A man on a beach. Children playing. A country at war. Brushstrokes in a painting that has something to teach us.
It is the late 1960’s. The US is embroiled in the Viet Nam war. Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh is walking on a beach in Sri Lanka when he encounters some children playing there. It is for the young monk a moment of spiritual enlightenment…a moment to reflect.
I note he mentions the children’s seaside playground was without industrial pollution. He knew then what the Native American’s tried to teach my white forefathers:
Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
We borrow it from our children.
I was a child myself in the late 60’s, soon to become a young man, soon to be full of the fire that drives the young: zeal, passion, hope, wildness, ambition. As a young person, I was motivated by what I will do rather than what I have done.
Now I am 60, almost 61, and things have changed. I am much more mindful of my legacy, as humble as it is. I find myself asking questions like “What have I done? What of value have I left behind? What have I given, and what have I borrowed from my children?” I have many moments to reflect.
This morning I reflected on the tiny choices I have made over the past 60 years, the little drops of water that make up the river of my life. “Study the ant,” the Bible advises, and so it is useful to examine the little things that work together to make something big. The drop. The ant. The atom. The word. The smile. The breath. The wince. The moment. The molecule.
And so I meditate on the humble penny, that thin and almost worthless sliver of copper that, en masse, make up the almighty dollar. For the past 60 years, I have voted with those pennies. What I bought with them decided what was made, if and where there would be factory, and if and where there would be industrial waste. In my backyard perhaps, or someone else’s? On a beach somewhere, maybe Sri Lanka?
Little things that make big things. Brushstrokes, that make paintings, that have something to teach us.
Peace be with you, my beloved.