“Aussie, I just got off the phone with my mother. She’s pretty isolated, doesn’t see anybody, spends a lot of time in bed now that it’s cold in Jerusalem. She usually cuts our conversations short, but this time, before she hung up, she said: ‘Chavale, be well and healthy, and write something nice.’”

“Nice! Nice! Who wants to do anything nice?”

“You know, Aussie, I also used to think that nice is boring. I don’t think so anymore.”

“I’m never nice. For instance, you just filled up the birdfeeders for winter and hung them outside, right?”

“Wasn’t that nice, Aussie?”

“It is, because now I can kill more birds.”

“Oh, Aussie.”

“I ambush them. I hide out right around the corner behind your office, waiting for some of those seeds to fall to the ground and the silly birds to come down, and then I pounce. Got me three last year.”

“Oh, Aussie.”

“Look at those dumb old chickadees and juncos, they never learn. I’ll beat last year’s record easy.”

“Oh, Aussie.”

“Not the blue jays of course, they scare the hell out of me. They’re homicidal! When they come to the feeders it’s GANG WARFARE! I’m surprised they’re permitted to be out loose. It’s time to make blue jays illegal!”

“Can’t do that, Auss. Life insists on manifesting in all kinds of ways, not all of which we like.”

“Like blue jays! Like Henry the Illegal Chihuahua! Like all the other illegals you force me to meet on Wednesdays.”

“It’s your job to greet them nicely, Aussie.”

“I growl.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Speaking of greeting nicely, could you please change how you feed the birds? Instead of filling up a birdfeeder and hanging it up on the tree, just spill the seeds right on the snow, it’ll make hunting a lot easier.”

“I will not.”

“You’re supposed to be nice, like your mother said. Don’t you do Zen practice?”

“What makes you think Zen practice is nice, Aussie?”

“Everybody knows it’s all about being quiet, calm, and peaceful. And nice. Ugggh!”

“Aussie, being nice is important, but it’s not what Zen practice is about. In fact, it’s a sad thing for me that many people think of religions or spiritual traditions, like Zen, as though they’re sedatives. Instead of taking a Valium you do a little meditation and you feel restful and serene.”

“Like me!”

“Don’t get me wrong, Aussie, I think it’s important to slow down and be more aware, but there’s so much more to it than that. The clearer you see yourself, the clearer you see life, the more skillful you can be in your relationships with everybody.”

“I know, I know, the Three Penance: Not-knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.”

“Not Penance, Aussie, Tenets. Three Tenets. Zen practice means being alive and fully functioning. It gives meaning even when things feel meaningless, a sense of deep gratitude, a smaller sense of your own importance but a greater appreciation of the role you’re being asked to play, whatever it is.”

“I still think it’s too nice. Speaking of which, did I wish you a happy birthday or am I too late?”

“It’s never too late to wish me a happy birthday, Aussie. You know, we did a one-day retreat on the day of my birthday, but the next day I looked at my computer and saw about 150 birthday greetings, not to mention all kinds of texts and virtual cards by phone. They were so nice!”

“Nothing from me, I hope.”

“I admit, Aussie, that in the past I’ve sometimes poohpoohed those Facebook notifications you get of somebody’s birthday. I think I’m a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Who’s he?”

“The great writer Charles Dickens created a character, a big miser who didn’t like anybody and anything except for money.”

“What about dead  birds?”

“But on Sunday I relished every single greeting. They make such a difference in these gray, lonely days of covid. Once again, I learned a big lesson about how good it feels to be recognized and acknowledged, you know? There’s a lot to say for being nice.”

“You’re not so nice. If only I could blog about you rather than you blog about me. The things I’d tell the world!”