They say your greatest teacher is whatever or whomever you're faced with in the present moment.
I've had excellent mentors in my life thus far, and they'd sometimes recommend books. Several years ago, in one of these very books, I discovered my all-time favorite Buddhist story: A story I'm thinking about right now because a cat just puked on my bathroom rug — one of those long trails of puke punctuated by half-eaten food, following a strange curved trajectory that brings to mind the girl from "The Exorcist."
The story is about a young Bengali boy who shows up at a monastery to apprentice and proceeds to annoy the living shit out of the monk he's assigned to. Tea is spilled, robes are trampled, and the monk has to cultivate every ounce of self-restraint and compassion he possesses not to smack the kid upside the head. This crappy little assistant showed the monk over and over again which areas he needed to work on in order to continue to grow.
For the past two weeks, I've had an amazing new teacher staying in my tiny apartment with me. Her name is Lucy, and she is the most annoying long-haired tabby cat I've ever crossed paths with.
Lucy does not care if I want to sit quietly and read, or if I can't get my snowboots off with her underfoot, or if I would prefer not to have her sling herself across my face in the middle of the night. Lucy wants attention, she wants my full attention, and she wants it 24-7. I have never in my life crossed paths with a cat so in need of constant petting, so committed to making non-stop noise, so perfectly created to get on my every last nerve.
I won't claim to understand what it's like to be a parent, but I think it's safe to say I have a better understanding of the notion your own kids are better than everyone else's. After the third day of Lucy launching herself from the kitchen counter to my coatrack and down to my feet as I unlocked the door, I thought of my old cats, Nigel and Simon, who didn't do these kinds of things. And then it hit me: I raised my cats specifically not to annoy me; Lucy was raised not to annoy her mother. That was a pretty neat little lesson. And so I went out and bought the best kitty treats I could find, these horrific-smelling little pellets of cheese and fish. Lucy did not like them, but she did bat them under the counter so they'd continue to stink up the kitchen incognito for a few days.
Over these weeks, Lucy has spent her every waking breath (and for a cat, she seems to be awake a LOT) trying to teach me patience as I'd sit down to write, or get up to cook dinner, or rush around the apartment getting ready for work. Everywhere I am, she is right there, brushing against my ankle, tip-toeing across my laptop, lounging on my head. Things really became difficult when I realized I was sick; a runny nose, headache and itchy eyes had me dreaming of lying undisturbed on the couch under a blanket. But no, I still hadn't learned the final lesson Lucy was desperately trying to teach this thick-headed idiot: I am allergic to her.