sandwich and brought it to my mouth.  Just as I was about to take a bite, there was a knock at the door.

“Yeah?  Come in.”

“Hey, brotha.”

A Kentucky drawl.

“Hey Frank, what’s up?”

I put the sandwich back in the box and set it aside.  He sat down.

“Can you help me call my doctah?  I don’t know when my next appointment is.”

We called his doctor and found out his next appointment time.

He kept sitting there.

“So how’s it going, Frank?”

“I’m really just tryin’ to hang in there today.”

“Oh? Rough day, huh? What’s going on?”

“I don’t have any food at all in my apartment.”

Missing Piece fitsSuddenly it all made perfect sense.

I pointed to the sandwich.

“Do you want this sandwich?”

“No! No, brotha, I can’t take your sandwich.”

“No, really, I don’t want it.”

“That’s really generous of you brotha, but I can’t take your sandwich.”

“Frank, let me tell you how I got this sandwich…”

I proceeded to tell him a considerably more concise version of the story of the sandwich than I have just told you, which seemed to satisfy him.  His entire demeanor shifted.

“OK, thank you brotha! Bless you!”

He ate the sandwich.  He seemed much happier afterward.  We talked for a while and then he left.  Then I ate my spinach salad and my Fuji apple.

They were delicious.

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I have been visited by many koans who have tried to take credit for this story.  What koan(s) does this story remind you of?  Let me know by commenting below.

P.S. The black and white line drawing of a circle with a wedge in it is from the Shel Silverstein book The Missing Piece. If you did not already know that, your life is a little better now.

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Ending homelessness

A koan: Taking the form of Guanyin, find shelter for the homeless person.

There seems to be a WP_20150923_002connection between my happiness and how I hold the world.  Often it seems as though the task in meditation is just to welcome visitors: the sound of my cats facing off or my partner emptying the dishwasher, the smell of a full litter box, the feeling of back pain or drowsiness or visions of the day to come.  This morning, our foster kitten crawled into my hands while I meditated and began to purr loudly.  It seems that how I hold things is how the universe will hold me.

WP_20150405_002A friend of mine who meditates recently told me a story of a friend of hers who meditates.  He has young children and, trying to get some good meditation done, trained the whole family to be very silent around the house during his daily meditation sessions.  Failure to comply often earned stern scoldings.  At some point, he decided to teach his oldest child to meditate, but while he was instructing him for the first time, he noticed the child was fidgeting and looking very uncomfortable.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.  The child hesitated for a moment, then  explained that since his father always seemed so unhappy about meditation, it must be a very difficult and terrible thing.

WP_20150719_006Aside from our regular Monday night koan group, I offer another meditation group every week in the Charlottesville community.  This week, one person showed up: a young woman with a quick mouth and an intense stare who is determined to get the world before it gets her.  She shines with a bright intelligence and it is clear that somewhere safely behind the ramparts, there beats a vivid, crimson heart.  “So is it just gonna to be you and me? Cause I said I’d come to this, but I really don’t wanna be in here with the rest of these assholes that live around here.  It’s the same drama, same bullshit, they’ll just move it in here.”

She then proceeded to talk WP_20150305_004nonstop, rolling out a disjointed, sensational tale of homelessness, incarcerated partners, partner abuse, drug abuse, brain damage, property damage, gang violence, violent love, love triangles, female fist fights, betrayal, and raising other people’s children.

Often it seems as though the task in meditation is just to welcome visitors.

After about 25 minutes, she stopped abruptly and looked at her watch.

“Well, are we done?” I said.

“Can we be?”

“Of course.”

She thanked me and apologized for not humoring me with “the meditation thing.”  I thanked her for not humoring me with “the meditation thing” and told her that she was welcome anytime.

WP_20150403_001There seems to be a connection between my happiness and how I hold the world.  To refuse what is being offered in any given moment is to make the entire universe homeless.  To care for what shows up at our doorstep is to come in from the cold.

Ringing the doorbell:

  1. Who is someone in your life that you just can’t accept?  What is a part of you that you just can’t accept?
  2. When or where do you feel like you don’t belong?  When do you feel most at home?
  3. Was there ever a time when you left what is safe and familiar on purpose?  Why?  And what was that like?