(by Daniel R. Jones)
Pulled through a wormhole, the specter of Chuang Tzu glid across the centuries. He rose from the ground like the witch of Endor, spit out in a dermatologist’s waiting room, of all places. He’d been summoned to hold space for Sharon, a woman you’ve met so often, you’d swear Joe Campbell is her daddy.
Sharon, that neon beige of a woman, sat gawking, shocked to find a kindred spirit (if you’ll forgive the pun) in Chuang Tzu. She was an unlikely candidate for his teachings. None of her thinking revolved around esoteric Chinese mysticism. Rather, she spent large swaths of time defending the Middle West with noble buzzwords, such as “cost of living,” “light traffic,” and “protestant work ethic.” Sharon didn’t despise humble beginnings. Nor humble middles and endings, for that matter. She knew there were fates worse than cul-de-sacs.
Sharon was a Moderate: believing all politicians are liars. She believed cliches are cliche for a reason. Same with stereotypes. Rolling stops weren’t stops at all, to Sharon. Rules were not meant to be broken. Sharon would never leave a pump unattended.
Her taste, as well, was milquetoast.
“A foretaste of glory divine,” to Sharon, consisted of Friday nights at Olive Garden and vacations to Saint Petersburg. She didn’t care for the fourth Toy Story. Her favorite songs consistently mirrored the Top 40. She enjoyed Jane Austen, believing her books to be romance novels. Sharon hadn’t heard of the Middle Way, but always sort of reckoned the truth was “somewhere in the middle.”
Oh, Sharon. Always doing things by half. California-sober. Beautiful in Arkansas. Unconcerned, Sharon recognized comparison as the thief of joy. She knew depression is a persistence hunter. That’s why she took tolerance breaks on optimism.
Once, on a long drive through rural Oklahoma, she coined her life motto: You don’t need to catch lightning in a bottle; it’s enough to trap lightning bugs in a Mason jar.
Life was predictable, if boring, for Sharon.
So, she didn’t plan to encounter a Daoist eye-to-eye this morning, least of all on a routine visit about a discolored mole on her left cheek. But while idly flipping through a periodical, she landed on a poem that accidentally summoned the sage, and well, here he was, espousing his views on the perfect man. Or perfect woman, as it were.
How had he cut to the quick? How had he zeroed in on the only thing she ever wanted?
A thought slipped out through the cracks in her brain while her guard was down: Would that I become an empty boat, crossing the river of the world!
Sharon clapped the magazine shut.
She pursed her lips and strode to the receptionist. Best to steel herself against such idle thoughts. Better instead, to think about the weekend, the summer, the holidays. Something to look forward to.
Better, for now, to double-check that the office has her new HSA on file.