It is the sufferings and insecurities of our lives that, although painful and distressing, teach us not to cling to the impermanent things of this world. Not even the greatest master could teach us so well. We should honor and respect them, not shun their company.
~ Dongshan Liangjie (9th Century Chinese Ch’an Master)
Kristin placed a dollop of peanut butter carefully upon each round of sliced banana and then artfully arranged it all on a plate in the shape of a smiling face with eyebrows raised in a quizzical look. The girls devoured this dessert like ravenous wild dogs until there were only two pieces left. Juniper, the younger, grabbed one piece and quickly popped it into her mouth and then grabbed the second one and as I was saying, “that’s for Maddie” popped it in too. As Maddie bounded down the hallway to where we were standing, her joyous countenance turned to sadness in the blink of an eye as she realized what her little sister had done. I held her as she cried and felt her anguish ripple throughout her small frame. Juniper stood nearby looking at her with a searching look that wondered why her big sister was so upset. I explained to her that this was because she had eaten both bites of food one of which was for Maddie. I didn’t belabor the point and I didn’t chastise her for it. I simply let the effects of her action sink in. She stood nearby looking concerned and then it softened as a look of empathy came to her face. She toddled over, hugged her sister and said, “Sorry Maddie” in her sweet, toddler voice. “Sorry eating Maddie’s bite,” she said again and the two sisters hugged as Kristin and I looked on lovingly.
This situation and the suffering that occurred taught me something important, something that I seem to need to learn over and over again – that the difficult moments in our lives are our greatest teachers and that when we don’t shun them there is an opportunity for growth within the suffering. When things go well, we don’t have cause to learn anything. “We got this,” we may think to ourselves. But it’s when we have difficulties and when we suffer (or cause suffering for others) that we have the opportunity to learn something. And what Juniper showed me is that moments when we don’t act our best are the fertile ground of our blossoming. In this situation, I saw the realization of what her actions had caused and the compassion (literally “passion together”) of her apology. She seemed to learn something about compassion, empathy and the power of atonement that I could never teach her. She learned it first-hand because her actions were real and Maddie’s tears were authentic.
I also learned an important lesson in parenting from this situation. Because neither Kristin nor I stepped in to discipline Juniper, it allowed her the space and time to think about what happened and to come up with her own response. Had we stepped in, we would have limited the possibilities of this moment and I don’t think Juniper would have learned the lesson of cause and effect. Because we took a step back, we were able to enjoy heartfelt reconciliation between two sisters, who really are best friends. The seeds that were planted in this moment will likely blossom at some point in the future and while we don’t know when or where, we do know that they will produce a delicious fruit because they were planted from the heart. Lessons abound in this life of ours when we pay attention and especially when we don’t shun anyone’s company.