Which paramita is this?

Today I had the opportunity to help a corporate office in Chicago get set up with a composting operation. I’m not going to name names (I signed an NDA) but it’s an internet company that everyone has heard of, and the office was replete with ping pong and shuffleboard tables, Skittles and granola by the hopper full, even Goose Island on tap. It was surreal to say the least. I’m sure it’s a great place to work, and I applaud them for stepping up their game and getting on board with a real composting program. They provide a catered breakfast and lunch for their employees, and there’s a lot of potential in all those salad scrapings and paper plates. Check out The Ground Rules to see where those eggshells and coffee grounds are going to end up. It’s the sort of project that gives me hope for the planet, and hope is hard to come by these days.

By way of contrast, I spent last weekend in Cicero with a bunch of Tibetan buddhists, reciting long prayers in an odd language and going nearly two full days without food or liquid of any sort. As difficult and challenging an experience as that was, I learned that I can get by on a lot less than I am used to (which can be not all that much). I once heard someone very wise remark that the thing about suffering is, “the more you have suffered, the more you realize how much more everyone else has suffered than you.” That stuck with me. It was pretty rotten starving myself all weekend and kneeling on a wooden floor, but it could have been a lot worse. It isn’t anything I’d just do on a whim, but there are plenty of people out there who had a tougher weekend than I did.

And back to Chicago, where if you’re lucky, you can get a job in a nice office with all the Starbucks coffee you can drink and banana smoothies and whatever else you can scrounge up from the snack bar. Or maybe you’re not so lucky. I noted a number of panhandlers and homeless folk on my way to the office this morning, and before I left I jammed my pockets full of Snickers and KIND bars. I also stuffed an empty potato chip bag full of salad greens for the pet rabbit that I left home alone the whole weekend I was in Cicero, and held onto a bar of bison jerky for myself. Nobody even glanced at me as I was pilfering the corporate stash. It seems like there’s enough to go around.

It wasn’t half a block before I encountered my first panhandler. I struggled to get the Snickers bar out of my back pocket, and it didn’t seem like it was appreciated. It was 91 degrees outside, and I was standing there with a bottle of pilfered Vita Coco handing out a smashed up, already half melted Snickers bar. I thought about handing out the coconut water, but I was also thinking that I’ve got a quarter acre to get planted tomorrow and not much to bring with me in the way of lunch. Work is picking up again, but it’s been slow for too long. That bison jerky is gonna be my lunch tomorrow. I had two more KIND bars in my pocket, but I figured I’d run into another panhandler before I reached the el. I didn’t.

Nothing about that exchange felt comforting, but I also didn’t notice anyone else doing a damn thing. I’m still unsure how I feel about the whole encounter. There is a big hazy area in between generosity and selfishness. If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be of any use to anyone. At the same time, token generosity just so I can feel better about things is worthless. I should have given away the coco water, and all the KIND bars. I can drink tap water tomorrow, and it’s probably better to make a big gesture for one person than a lot of meaningless gestures for several people. One thing is certain, nothing is easy, and just because my intentions are good, that doesn’t mean that they’re well thought out. More lessons learned, or to ponder anyway.

I’m not sure that this post is really finished, but I’m tired, and I’ve got a lot on my plate tomorrow. I’m finally going to get planted, and then maybe I can start blogging about farming. I think that’s why I started this thing in the first place.