Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Topsy Turvy.

In the great work of life -- to become a "better" person -- we're usually given parables that illustrate selflessness. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes, right? The great Pema Chodron teaches us how to breathe in anger and oppressive heat and darkness, and breathe out love and refreshing coolness and light. We think of how much we love our children (or pets or best friends) and imagine that God loves us like that. Another Buddhist teacher reminds us that everyone we meet is, or has been, our mother. Treat them thus.

Well, some days, I say "boo" to this. It doesn't work. The stupid driver who delays me another five minutes coming home, the jerk in the grocery line who has to write a check, then use an Oregon Trail card, then run back for something else... you know how it goes.

At church on Sunday, the parable that was told might be unconventional, but it's sticking with me, and the topsy turvy way it illustrated those lovely lessons of compassion is just darn neat. I'd like to share it with you, and would love your reactions - those that are immediate, and those that come later.

God was narrating a man's death, as he wandered up to her. He had died in a car crash and said to her, "Am I dead?" She said, "Yes," and he replied, "What about my wife and children? What will happen to them?"

God answered, "See? That's great! You just died and you're thinking of other people! You're growing! They will be fine. Your children will always think of you as perfection; they weren't old enough to resent you yet. And your wife is relieved." Seeing his shocked face (and ours in the pews!), God said, "Well let's be honest. Your marriage was falling apart. But she feels guilty for feeling relieved if that makes you feel any better!"

Then he said, "Well, what happens next?" and when she told him he would be reincarnated he said, "Ha ha! The Hindus were right!"

She said, "Well, everyone is, in a way."

"Who am I going back as?"

"Let's see... you're going back as a baby peasant girl in China, in 542 AD."

"What? OK, going back is one thing, but I am going back in time, too? I can't do that! What if I run into myself? The whole thing will collapse!"

God laughed. "Well, you run into yourself all the time. You won't remember this life or any of the ones you've lived previously. And you'll keep going back, around and around, until you've matured."

"Matured? Is that what life is about?"

"A little cliche to ask me the meaning of life, isn't it? But yes, it is. All this is for you."

"And you made all this, just for humankind, so we can grow?"

"No, not humankind. Just you."

As he was struggling to catch up, God let him know that it would not only be OK if he ran into himself down there, but that he definitely would. That he was every single other life on the planet.

She said, "Every time you've been mean to someone, you were hurting yourself. And every time you've shown kindness, you were really showing kindness to yourself. And when you have lived every life there is, or has been, or ever will be, you'll have learned it all and be ready for what's next."

---- ---- ---- ---- ----

What do you think? This is an abridged version, but the good jokes and the basic gist are in there. It really has me thinking. Some days, it is just too hard to think of every homeless person on the street and every co-worker and every crazy neighbor as your mother or your child or a member of your human family. Frankly, in a distracted or frustrated state of mind, selfish is part and parcel, and so what a great reminder to embrace that selfishness... and just think of that person as ME!

I think this parable takes "Love thy neighbor as thyself" out to its fullest conclusion. And I, for one, am grateful for the gains from the mental stretch it requests.

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading this before I turn in for the night, am quit tired, and so can't think of anything profound. I like the parable and will re-read later. I do continue to find my "human-ness" (i.e., defects of character) to be much more immature than I'd like to admit and look at... a work in progress for sure...