By Marilyn Chiyo Robinson
I will confess to you that I have a history of difficulty holding my hands together in gassho. To gassho, by putting the palms of both hands together in front of one’s heart, is the highest form of respect symbolizing Oneness. For me, the gesture never felt authentic, like I was an imposter, awkward in the movement, a stand-out convert who was not raised in the tradition. Among other things, this is a story about gassho.
Our youngest daughter spent every spring on what my husband and I called “starling patrols” around our neighborhood. This ritual consisted of walking up and down the sidewalks trying to find and rescue a baby bird before the local cats found it. More than one creature in its death throes has made its way to our home cradled in her t-shirt. None has survived.
Starlings are known locally as trash birds for their fondness of grain in our agricultural area and impressive reproductive abilities. But to our daughter, they are wondrous creatures that she watches intently as herds of them mow our lawn for food each morning. I might add that our daughter is a special child. She is a continual reminder in my life of the beauty of simple kindness.
So it was not surprising then, now a year and a half ago, upon arriving home from my book club that my daughter announced she had rescued yet another starling. It was tucked in a box on a towel and put in the shop for the night. And so began her pleading “please mommy, can I keep her? I’ve never had a pet of my own, please, please?”
Brief aside here in our defense – we have two dogs, a parrot, hermit crabs, fish and a toad. It is true that none of the pets is exclusively this daughter’s, but they all benefit from her loving attention. So, sure, we felt a little guilty, but not enough to acquire another responsibility. You know when the last one is the last one, right?
Early the next morning, our eldest daughter and I went to the shop to check out the bird. Sure enough, it was a starling, maybe two weeks old, lying on its side with its neck flopping over. Its heart was still beating. “Swell” I thought. At least it would not die alone.
I gently lifted the tiny bird from the towel, cupping it in the length of one hand. As I stood up, I placed my other hand over it for support while carefully taking it into the house. That’s when it struck me – my hands were in the gassho position with a beating heart inside. In that moment, I felt compassion well up inside me. I really saw the starling for the first time. This creature had given me a gift.
We are now 1 ½ years down the road from that bright dawn morning. I will spare you the details. But I would like to announce the addition to our family of our youngest child’s new pet whom she named Olivia, but who has since become Oliver. Oliver is imprinted on me, which is to be expected after nursing him to health hourly for most of his early residence with us. He lives in a large cage given to us by the amused veterinarian who de-wormed him
Oliver has learned to talk, loves to splash in his bath tub and eats like a, well, starling. But our daughter loves him and visibly glows with pride as she watches his antics.
I know now that one doesn’t really know when the last one is the last one. I suppose it helps to approach life as full of surprises. When we are open to all possibilities, we unconsciously invite the Dharma to enter our lives.
Best of all, for me, gassho will always hold a beating heart.
I gassho to each of you. May your days be full of Bright Dawn moments.
This Dharma Glimpse and many other can be found in our Bright Dawn Dharma Glimpses book. You can order one here. You can also learn about the Bright Dawn Center, links to services, resources and the Lay Ministry Program.