THE PATH TO COMPASSION

Early in the mornings, after sunrise, I walk over from the garage door to the back where Kwan Yin stands. There, I do a brief service honoring her and invoking the essence of compassion for those who are ill, and for myself.

I used to travel far and wide, witnessed the effects of genocide, intractable poverty, racism, and persecution. Now I don’t even have the time to get involved with our local refugees and immigrants. Just 20 steps from the garage door to Kwan Yin.

I won’t fool you, I don’t wear robes. In fact, I barely wear anything other than a warm bathrobe over a long tee (it’s close to freezing at that hour), and any warm slippers that Aussie has not destroyed.

It rained yesterday and stormed last night. Storms bring down trees and leaves outdoors. Indoors, a restless, fidgety dog wreaks havoc on cushions, shoes, sandals, and slippers of all kinds while we sleep. I asked Kwan Yin what to do about Aussie, and she suggested that tonight I shut her in with us.

We got her—Kwan Yin, not Aussie—in a roundabout fashion, a story in itself. She was brought over to the Montague Farm where we lived and worked, willed to the Farm by a schoolteacher who lived down the road. One of her students, a neo-Nazi who loved carpentry, was fond of his teacher and said to her one day: “I’d like to do something for you.”

“Make me a Kwan Yin,” she told him. I imagine she had to explain what that was, this image of compassion that ranges, in different forms under different names, all over Asia, but he made her a Kwan Yin. She had it till she died, willed it to the Farm, and now it’s in our back yard.

I sometimes wonder what happened to him. We don’t think of her as ours. We’re her stewards, taking care of her till her next revolution.

At the same time, she is wearing down. Deep cracks almost cleave her in half from top to bottom. In addition, the world lives inside of her: chipmunks, squirrels, beetles, critters of all kinds, and the wood is hollowing out. Another carpenter looked at it and said that just moving her could cause limbs to come apart and crumble, so we’re not moving her. Like all the rest of New England, she has taken in a lot of rain these past few months. Autumn leaves are beginning to cover her as they flutter down to the ground.

Never has the path from the garage door to Compassion been so littered. I have to make my way among a hundred marrow bones, the latest plastic containers Aussie has stolen from the blue recycling bins, pages of a How to Meditate handbook she ripped cover to cover, and the cardboard flaps of a Federal Express box. Unapologetic, she follows me as I pick these up, firmly resolved to spread them right back on the grass as soon as my back is turned.

“Settle down, Aussie,” I tell her, “settle down.” Isn’t that the best instruction for meditation anyway?

But Aussie, 13 months old, plans to enjoy her adolescence to the max. As I pick up after her in the early morning, leaves rain down from the trees, and Ms. Compassion looks on quizzically, as if to say: Are you going to pick all those up, too?