Many years ago, I was assigned by a newspaper to write about a Buddhist church and its Obon Festival. The church representative who dealt with me was trying to give me some feel for Buddhism, and shared some of his favorite teaching stories with me. All these years later I remember two, one of which goes something like this:
A sailing ship ran into windless seas and was forced to float aimlessly in a fog. Day after day the ship drifted. Men began to die of starvation and thirst. Then more men died of thirst. Finally, the desperate survivors saw another ship come out of the fog.
"Water!" they cried.
"Throw your buckets over the side," men on the other ship called back.
The dying men thought they must have been misunderstood. "We're dying of thirst. We need water!" they cried again, as clearly as they could.
"Throw your buckets over the side," the men on the other ship called back, again.
Cursing the other men's cruelty, but not knowing what else to do, the dying men dropped their buckets over the side of the ship, dipped into the water, and hauled up --- fresh water. They had drifted into a harbor and had had fresh water within reach for who knows how long. In other words, the only thing that had killed some of their companions and caused the survivors such torment was the fact that they assumed they were still at sea.
The moral of the story is to be very careful about your assumptions, and test them from time to time.
This story comes up because my husband and I have been chatting, and we think we're guilty of not checking out the water over the side of the ship, so to speak. He nearly died of heart failure earlier this week, you see. And in hindsight one of the reasons his situation got so dire was that for months now we have been assuming that this last wave of health woes was just his MS trying new tricks. We were waiting out a siege that wasn't there when we should have been running around actively fighting off new threats. Big, big oops. By the time we figured out we were on the wrong track it was almost too late.
I'm almost afraid to say this - I'm almost afraid to believe it - but he's doing amazingly well. He's eating like a horse, and sleeping well at night in his recliner, and yesterday he trudged upstairs to our apartment so he could eat with everybody else at the dining room table and play with the cats and take a shower. His folks are here from out of state and the three of them sit around and swap stories and jokes for long stretches at a time before he needs a nap. He has to use a walker, and he has to stay on oxygen and take medications, and he can't lay down to sleep in a bed, but, hey, who cares about that?
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