I baked 9 apples this weekend. I carried them home from the farmers market, cored them, and stuffed them with currants, brown sugar, almonds, a little butter, and then baked them for about an hour. They were delicious. Like an apple pie without the crust.
my next door neighbor and I have been in a feud of varying degrees of heat for the past 4 years. last month he had a heart attack in his apartment and went online to find out what was wrong with him and while typing in his symptoms into the computer, he discovered he was having a heart attack. he called 911 and went to the hospital where he had stints or shunts (you know– the things that open up the passageways) put in. He was there, alone, in the hospital for a week, and then took a taxi home.
To say this guy is a loner would be to under serve the word. he is one of those people who is totally and utterly alone in the world. it kinda gives me chills when i really think about it.
he has been so uncooperative about walking around in his cowboy boots on a hardwood floor, and vacuuming (he’s a vacuuming fanatic), at all hours of the dark, that i haven’t cared much for his situation.
I have made him into that “other” kind of thing that feels so good to do when we are hurt or wronged by someone or we find someone to be just a plain old asshole. When I asked him if he would mind taking off the rodeo shoes at 6 a.m. or 1.30 a.m. he said he didn’t want to have to consider me in everything he did, and slammed the door. What an asshole, I thought.
I saw him about a month after he had his heart attack and his normally robust figure was slimmed way down. He was trying to get his wheelie cart in the front door, and I happened to be going out of the building. seeing him shocked me, and thinking everyone loves to be complimented on weight loss, I said, “wow, B__ you look great.” “I had a heart attack”, he replied. The asshole thing was feeling more like mine at that moment, so I held the door open for him and carried his cart up the stairs. we stood in the cruddy flourescent-lit hallway chatting.
He lost his job a year ago, is behind in the rent, the landlords have taken him to court three times, he has no health insurance, and his heart medicine is $200 a month.
He had just missed a deadline that the court gave him to pay $200 to the landlords, but it was a choice between the heart medicine and the landlords so he chose the medicine. His unemployment is going to run out in two months.
he told me he hopes they don’t evict him because, he said, “i have literally nowhere to go.”
i walked away from that little chat shaken.
since then we’ve been saying hello, so yesterday when i baked the apples i decided to give up a little of my part of being an asshole and give him one. He was vacuuming in his boots with his front door open, and so i asked him if he wanted one. He jumped at the offer, and when i went back into my apartment i was trembling a bit.
when i handed the apple to him in a plastic dish he said,”i like it much better when we get along as neighbors”
“yes,” i said, and stepped toward him and hugged him. we hugged for kind of a long time and because I couldn’t quite bear the intimacy of the moment, I made a joke.
later, there was a small knock on my door, and it was B__. he was holding out a can of custard powder. “I thought maybe this would be yummy over your baked apples.” he said.
after i shut the door thanking him, i looked at the can which seemed to be maybe an inherited can from world war II rations. the lid was dented and the expiration date was august 4, 2002.
the fact that i personally would never make custard from a can, or that it was expired, didn’t matter. what mattered was that this man, this odd man, tried to give back what he could. he gave back in his way thinking i would like custard for my apples–a delicious treat for anyone.
i stood there in my kitchen silently looking at the can and thinking how tender we all are underneath. i pictured him buying a can of custard off the shelf of the supermarket 7 years ago. maybe he thought he would make himself something sweet, and not being a cook (he gets food delivered every night), maybe a can of powered custard was a way in.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (one of my teachers) talks about how at any moment, we can wake up from the dream of our own aggression and separateness, and glimpse the fundamental vulnerability of all beings, and that direct experience is a moment or a glimpse of genuine wakefulness.
that at any moment we can glimpse the soft spot in people, or in ourselves, and how by seeing the vulnerability of the human condition, it could arouse in you an awakened heart that already exists in us, but that we cover over and harden against.
enlightenment, Rinpoche says, is not separate from ordinary life. the circumstances of our lives are the very things that cause us to wake up.
this morning when i got up to let the dog out, there was my plastic dish on the floor outside my front door with a note. it said; “delish. thanks. a sweet sunday treat.”
i stood there in my pajamas holding the note, my mind still, with quiet appreciation.