One day, when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog.
The monk asked, “Why does it always have to be like that?”
Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”
—Record of Dongshan
PZI’s Jordan McConnell and I were talking the other day, and he asked, “Did I ever tell you the story of my friend in British Columbia?”
Scotty is an elk-hunting guide who built a cabin on the shore of Kootenay Lake below the eight-thousand-foot Kootenay Mountain in the northern Rockies. “He’s living as part of the mountain,” said Jordan of his hunter friend.
One day, an elk came off the mountain into his yard. It suffered from “winter sickness,” a condition brought on by near-starvation during the long and harsh Canadian winter. Scotty left out food and water, but the elk soon died. When he went over to look at it, the dead elk was covered in a thick blanket of ticks. Scotty had never seen anything like it.
His deep sorrow for the elk opened Scotty’s heart. “It was like a gate opening wide,” said Jordan. “I was working on the crows-and-frog koan at the time, and thought I’d tell him about it but then realized he’d already gotten it.” Somehow, Scotty knew the elk had come for him and he buried it by himself.
That night, Scotty’s brother called from jail and they started to argue and fall into their old ways. But something had changed for Scotty after he’d buried the elk, and he turned the conversation around. When they finished talking, for the first time in his life, Scotty’s brother said that he loved him. That very night, the brother died in his sleep of a brain aneurism.
Jordan went on, “Earlier this year, my own brother, Steve, was diagnosed with a serious cancer. In his late thirties, Steve had built a good business as a master tattoo artist, and just last fall celebrated the birth of a baby girl. Right after his diagnosis, he began twelve weeks of punishing chemotherapy. He lost all the hedge-like hair on his head and his big thick beard. He could no longer work and was going in and out of a deep depression.”
“Steve and I are close,” Jordan said, “but we weren’t great communicators growing up. The language of emotion was just not part of our vocabulary.” A couple of months ago, they were in a texting exchange over something. “I thought the exchange was over. And then Steve tacked something on the end: ‘I love you.’ It was the first time he had ever told me that.”
“When I think about my brother’s cancer, I say to myself, ‘Why does it have to be like this?’ I can feel it with my whole body. And then I step into it; my brother tells me he loves me, and I tell him I love him. That is the storehouse of treasures—maybe there is just a frog inside, but it’s already wide open.”