I’m up to 10 milkweed plants in the garden. Eight of them have been stripped to the bare stalks by voracious caterpillars. This morning, I rushed out to buy the last two—no more planting room in the yard and my wallet has screeched ”Enough!”. Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars will eat on their journey of transformation into butterflies. Nine lime green chrysalis hang from various protected places: the lip of a garden wall, a bench and fountain. But one little guy (or gal) decided to opt for serenity and became a single earring for my only garden sculpture: Kwan Yin.
I first was introduced to Kwan Yin when my twin brother and I exchanged birthday gifts in 2001. I had given him a water fountain for his office. He handed me a beautiful, delicate white statue of an Asian woman holding a downturned vase in her hand as she stood on what looked like the world and a dragon with an open mouth. “It’s beautiful, John!. But. who is she?” “Wait, Eileen. Watch this!” He raced to the kitchen, turned the statue upside down and poured water in the dragon’s mouth. When he turned the statue rightside up again, single drops of water came out of the vase and flowed back into the dragon’s mouth. “John. It’s marvelous. But what is it?” He whipped out a copy of a book I had given him the previous year, Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings. He proceeded to read that early in her career as a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Remen was appointed Associate Director of Pediatric Clinics at Stanford and given her very first office. With a tiny budget, she went shopping to outfit her small space. In the course of shopping, she spied a small porcelain statue in a lamp store. It was an Asian woman pouring water from a flask. Although drawn to the statue, she decided the budget offered no margin for another purchase. However, that night, she dreamt of the statue. It seemed to beg her to come back. She returned, bought the statue with limited funds. Often she would hold it in her hand while making difficult decisions or returning the calls of worried parents. It was not until she prepared to leave Stanford that she learned the identity of the tiny statue. She was Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. The name, Kwan Yin, is a shortened form that means One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World. “One who sees and hears the cry from the human world.” Today, when one lone caterpillar decided to dangle from my Kwan Yin’s ear, wiggling into its next stage, I was struck by the statue’s face. Kwan Yin’s serenity, a visage caught in mindfulness, centers in compassion for the moment allowing a resting place for my Monarch. Indeed, amid so much sorrow that encircles our world, perhaps that is the best I can offer…. a resting place for accepting and sheltering my family, friends, and clients who just need a hand to hold theirs or a place to rest. There are days in which compassion for the distance between who we can be and who we currently are might be the highest form of service. For now, that rings true.