At some point last week, I turned away from the news screen of red and blue puzzle pieces to look out a window in my home office and watch a gust of wind carry the leaves from my yard downhill to my neighbor’s freshly manicured lawn. It scattered them recklessly, like trash, across the clean, green, abutting landscape.
My neighbor is elderly. Her husband died last year and she has told me how overwhelmed she feels trying to keep up with the house without him. He used to patiently walk the grounds collecting fallen branches or tugging on weeds or micro managing the lawn guys who mow and blow and raise holy hell on his behalf on a regular basis. His yard was his passion.
When I first moved in after the divorce my neighbor came over to meet me. He was 82 and walked with a cane and wore a black hat embroidered with: US Army Veteran. His first question was: “Where’s your husband?” His next question was not a question but more of a philosophical rant about times changing, where has the neighborhood gone and the trouble with liberals. We were absolute opposites but he was always lovely toward me and would come to check on me after every storm or if too much time passed between bumping into one another at the edge of our property lines.
My neighbor tolerated our differences graciously, though I know it wasn’t easy for him. He tried so hard over time to recruit my bohemian ways more toward his direction of what beautiful looks like. He asked me if I wanted to borrow his lawn guys to trim up the weeds or take down some unkempt branches or suck all the dead leaves away in the fall. I always declined. I don’t mind the wildness of nature and it’s good exercise for the kids to rake the leaves with me.
But I’ve procrastinated my raking duties especially badly this season and when I saw the leaves blowing across the invisible borderline into my neighbor’s tidy space last week the metaphor was not lost on me. My decisions, my priorities, my values affect other people. Just as theirs do me.
How do we learn to live side by side at this bus stop in the middle of the cosmos where we find ourselves packed in and overlapping? How do we tolerate one another when we differ so fundamentally and our differences threaten each other so fundamentally? How do we separate ourselves when we’re interconnected? When separation is a delusion. As the spiritual masters say: the wave is never not part of the ocean.
There is no such thing as my yard and my neighbor’s yard. There is just land and space and atoms and matter and energy and the dance of life uprising and falling away, uprising and falling. Creating and destroying itself over and over again. Look at what delusion can get us to believe, buy into and do? Look at the images of protestors from different sides of the political spectrum smashed against each other with signs and guns — like kindling tied together by a string.
What we focus on reinforces itself in our thoughts and becomes our beliefs. Our beliefs gain momentum and become our choices and our actions. Take this grand teaching into your own hearts right now if you can. If we focus on our differences they will only become more entrenched. If we focus on our oneness we move the needle back in the direction of our healing.
The wind doesn’t see borderlines. It swirls around in accordance with its true nature. And today, as the weather has turned sunny and calm, I am walking outside with my rake. I am wondering: is the opposite of intolerance tolerance?
Or is it more specific, more nuanced than that?
Some form of compassionate acknowledgement?
I want that for myself. I want it for all of us. Toward ourselves and toward each other. As natural as the wind. And the leaves, finally letting go.