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The Taoist spiritual text, The Lieh-tzu says:
“Chuang-tzu once told a story about two persons who both lost a sheep. One person got very depressed and lost himself in drinking, sex, and gambling to try to forget this misfortune. The other person decided that this would be an excellent chance for him to study the classics and quietly observe the subtleties of nature. Both men experienced the same misfortune, but one man lost himself because he was too attached to the experience of loss, while the other found himself because he was able to let go of gain and loss.”

Most of you know that I love music. All kinds of music. But in particular, I love classic rock. Much of the rock music from the ‘60s and ‘70s had a social justice message that still resonates today for those of us of a certain age. It was music that called for peace, for social and racial justice, and challenged us to take a stand against a system that is obsessed with war and profit. I grew up admiring many of those rock performers and still do today.
So, it was disappointing for me to read about one of them (who shall remain nameless) the other day who was bemoaning the fact that he had to sell his classic boat, an apparently large beauty, because he isn’t making enough money  to maintain it because online streaming services are paying musicians very little in royalties as opposed to what they earned selling lp’s or cd’s.
He mentioned that his boat was the most important physical object in his life and that he had gone to the marina it had been docked in and wept to see the empty space where the boat had been. And then he let loose with some choice expletives about streaming services.
Now, I can understand feeling bad about losing something that one loves. We have all had that experience. Perhaps it wasn’t a boat. Maybe it was a car or our home or something else that we prized. Maybe it was taken from us or maybe we found it necessary to sell it for one reason or another.

But I had difficulty in feeling badly for this person who has a net worth of over $5 million dollars, still performs, and makes a very good living. I found myself criticizing his perspective and his priorities during this time of COVID-19 and an economy that is rapidly becoming as bad as the Great Depression. A millionaire whining about a boat just seemed to be poor timing right now. “Bad form” as our British cousins would say.

And then I began to consider how I had grumbled this past week when we lost all power and water due to the tropical storm that passed through and how the utility company had not been prepared. No electricity, no internet, no water. We put my wife and my mother in law up in a hotel so that they could at least have air conditioning. And my son and I stayed at the house using a small generator to run the refrigerator and to charge our cell phones. Being the computer guy in the family, he knew how to set up a “hotspot” on our phones using an iPad so we could connect to some sites on the internet but e-mail was sporadic.

Oh, how I complained and whined. It was as if the world had come to an end!

And then, for over 137 people in Beirut, Lebanon, the world really did come to an end when a building loaded with explosives that had not been monitored in years by the government exploded with the force of 1.7 kilotons of TNT, one-tenth the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. )Eerily, the explosion happened just one day before the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima bombing).

The devastation was, and is, horrific. 137 people dead, over 5,000 people, including children, injured, many with injuries from which they will never recover countless homes and businesses lost, some never to be rebuilt.

Suddenly, I was confronted with my own selfishness. Sure, we were being inconvenienced. It wasn’t easy to suddenly live without those creature comforts we take for granted. And we had to figure ways to make do with what we had available. But our home was still standing. We had a power supply. We had a car to go to the store if needed. And we knew that eventually the power would be restored.

After having a stroke in 1997 that left him with expressive aphasia, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass said it was an act of “fierce grace.” He said, “The stroke was giving me lessons, and I realized that was grace—fierce grace.”

One definition of “grace” is a divinely given blessing. In Christian theology, it is considered an undeserved gift from god. Deserved or undeserved, we are shown grace by whatever powers there are and by whatever name you call them in order to help us grow spiritually, to help us wake up from our spiritual slumber.  And sometimes that grace is more like a whack on the head than a gentle tap on the shoulder.

This past week, for me at least, has been one of those experiences of “fierce grace.” Not the same as Ram Dass’ stroke and certainly nothing like what the people of Beirut and so many other places around the world are experiencing right now. But rather, a lesson to be more mindful of what we have, to appreciate the smallest gifts in our lives like a hot cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning, a shower, the simple act of flipping the light switch. A lesson to be fully present in this moment of Now.

Fierce grace. Something we all need now and then.