I hadn’t gone out to light incense for Kwan-yin due to the weather, including snow, ice, rain, and the terrible freeze of last weekend. I usually do that in the early mornings after meditation and feeding Aussie, and before looking at the computer over a cup of coffee. In fact, I go out with my bathrobe over my pajamas, slipping my bare feet into boots, lighting a stick of incense at one of our altars inside and then walking out towards her, trying not to slip on the ice.

I finally went out one morning this past week with the usual stick of incense in my hand to put down at her feet, and immediately noticed the state of Kwan-yin’s arm. It looks like it’s ready to fall off, I thought to myself. A deep sorrow overcame me.

Lori told me that the last time I was traveling, she saw Aussie chewing on a squirrel from the window of her office. “Leave it!” she yelled and hurried downstairs. She had to shout it another couple of times before Aussie left it, begrudgingly.

“I was sure the squirrel was dead,” she told me later, “I’d seen blood on it. I went to get a shovel to carry the body away, but as I approached the squirrel got up on its feet and ran to her,” she said, “you know who I mean.”


“Yes, it climbed up on top and entered inside her head.”

She’s still taller than I am (though we’d had to shave off the bottom part of her last year after her fall), and while I could see a big crack on top of the head, I couldn’t see inside without climbing a ladder.

I talked to a carpenter long ago who said there wasn’t much to do, the wood was giving way, rotted outside by rain and snow, devoured from the inside by critters taking refuge inside her body. Kwan-yin is often represented with many arms and hands, able to heal everyone and everything. But one will fall away soon.

Recently I received an email about the cancellation of an outing. “We’re canceling out of an abundance of caution,” my friends wrote.

Hmmm, I thought. Abundance of caution. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Kwan-yin with her many arms is who I think about when I think of abundance. She reminds me that life is abundant, full of help, love, trees, kangaroos, flowers, dogs and children, no reason to scrimp anywhere.

Caution is, well, cautious. My body slows down immediately when I’m cautiously walking on ice. It contracts as I look ahead, stepping solidly and slowly on the freezing earth. Caution is driving slowly in the fog last night, braking often, gingerly picking up a glass of hot water. Caution is contraction and care, a different energy from gay, expansive abundance.

How do you put the two together? What is abundance of caution?

I think the phrase came into big use during covid, when people used it to explain their absence from various places and meetings, all for good reason. But it has remained in use, and now the oxymoron is used to justify never coming to anything in-person, no longer volunteering or walking with a group, never taking any chances.

Not Kwan-yin; she doesn’t hesitate. One arm, two arms, a hundred arms, she gives them all. She gives her body as shelter, herself to the world.

I usually pray for those who need praying when I light incense at her feet, but over the past days I find myself saying aloud, “Take care of your arm.” I don’t stop to remember that she’s made of wood, or even to recall that we’re all her arms, I just say those words over and over as I would to a long-time, aging friend.

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