LOVING THE WORLD WITHOUT OUTCOMES

The goldfinches arrived today. I looked out the window to the left of my desk and there they were: one, then another, then another and another. In our house, at least, goldfinches are a sign of spring.

I can’t forget how we finally brought Bernie home after his big stroke at the end of February, having set up the downstairs office as a bedroom. Almost immediately hundreds of goldfinches arrived. I surround the house with birdfeeders and there were at least ten at each one. I’m not sure he noticed much at that early time, but everyone who visited him in the room ooh’d and aaah’d as the finches created a storm of gold dust as they flew by the hundreds up to the sky.

Maple syrup buckets have been around now for two weeks. Chipmunks and squirrels are hungry—this is the hungry season for many animals, just before spring—and I watch them as they tip the birdfeeders over, gather the seeds on the ground with both paws and gobble them up. They should be careful; last year Aussie killed three of them, the only dog I’ve had who could do this.

But Aussie has changed; she’s no longer such a killer, slinking behind the corner of the house and waiting patiently in ambush. I haven’t won her over completely, though I give her lavish treats and praise. Most of our outings work fine, but this morning she strayed far from me in the woods, and while I was checking the ice under my feet she vamoosed across the creek. By the time I looked up she was gone, only to arrive home two hours later.

It’s as if her life, once the life of a wanderer and hunter, is now split in two opposing directions:

Straight ahead: Boring but bountiful Eve.

Across the creek: Fun and games.

Going back up the slope when called: Discipline and training, rewarded by treats.

The other way: Great mishigas.

Two days ago, a friend arrived for mid-afternoon tea and both dogs slipped out through the open front door. Harry dashed up the driveway as if chased by a pack of coyotes: Free at last! Free at last! Free at last! Aussie was slower behind him, undecided.

“Aussie!” I called.

She actually paused. I’m thinking about it.

“Aussie, come!”

But temptation won over and she chased after Harry. I’m sure that if she had the e-collar on, with vibration and beeps for emphasis, she would have returned home. Eventually, she’ll come even without the e-collar, just not yet.

I went to Stone Soup Café several days ago, which feeds the community each Saturday with the best lunch in Greenfield. Each week they celebrate a different holiday from different nations and religious traditions. Take a look at the Indian menu celebrating the Lord Shiva that day:

Ginger carrot bisque (fabulously seasoned!)

Raita

Tadka Dhal

Vegetable Biryani

Curried Fish

Coconut Pie

It doesn’t mention the fruit drink, ice tea, water, coffee and hot tea available. It’s unlike any soup kitchen I’ve ever been in. The tables are set up with mats, napkins, cutlery, menus, and flowers. In the morning farmers bring their extra produce fresh from their fields.

Zen Peacemakers started this in Montague, but our location wasn’t ideal because people needed to drive to get there, so we’d be chauffeuring people back and forth. When Ariel Pliskin re-opened the Café in Greenfield, at the Unitarian Church, it took off. People could walk there from their homes, from the streets, from the shelter where they were staying.

Kirsten Levitt, who has served as Head Chef all these years, is now the linchpin for the Café (she’s also chief organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign in Western Massachusetts, leading the rally the evening I was at their gathering). Her cooking work done, she circulates among the people eating her food, calling them by name, giving them hugs. The Café not only serves some 130 people a day, they make enough food for seconds and for taking home. They require at least 25 volunteers every single week—and they get them.

It was so good to sit there after a long time being away.

Over the many years I worked with Bernie, we started lots and lots of things, and I learned that you never know which of your many plans and projects will work, and which won’t. Only a few seem to work right away; many take a long time to come to any fruition; and some don’t seem to come to fruition at all. But you never know. Someone once nudged me at a bookstore to tell me how much she loves Greyston cookies.

“Greyston hasn’t made cookies in many years,” I told her.

She never tasted them in Greyston in Yonkers, she said, she tasted them at a Trappist monastery where she did a retreat and was told that long ago Trappists had trained at Greyston to make cookies.

We think we know who we are, the body that defines us, the skin that closes us in, but in truth we don’t know how far we reach, much like the goldfinches that become a long, golden flying carpet when they swoop up to the sky.

The Zen teacher John Tarrant wrote: “We must love the world without knowing the outcomes, because it is the only world we have, and because we never really know outcomes, just our own hopes and fears.”