Why be grouchy when you can be neutral?
Why be neutral when you can be friendly?
The meditation center where I teach is in the hills of the West Virginia countryside. When we first opened our center, there was a man down the road who was very unfriendly. I encountered him regularly on the long walk I take every day. It is a quiet forest road with little traffic and I always wave at everyone who goes by. Whenever I saw this man, I would wave to him. He would just frown at me and look away. Even so, I would always wave and think kindly of him, sending him loving-friendliness (Metta). I was not disappointed by his attitude. I never gave up on him. Whenever I saw him, I waved just as I did with other people. After about a year, his behavior changed. He stopped frowning. I felt wonderful. The practice of loving-friendliness was bearing fruit.
After another year, when I passed him on my walk, something miraculous happened. He drove pass me and lifted one finger off the steering wheel. Again, I thought, “Oh, this is wonderful. Loving-friendliness is working.” Another year passed. Day after day, when I took my walk, I would wave to him and wish him well. The third year, he lifted two fingers in my direction. Then the next year, he lifted all four fingers off the wheel. More time passed. One day I was walking down the road as he turned into his driveway. He took his hand off the steering wheel, stuck it out the window, and waved at me.
One day, not long after, I saw him parked on the side of the forest roads. He was sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette. I went over to him and started talking. First we chatted just about the weather and then, little by little, his story unfolded. It turns out that he had been in a terrible accident. A tree had fallen on his truck. Almost every bone in his body was broken. He has been in a coma. When I first started seeing him on the road, he was only beginning to recover. He did not refrain from waving because he was a mean person. He did not wave because he could not move all his fingers. Had I given up on him, I would never have known how good this man is.