Not Even Chickens

The desire to have our own laying hens around here (again) resurfaced recently.   What stirred the pot was seeing this years potatoes in bloom.

My favorite meal this time of year is farm fresh eggs,  new potatoes steamed with onions, (and green beans when they are ready)  smothered in butter…especially when the potatoes are so fresh, their skins literally slide off when you scrub them.

This desire to have our own chickens  reminded me of another Robert Fulghum story… from the book   What On Earth Have I Done?

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With all the recent seaside development, it is easy to
forget that Crete and Cretans are fundamentally about the mountains –
the steep places, the high and isolated villages that breed independent,
self-sufficient people who have always been a rule unto themselves.
They still are.  The Mountain Cretans say they fear nothing and nobody,
and would look at God, Himself, with hat on and eyes open.  Thus they
look upon strangers with interest, not suspicion.

One afternoon I parked my car and walked a narrow road that
connects several small villages along a high mountain ridge.  A voice
called out from the porch of a whitewashed house:

“Ehla, ehlah, kahtheeseh!” (Come come, sit!)  An old man beckoned to me, pointing to the chair beside him.

I went.  I sat.  On a small table were almonds, raisins,  olives, and a bottle of tsikoudia (tsee-koo-di-ah)  the Cretan
equivalent of white-lightning or grappa- the proffered sign of
hospitality and welcome to a Cretan home.  He was expecting company -and
anybody would do.

“tho-kee-maseh” (Drink this, eat this!)  he said, handing me
a glass of tsikoudia and filling a small plate with almonds, raisins,
and olives.

 “Lee-pon.  Germanos?” (Well, then, are you German?)

I was touched to know that the hospitality came first,

even though I might be German- from a country that had brutalized Crete
in WW II.

“Oshee, Americanos.”  (No, American.)

“Americanos!  Americanos!  He shouted into the house, and a  younger man appeared.  They spoke high-gear Greek with a Cretan
accent.  The look on my face tells them I cannot follow, so the younger
man says in fine English, “My father is excited to meet you.  He has
never met an American.  He hears that in America they have everything.
He would like to ask you some questions.”

 Fine. 

With his son translating, the examination began.  “How old was I? “

“How many children? “

“How much money do I make?”  

Very Cretan  inquiries.  Then a harder question that led to even tougher scrutiny:

“How often do you dance and sing and recite poetry?”

 “Not very often.”

The old man looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“How many sheep and goats do you have?”

“None.”

The old man looked puzzled.

 “How many olive trees do you have and how much oil put away?”

“None.”

The old man frowned.

” How many vines do you have and how much wine put away?”

“None.”

The old man was nonplussed.  He raised his eyebrows.

“Do you have any chickens?”

“No.”

The old man looked mildly outraged and fell into high-gear Greek again with his son.  The son was apologetic.

“Pardon me, but my  father says that it is a lie that Americans have everything.  You have  no sheep, no goats, no trees, no oil, no vines, no wine, not even
chickens. “

He asks,” What kind of life is that?  He says, “No wonder you
don’t sing or dance or recite poetry very often.”  He is dismayed.”

 The old man peered at me with pity bordering on contempt.

Shaking his head in disgust, he mumbles in English, as he

rose and limped out into his garden, dismissing me from his mind:

“Nothing.  Not even chickens….”

 

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Thoughts While Scrolling Through Pictures On Facebook

I was scrolling through pictures last night on Face book.  High school classmate of mine has a son who recently returned from India.  Didn’t take me too long before I had a pretty good handle on where the son is at in his life journey.

Spiritual Seeker.

Willing to fly to India, just to try and get “it” figured out.

Woke up this morning, still thinking about that young man.  My mind went to a story by one of my favorite story tellers, Robert Fulghum….

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Like many westerners in the late sixties, I wanted to be somewhere else in my religious journey.  Confusion reigned in the kingdom of my mind, and I yearned to construct a framework of understanding that seemed beyond my present cultural tools.  I couldn’t seem to get “there” from “here.”

Zen and its idea of enlightenment appealed to me.  That one might sit very still and empty one’s mind and suddenly be hit by a mighty wave of comprehension beyond words – well that would do. Hit me with the big news and let me walk away with a sense of “I got it!”

Took a leave of absence from my dailiness and went off to Japan to get Zenned properly.  Got connected to a temple and a master.  Shaved my head and face, put on the drab grey robe of the novitiate, and stood in line to get enlightened.  Figured to become a  pretty holy man in pretty short order, like in about six weeks, which was when my return ticket home expired.  Right.

But of course it was not to be.  Sitting still gave me hallucinations and cramps, but not enlightenment.  The food gave me diarrhea.  Sleeping on a board gave me a backache.  And my fellow monks treated me like a Western fool, laughing at me behind my back.  It was one of those times when you know enough to realize there’s something everybody but you knows,s but you don’t know enough to know exactly what it is you don’t know.

But I did know it was time to leave.

To my surprise, an invitation was extended for an interview with the master of the temple.  Which was like a stock-boy being asked to have lunch with the president of thee company.

Since it was largely because of his reputation that I had chosen this particular temple, and since he rarely spent time with tourists like me, the master’s invitation seemed a special honor.

Mabu Kohara, Ph.D. in economics from Tokyo University, solver of all the Zen koans (mind puzzles), adviser to captain of industry, writer of books, speaker of seven foreign languages, a paradigm of the great teacher.  Wise, good, respected, accomplished.  If he didn’t have “it” all figured out, then nobody did.

After I was ushered into his private study, we knelt on cushions and bowed our mutual respect.  He out of courtesy and I out of awe.  For  along time he looked at me and into me.

Very deliberately he shifted his weight to one knee and just as deliberately reached for his backside and scratched himself in that way and in that place your mother told you was a no-no- in public.
“I have hemorrhoids.  They hurt and itch.”

There was nothing in my mental manual as to how to reply to such an opening remark.  I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be thoughtful.

 “The hemorrhoids come from stress, you know.  From worrying about tourists burning down this firetrap of a temple.  From worrying about trying to get enough funding from businessmen to keep it in repair.  From arguing with my wife and children, who are not as “holy” – he smiled- “as I am.”  And from despairing over the quality of the lazy young fools who want to be priests  nowadays.  Sometimes I think I would like to get a little place in Hawaii and just play golf for the rest of my life.”

He leaned to one side and scratched himself again.

It was this way before I was “enlightened,” you know.  And now it is the same after enlightenment.”

A long pause while he silently gave me time to consider his words and actions.

Rising he motioned me to follow him to the entrance alcove of the temple, and we stood before an ancient scroll I had often passed.  He said it was time for me to go home, where he felt I had been a “thirsty man looking for a drink and all the while standing knee-deep in a flowing stream.”  Yes….

With a wink, he turned and walked away.

Carefully scratching his backside.

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