Saturday, May 29, 2010

What Is Really Insignificant?

A writer for the Catholic Times describes her reactions when she saw a one million, four hundred thousand dollar car on her way home in a taxi. As the car passed by, the taxi driver gave her some facts on the car and mentioned there are two such cars in the country. (I went to the internet to see what such a car looked like and the first reference that came up was, if it can be believed, an eight million dollar car a German company is planning to introduce soon.) The driver, seeing her expression of doubt, added that the owner of the car probably doesn't have time to go home and relax. The taxi driver thought it was time for some humor. It was like seeing, she said, one of the most expensive homes in Seoul passing by. She was busy trying to calm herself; anything else the driver continued to say about the car was not registering. When she arrived at her destination and paid her taxi fare, she remembered later, that she forgot to get the change.

She wanted to know why she was getting angry about something she knew was unimportant. Why were small things upsetting her while the serious things tended not to? It reminded her of the shepherd boy calling out wolf so many times that when the wolf did come, no one listened. Having heard so many lies over many years, she believes it becomes difficult to respond properly even when hearing matters of import. She had become apathetic, or, more accurately, wanted to be. The latent anger she has buried within tends to appear at trifles that are the common fate of most of us.

Organic lettuce, two days after purchase, became mush; the dry cleaner made her pay the price of a coat for a jumber; the bus she waited for a half hour passed by because no one was getting off; the printer was jamming; she had no oil to prepare her fried rice. She was getting upset at these trifles, and blamed her reactions to a lack of virtue.

She mentions the well-known Zen story about the university professor who goes to a master of the spiritual life to ask for some help in living with wisdom. They sat down at a table and the master offered him tea, and as he poured the tea he didn't stop. The tea fell from the cup onto the floor and the professor protested, "What are you doing? The cup is full isn't it?" The master said, "Like this cup, you are filled with all kinds of thoughts, desires, plans and convictions. To accept what I want to give, you have to empty your cup, otherwise, like the tea, what I say will be wasted." The writer wonders if she also is too "filled up" to see what is important in life.

She concludes with the hope that she will come to see what is important and not be sidetracked with the purely inconvenient. However, she admits that separating the significant from the insignificant is not always easy. She is not sure that the feeling aroused by the car she saw was something insignificant.

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