This Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for loving kindness. As many of you know, I grew up in a rather cold and unlovely family environment, which I have referenced in earlier blogs. I cannot tell you all the reasons that neither of my parents was able to express much in the way of love or kindness to their six children, at least insofar as I can remember, but I can tell you that not having felt loving kindness early in my life, for me now, pushing retirement age, it is a revelation, and this is my epiphany.
In “The uses of pain & misery,” I mentioned my recent surgery, recovery from which was one of the most painful and disturbing experiences of my life. However that surgery brought an unexpected payoff. My wife, who has an extremely demanding position in a small corporation, took almost a week from her work to stay home and care for me while I convalesced. It wasn’t just that she was by my side or within easy earshot at a time when I could hardly move without intense pain or speak without coughing — which brought even more intense pain. What got me was the joyfulness with which she stood by, eager to help me in any way she could. Joyfulness. Happy to help. Not just with the forced cheerfulness you often see in tired nurses or medical staff. No, this was a heartfelt joy.
I saw the same look in her face when she was caring for her mother, especially in the final months as my mother-in-law died a slow and horrible death from cancer. It was a joy without reason or calculation. It was as if she had found out why we are here. The secret of human existence. The answer to the age-old questions in a simple, guileless smile. Glad to be of service, but not glad because she should be, but because she is.
Our daughter has also shown loving kindness to all of us in our fortunate family — especially to me in my post-op pain. She is home for Thanksgiving. I took this shot just minutes ago.
In his novella, “What Men Live By,” Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a poor shoemaker who finds a naked man shivering on the doorstep of his shop in the middle of a Moscow winter. The naked man turns out to be an angel sent to earth to learn what keeps the human race going. As it turns out, the secret ingredient of human existence is — loving kindness. The angel watches the shoemaker taking care of his family and his customers — serving cheerfully, with loving kindness.
As I write this, my wife and daughter and my wife’s sister are preparing a special Chinese dinner called “hot pot,” in which fresh meats and vegetables are cooked in a simmering broth at the table, one by one, by the dinner guests themselves. Here is a plate of mushrooms waiting for our chopsticks.
Food is of course one of the best ways to show and experience loving kindness. Below is some pork also waiting for its transfiguration.
I will now go and receive my blessings.
May your lives be filled with loving kindness, and may you give it all you can.
In loving kindness,