This is a true story about learning to let the little things go.
In late December (less than a month after my surgery), Shawna’s parents generously took us out to the super-fancy Hyannis Yacht Club restaurant to celebrate Shawna’s birthday. I wore the requisite coat and tie, but didn’t have an appropriate hat to wear at the time [I do now]. So, I entered the exclusive club with my shaved head and apparently gruesome scar exposed.
We joined my parents-in-law at their table, which was adjacent to that of an elderly couple whose conversation came to an abrupt halt upon our entering. This happens often when we bring our beautiful young daughters out with us, so at first I took no notice. Then I realized they weren’t admiring the girls. Rather, both of these wealthy club members were openly glaring at me. I ignored it at first, but every time my gaze happened in their direction, there was eye contact because they had not stopped staring at me.
I have always been a relatively defiant person, never overly concerned with social graces. So after about a minute of the most intense, hate-filled, unrelenting and blatant (albeit silent) hostility I’ve ever endured, I calmly and deliberately returned the man’s stare. I did so without hate, but also without a trace of shame or fear or embarassment. There was a bit of curiosity and perplexity in mine, since I genuinely couldn’t understand why anyone woud react so harshly to someone doing them no harm.
I think I surprised them both with my direct response, as it bought me about seven seconds’ reprieve… before they again (whispering in collusion) set to it again, casting this inconceivable hatred at me, four eyes against two. I ignored them similarly to the way they were ignoring their food, and returned my attention to the conversation at my table. But it bothered me, and it didn’t stop.
After our food arrived, and the attempted murder by staring continued unabated, I decided I needed to take action to avoid ruining an otherwise terrific meal. I nearly stood up to walk over to them to ask them what exactly they found so fascinating or awful about me, but decided that would only ruin dinner for my wife and her parents. So, under the pretense of needing to speak privately with my father in law, I switched seats to sit next to him, moving out of the line of fire and using his body as a shield from their stares. We had a nice conversation and everyone enjoyed the rest of their meals. I didn’t even notice the hateful old couple leave.
I write about this now not to dwell on it, but because it reminds me of this terrific Zen short about two monks:
Two Zen monks — an old teacher and his young apprentice — were walking through a village after a heavy rain. They came past a rich woman who was being carried above the deep mud by two unhappy servants, who were burdened by her sedan chair as well as her many shopping bags. She was shouting and abusing them, berating them for being unable to help her down from her perch and across the mud to dry ground. The young monk walked past, minding his own business. But the elderly master walked straight to the woman, and without a word, lifted her onto his back and trudged through the deep mud to dry ground. She ungratefully sniffed the air and haughtily walked away without a word. The master rejoined his student and they continued on their way. Miles later, their shadows lengthening, the student could hold his tongue no longer. “Master“, he finally said, “how could that woman be so rude?? You were so kind and selfless, and she didn’t even thank you!!“. The master chuckled and said, “Boy, you must be very tired! Here you’ve been, walking all day long, carrying her on your back. I put her down hours ago!“