19 June 2005


It's funny the things you think about when you're trying not to think about something else...

I sat next to a flower bed, improbably surrounded by concrete and asphalt. There were marigolds, petunias, and a pretty red columbine that for some reason I greeted as an old friend. It asked that I not steal any of its petals, like I used to do when I was a kid. I was disappointed but obliged. I watched birds flit around the overhang that sheltered the sidewalk. It is shingled in red and gray clay tiles, and every eight feet or so a light sticks through an opening. The birds were perched on the ledges below the lights, enjoying a respite from the sun. Most of them were house sparrows, or plurbs (parking lot birds) as I call them. There was one I wasn't sure of. It might have been a female house sparrow, but it was leaner than most that I've seen. Its call was different as well. My best guess is that it was a female housefinch, but I can't recall ever seeing a male housefinch around there.

For something to do, I dug up handfuls of soil from the flower bed and crushed them into a fine powder. The top of the dirt was dry, but a half-inch below it became moist and warm. I picked up a small rock, just to look at it, and hastily dropped it when a small spider began speeding over it. Presumably it had been sheltering under the rock, and I disturbed it. I'm not sure what kind of spider it was, but it survived my mishandling. I watched for several minutes as it climbed back into the flower bed and found another shelter.

I noticed a small piece of a butterfly's wing sticking out of the soil, and dug it out, releasing it to the wind. A small dust devil blew a plastic WinCo sack around in circles and figure-eights, eventually taking it down a small flight of stairs and out of my vision. Red petals of columbine flowers past littered the soil below my old friend. And I thought, soon these flowers will fade and die, and their bodies will decompose to help others of their kind eke out their moment in the sun. The dust-devil was temporary and died out before I left. Nothing in this world is permanent. It all fades away. And this is as it should be. Our responsibility is to take care of "our" piece of the world while we're here so that our successors may have a pleasant stay. As the Taoists say: "How can anyone who might not wake up in the morning consider herself important?"

Some would say this is a gloomy outlook. It's not. When you have looked into the face of death, you are free. Tomorrow I may die, so today I do the things that need to be done. Currently, that is to get and keep my house in some semblance of order to make things easier for those who may have to sort through my worldly possessions. Life is like a hotel. You check in, you check out. Hopefully you don't leave the maids with very much to do.

As a final thought... Is anything permanent? Tao, certainly. Yet Tao, too, changes, and in changing, it does not change. That's the beauty of it.

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