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?”
There 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 looked 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.”
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.”
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.
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.