Human Imperfections: Lessons From A Chair

My mother's health hasn't been too great this year.  She's spent a lot of time in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities and, to be honest, it's been a hard year for our family.  In this process we've met hundreds of healthcare providers and I know that each one of them is trying their best to take care of us, but there are a lot of stresses and not everything goes smoothly. 

EKG Heart

Reflecting on these stresses reminded me of something that happened about 3 years ago. My mother had heart surgery to replace her aortic valve. The surgery was pretty new and very high tech. The team of about 20 professionals were nothing short of amazing. They were skilled, organized, dedicated, thoughtful, generous, and kind. We really couldn’t have imagined a better group of people to work with and we always felt our mother’s heart was in good hands.

Mother and adult daughter

(here I am with my mom a few years ago)

They were so good that we started to see them as super-human, but one incident reminded us that this team was human just like us. A few weeks before the surgery we had a pre-op appointment. We met with one of the specialists in a small exam room. My brother and I were with my mother, so that made 3 of us, but the room only had two chairs. The nurse apologized and asked us to wait while she got another chair. A few minutes later she returned with a very nice rocking chair. It had the emblem of a respected educational institution on it and I recognized it as the kind of chair that is often given as an award to celebrate a special achievement; it was the kind of chair that was likely owned by a specific doctor and not part of the regular office furniture. 

Rocking Chair

My mom took a seat in the rocking chair and the appointment proceeded with the nurse getting blood pressure and pulse readings. We were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was another nurse wanting to talk to our nurse. We could not make out the full conversation, but it included our nurse saying “Well, we needed an extra chair in here” and the nurse in the hall saying “You know how he is about his chair.”  We deduced that the doctor whose chair we had borrowed wanted it back. The door closed. When our nurse opened the door a few minutes later, we saw an ordinary office chair was placed just outside our door. Our nurse pushed the rocking chair into the hall (I imagine someone quickly returned it to the doctor) and pulled the office chair into our room.  That was it. The crisis was averted. The doctor had his chair back and order was restored.

This incident reminds me that no matter how educated or skilled or even kind and compassionate we are, each of us will always have human limitations and imperfections. We each have our own preferences and attachments. We have things we are proud of and things we are embarrassed by. We get cranky and lose our tempers when things aren’t done the way we like them. The Buddha clearly taught that these attachments are the cause of our suffering and the Buddhist teachings are designed to help us let go of these attachments and become enlightened. But I’m not holding my breath that I or anyone I love will become enlightened any time soon. Certainly, I am not any closer to enlightenment than this doctor who was so attached to his chair.

So let’s all take a moment to stop and thank the people who put up with us, who help us, and who, like the nurses did at the doctor’s office, cover for us when our attachments cause inconvenience to others. Shinran Shonin teaches that we are foolish beings filled with confusion and bad karma.  How very fortunate we are to have people who love us and put up with us anyway!

In Gassho, 

Rev. Anne 


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