A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.
“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”
The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.
The lesson most learn from the story of A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.
I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.
I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.
Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.
When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.
I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.
I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.
She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.
Relationships were her super power.
Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.
I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.
After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.
And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.
Rise in Glory, Ann.