I came home yesterday afternoon, went out the door of my office, and immediately noticed two things: The smell of lilacs, and a fallen Kwan-Yin.
Seventeen years ago, we had four lilac trees, now we have two. Over the past 17 years they’ve suffered ice damage and fallen wires that have taken down their thin, brittle branches. The lilac season is short here, I wasn’t sure I’d return in time for it after my delay in Israel, but there they were, along with that unearthly, indescribable fragrance.
Then I looked to the left, saw a table, red chairs, new flowers, and a funny opening. Barefoot, I walked out there and she was down on the ground. Henry the Mixed Chihuahua looked up at me, eyes wide, as if to say: The apocalypse has arrived.
“It happened on Wednesday,” my housemate told me. “We all came back from a walk, Henry ran outside, and started barking ferociously. Now what, I wondered. Next thing I know, he comes running inside and up the stairs, his hair standing on end, his eyes all scared, and he barked at me like he wanted me to follow. So, I did, and found her lying like this.”
“What did Aussie do?” I asked.
“She peed on it.”
I’d been in good spirits till then. The flight to New York was squeezed tight but fine, I met a good friend for breakfast and then slowly headed up north. This was a small shock.
“Was there a storm yesterday? A strong wind?” I asked.
My housemate shook her head. “Nothing.”
She’s very heavy so we can’t lift her. I want to see if it’s at all possible to stand her up and keep her up, but I’m not very optimistic.
I’ve written about her before. Kwan-Yin found her place at the Montague Farm when Zen Peacemakers owned it and looked out at many Saturday meals cooked and given to community residents. She was given to us by a neighbor, a teacher who passed away. One of her students was a carpenter as well as a neo-Nazi. Once he asked his teacher if he could carve something for her, and she said: “Make me a Kwan-Yin.” Of course, he had to look up who Kwan-Yin was, saw she was the goddess of compassion, and carved her likeness in wood.
When we transferred the Farm to its next owners they didn’t want her around, so we brought her to stand in back of our home, where she immediately took in every critter in the area. Lines, wrinkles, and crevices widened over the years, but she never lost her smile.
I walk over to her every day to have a talk. “So, you’ve given up the ghost, eh? What’s the matter, job too tough for you?”
“It’s the chipmunks. They’re eating me alive.”
“What about Israel and Gaza? Blacks and whites? The people dying of Covid in India? What are we supposed to do about all that while you lie on the ground, helpless?”
“Leave me alone,” she says. “Compassion needs a break.”
“Have a good rest, girlfriend. But when you’re ready, get back up,” I say. ”Lots of wars out there.”
“You didn’t put me in a war, you put me in this beautiful back yard. I can’t do much for the folks in Gaza or the ones who cling to boats in the Mediterranean trying to make it to Italy. I can only do what I’m needed to do here. I don’t move around much, in case you didn’t notice.”
“Things are so critical in other places!”
“But I’m here, so here is where I work.”
“What’s there to do here, girlfriend?”
“Lots of critters need a home so they come inside me. Now that I’ve fallen it’s even easier for them. Lots of them need food, so they’re chewing up my body.”
“They can’t chew up a couple of trees? We don’t lack for any here.”
“Henry leaves me his toys, Aussie pees on me, I give shade to the daffodils.”
“You’re not needed in the Pioneer Valley, Kwan-Yin, you’re needed along battle lines in the Ukraine and in girls’ schools in Afghanistan.”
“I’m valuable wherever you put me. I’m valuable standing and lying down, I can do my work in any posture or position. I don’t need picture postcards of houses blown to smithereens or mothers crying after babies, I got lots of work right here in your own backyard. You hear me, Eve? There’s lots to do right in your own backyard.”
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