She swept her garden clean, wiping the sweat off her brow. It was hard work, maintaining this place. Rising before daylight, diligently raking fallen leaves from the ground. When she was done, the courtyard was a pristine clean. Visitors would pause, untold, at the doorway. Hesitant to drag in mud with their shoes. One quick look and it was obvious. The space was not just clean but sacred. She poured her heart into the grounds with every stroke. They would speak more softly, more gently here. Time would slow down. They would savour the modest tea she offered. Join her as they watched fresh flowers and leaves float slowly to the ground. They would shake their heads and say, “More work for you”. But she would smile and respond, ‘That is life. We are never done.’
One particularly hot day, the winds blew in a stranger. Towering, commanding on his steed. He was tired and hungry, wanting shelter and shade. He bustled into her space, too flustered to notice the dust he carried in. He brazenly led the horse right to her stored water and let it drop its head in. She emerged from the kitchen to protest but stifled her scolds. Her eyes took in his exhaustion and self occupation. She thought to herself, ‘This soul needs some rest, however rich his robes.’ So she silently offered them both sustenance for the body and spirit. They were too needy to realize the inconvenience they caused. How they stretched her meagre possessions, the messiness they brought. She didn’t mind it either. The horse was as grateful as the Master. After three days had past, he gruffly thanked her and left.
Only to return again. This time he was less exhausted but more demanding than before. She pointedly told him he could rest a day, no more. Annoyed, he attempted to buy her hospitality. Proffering silks and spices in lieu of rest. She laughingly gave them back and suggested, “Try more respect instead. I have no need for your riches. But if you tell me a tale of two, that may be more interesting. Perhaps more useful too.” So he told her about his adventures and grew prouder with each tale. She listened attentively, but wasn’t as enchanted as he expected. His tales got more exaggerated, his demeanour more arrogant and proud. But the further he got from truth, the more impatient she became. Finally she told him, “Its best you leave in the morning”. Seething he snapped, “What would you know of the world? Living in this isolated, dead town. You know nothing about life. And turn away a chance to learn!” “It is late, you are weary. I will let you be. But tomorrow be gone Sir. It is best you leave politely.”
She slept early that night. The next morning she said not a word as he left. Putting in some extra effort with her broom, she recreated her tranquil place.
A few days later, he returned again. This time he was not ignorant. He knew what his soul was thirsty for. But she was also wiser. She commanded him to stop right at the door. He bristled in anger, surprised. He had been expecting the same quiet hospitality as before. She firmly refused and repeated, “No more.” He rankled and accused her of being selfish and unkind. Turing away weary travellers was a crime.
She wasn’t surprised at this lack of grace. “When you did not notice how I nurture this space, how can I expect you to realize it’s sacredness? The first time you were weary, your eyes were blind with not knowing what you want. You were given freely. You received fully. That was done. You came once more, without wanting to pay the price of simple respect. You were told to leave because of that. But you still did not get it. Do not think you can come back here and take any of this by demand. It was not my weakness that hosted you the first time, but my understanding. The second one was a chance to learn. A third time would be an error on my part. Turn and leave now. The first time was self occupation. The second ignorant arrogance. This time it is pure selfishness. Of that, I will entertain none.”
The truth stung his pride and he raised his voice. Within minutes there was silence. She had turned away and gone inside. But there were others who came up to the house. The daily visitors, who knew what she was about. And they said not a word to the stranger, but simply pointed him on his way…
Only one old lady walked up to him and declared, “Son, to receive gracefully is an art. If you had understood just that, you would never have been turned away. This woman doesn’t give in from fear. She is unafraid of listening to her heart. That kind of courage cannot be threatened.”