Picking Up Branches
February 11, 2016
Next door to our family farm lived our second-grade teacher. Mrs. Bailey was large, comfortable, motherly, and welcoming. As a teacher and as a person she inspired respect, and even more, love—the sort of love that looked for ways to express itself in some good service that would bring forth her approving smile. She could have walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting—grateful schoolmarm receiving apple from admiring student.
Our own mother had assigned me the duty of picking up fallen twigs and branches around the farmhouse—and rewarded my successful completion of the task with heartwarming praise, and the prospect that our father too would be pleased.
Looking over the meadow toward Mrs. Bailey’s house, Mother casually mentioned that Mrs. Bailey too had quite a few branches knocked down by the latest storm and needing to be gathered up in a pile. My imagination was fired with the thought of doing this work for my beloved teacher—and doing it when she was away, as a surprise.
All day I lugged windfall from her trees down to the creek, where—inspired by the beaver dams we’d been learning about in Mrs. Bailey’s class—I carefully stacked the branches into what I hoped would be a good home for beavers. Now all around the house was picked clean and she had her own beaver dam.
Mrs. Bailey returned home just as I was finishing. I waited eagerly for her response. “Well, thank you, Jimmy,” she said. “You’ve piled them all up in the creek. Now why don’t you go and tell your parents what you’ve done, and we’ll see what they have to say.” She spoke kindly, but something was wrong—she wasn’t smiling.
Well schooled in the moral of young George Washington’s adventure with the cherry tree, I sought out my mother to tell her my story. She also did not produce a smile: “You can tell your father at dinner, and we’ll see what he has to say.” Our family dinners were formal affairs, with candles, a prayer of blessing, good posture, and, when necessary, a benevolent disciplinary hearing before our father. “Wally,” Mother motioned us children to silence, “Jimmy has something he wants to tell you.”
By now my young mind had begun to grasp that my project hadn’t gone over as well as I’d hoped. My father listened gravely as I spoke. “Well, son,” he finally said, in his formal way, “first of all, thank you for being truthful. Mrs. Bailey knows you meant well, and I know you’ve worked hard. I think what will make Mrs. Bailey happiest is for you to pull those branches out of the creek and stack them where she has her burn pile.”
My father was smiling; he was pleased with me—and I knew what to do to make everything work out.
Moving the beaver dam up to the burn site seemed effortless. My father walked over and helped with the hauling. My heart overflowed with happiness. My mother and Mrs. Bailey watched from up the hill—both were smiling. All was well.
To Arjuna, the Lord in His form as Krishna gave His immortal promise: “Whenever anyone, with a pure intention, offers Me (even) a leaf . . . I accept his offering (as symbolic of his love).” Swamiji explains Yogananda’s interpretation: Krishna is simply saying (as though to little children), “You must practice offering yourself at first in little ways. If you cannot yet make the supreme offering of your ego-consciousness to Me, then practice making little gifts. Any slight offering, made with love, is a step in the right direction, and is for that reason acceptable to Me.”
So does the compassionate Lord reach down through wise and kindhearted human channels to help a child’s early, stumbling good intentions be not only acceptable in His sight but radiant with love and joy—a doorway opened to the deeper self-offering that will lead finally to the divine home.
In divine friendship,