Monasteries of the Heart

Going Home

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I’m on retreat this week and came upon this poem by Shinsho:

Does one really have to fret
About enlightenment?
No matter what road I travel,
I’m going home.

When I think of all the retreats and lectures I attended, all the books I’ve read about attaining enlightenment, and then I read this. When I remember the angst over finding a spiritual path that fits, and then I read this. Are all those years of experimenting with spiritual “stuff” necessary in order to come to the simplicity of this poem? Or do we make the journey home to self a difficult maze when it’s actually a familiar neighborhood street?

Speaking of neighborhood streets…I live in a neighborhood that most people are afraid to drive through, though my particular block is undergoing a transformation. On the next block, probably one of the top five worst blocks in the city, lived a 90 year old woman – all by herself—who did what she could to make it a human neighborhood. For years she decorated the front of her house in honor of every holiday, holyday, and season change. I mean REALLY decorated—plastic flowers and lights and flags and banners and bunny rabbits and huge lit hearts for Valentines. If anyone kept the liturgical church year it was she. Here’s the thing: no one ever stole a decoration, vandalized the property or bothered an old white woman who lived alone and called a lot of attention to herself. She was fearless. When gangs of teens parked on her porch, she didn’t call the police. She went out with a broom and kicked them off the front step. When someone threw wet laundry on bushes to dry, she rang their doorbell holding a rope clothesline and asked, “Can I show you how to hang clothes outside?” When drug deals were taking place in the street, she’d open the front door and ream them out in language salty enough to make the dealers blush. Every single morning she was out at crack of dawn sweeping her porch and sidewalk, bringing an inch of order to the chaos. She was kind to the neighborhood children and they respected her tender toughness. She died last month. She was a personal hero of mine, a dame who lived Daniel Berrigan’s teaching, “Decide where you stand, and stand there.”