I’ve been slacking off a bit on the bar stories — there’s some good ones that need telling but they haven’t been written down yet. And here it is the weekend before Christmas and I just wanted to wish everyone a very happy, and safe holiday.
Next weekend there’ll be a story called “The Perfect Storm”– it’s about working in a bar during a blizzard — but for now I’d like to post a few of my favorite passages and parables that for some reason keep coming to mind lately.
(1) The Strawberry (A Zen koan)
A man walking across a field spots a ferocious tiger which comes bounding after him. Terrified the man runs to the edge of a cliff, and with no other escape route he leaps over the edge, managing to catch hold of the root of a wild wine.
As he hangs there precariously he looks down to see another tiger waiting below to devour him.
Then he sees two mice — one white and one black — slowly gnawing on the vine above that sustains him.
As the vine begins to give way he spots a wild strawberry growing just within his reach. He plucks the strawberry and tastes it. “How sweet this is!” he exclaims.
(A koan is meant to elicit some deeper personal understanding for each who reads or hears it. Here’s a possible interpretation — what if the running man is all of us? Eventually everyone dies, but in this metaphor, our lifetime is compressed into a single frantic moment of trying to escape the tigers. Despite those limits the man is able to enjoy what is offered, as transitory as life might be.)
(2) Soren Kierkegaard was one of the great minds of the 19th century — he was brilliant, one of the world’s first existentialist philosophers — but that didn’t seem to help him in his day-to-day interactions. When a group of young wise-asses were taunting him for his un-hip clothes and because he walked with a limp, Soren reportedly turned to them and said . . . “Now I know how it feels to be trampled by a flock of senseless geese.”
(3) Feed the Good Wolf (I’m sorry I can’t remember where I first saw this one, but it’s supposedly an old Native-American parable.)
A young native-American boy went into his grandfather’s tent because he was troubled.
“Grandfather,” the boy said, “I feel as though my heart is being torn apart by two wolves. One wolf is full of anger, malice and hate. The other wolf treats people well and is interested only in the good.”
“My heart is being torn apart by the conflict between these two,” the boy continued, “What shall I do?”
At that point the grandfather looked up and said, “Feed the good wolf.”
(4) Random Kindness (I first read this in a book titled “Chicken Soup for the Soul” which my friend Colleen keeps on top of the hamper in her bathroom. It’s a collection of writings, and this is a short paraphrase of the piece by humorist Art Buchwald.)
It seems that Art Buchwald was riding with a friend in a New York City taxi when the friend complimented the cabbie on his driving.
Later, when Art and his friend were walking down the sidewalk, the friend stopped to praise some construction workers doing everyday labor at a new building site. “What was that all about,” Art Buchwald asked.
His friend told him that he was trying to bring some love back to New York City — one person at a time.
He said that although he was only one individual, his simple acts of kindness could multiply exponentially.
“For example. I believe I have made that taxi driver’s day. Suppose he has twenty fares. He‘s going to be nice to those twenty fares because someone was nice to him. Those fares will in turn be kinder to their employees, shopkeepers or waiters, or even their own families. Eventually, the goodwill could spread to at least a thousand people. Now that isn’t bad, is it?”
“You’re some kind of nut,” Art Buchwald said, but the guy wasn’t discouraged. He replied, “I’m hoping to enlist others in my campaign.”
They continued walking down the street.
“You just smiled at a very plain-looking woman,” Art Buchwald said.
“Yes, I know,” the friend replied, “And if she’s a schoolteacher, her class is going to be in for a fantastic day.”
(5) Fellowship (This last one is from the I Ching, a book of ancient Chinese wisdom. Hexagram 13 is titled “T’ung Jen/Fellowship with Men”, and one its passages is from Confucius. His words still resonate 2500 years later.)
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
Hopefully there’s at least one here that you haven’t seen before. Anyway, I wish you all the best Christmas — with friends and family, or full of hopes and dreams, or both. Stayed tuned next week for “The Perfect Storm.”