A Hungry Man is Approached by Another Man Who Has Cookies

There was once a man who was sitting in a public place. Soon, he was joined by a friend, and finally, a third man approached. The third man didn’t say anything, but stood there for a minute until he pulled out a package of cookies.

The first man couldn’t help but think to himself, “Great–I was just getting a bit hungry!” He began to subtly smile as the third man opened the plastic package. The third man then pulled out a cookie and gave it to the second man. So the first man began to salivate as he soon expected that a cookie would soon be handed to him, too. He waited.

The third man did indeed pull another cookie out of his bag, but he did not hand it to the first man. Instead, he simply took a bite out of it. Then he closed the bag, returned it to his backpack, and walked away.

Naturally, the first man was confused. And he was now only hungrier than before.

An Unprepared Student Takes a Final Exam

There once was a student who was enrolled in a class which had a comprehensive final exam. The student, however, did not study for the exam.

Eventually, the day of the test came. The student was nervous, and when he looked at the test, he stared at it, not knowing what answers to write. After hesitating for some time, the student resolved on a plan. He got up from the desk, test in hand, and walked up to the teacher, who was sitting in front of the classroom. “Excuse me,” he said, “may I have a different test?”

A Pupil Desirous to Learn is Already a Master

There was once a great swordsman and teacher named Yagyu Tajima no kami Munenori. Tajima no kami was renowned and even taught the Shogun himself. 

One day, one of the Shogun’s personal guards came to Tajima no kami and asked him if he would teach him the art of the sword.

The master looked at the guard and then said slowly, “As I observe, you seem to already be a master of the art yourself; pray, tell me to what school you belong before we enter into the relationship of teacher and pupil.”

The guardsman said, “I am ashamed to confess that I have never learned the art.”

“Are you going to fool me?” the master said, “I am teacher to the honorable Shogun himself, and I know my judging eye never fails.”

“I am sorry to defy your honor,” he said, “but I really know nothing.”

The master thought for a while and finally said, “If you say so, that must be so; but still I am sure of your being master of something, though I know not just what.”

The guardsman then said, “If you insist, I will tell you this. There is one thing of which I can say I am a complete master. When I was still a boy, the thought came upon me that as a samurai I ought in no circumstances to be afraid of death, and I grappled with the problem of death for many years. Finally however, the problem has entirely ceased to worry me. May this be what you hint at?”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Tajima no kami. “That is what I mean. I am glad I made no mistake in my judgment; for the ultimate secrets of swordsmanship lie in being released from the fear of death. I have trained ever so many hundreds of my pupils along this line, but so far none of them really deserve the final certificate for swordsmanship because they cannot master this one lesson. You, however, need no technical training–you are already a master.” 


Adapted from Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, Princeton University Press,  70-71.



The Drama at Gate 67

(Slightly Adapted From Thomas S. Monson, “The Spirit of the Season,” Christmas Devotional 2009.)

It happened in December of 1970, in the congested Atlanta, Georgia Airport. Thousands of weary travelers were stranded because an ice storm had seriously delayed air travel, and these people were trying to get wherever they most wanted to be for Christmas–most likely home.

As the midnight hour tolled, unhappy passengers clustered around ticket counters, conferring anxiously with agents whose cheerfulness had long since evaporated. They, too, wanted to be home. A few people managed to doze in uncomfortable seats. Others gathered at the newsstands to thumb silently through paperback books.

If there was a common bond among this diverse throng, it was loneliness–pervasive, inescapable, suffocating loneliness. But airport decorum required that each traveler maintain his or her invisible barrier against all the others. Better to be lonely than to be involved, which inevitably meant listening to the complaints of gloomy and disheartened fellow travelers.

The fact of the matter was that there were more passengers than there were available seats on any of the planes. And, when an occasional plane managed to break out, more travelers stayed behind than made it aboard. The words “Standby,” “Reservation confirmed,” and “First-class passenger” settled priorities and bespoke money, power, influence, foresight–or the lack thereof.

Gate 67 was a microcosm of the whole cavernous airport. Scarcely more than a glassed-in cubicle, it was jammed with travelers hoping to fly to New Orleans, Dallas, and points west. Except for the fortunate few traveling in pairs, there was little conversation. A salesman stared absently into space, as if resigned. A young mother cradled an infant in her arms, gently rocking in a vain effort to soothe the soft whimpering.

Then there was a man in a finely tailored grey flannel suit who somehow seemed impervious to the collective suffering. There was a certain indifference about his manner. He was absorbed in paperwork–figuring the year-end corporate profits, perhaps. A nerve-frayed traveler sitting nearby, observing this busy man, might have identified him as an Ebenezer Scrooge. 

Suddenly, the relative silence was broken by a commotion as a young man in military uniform, no more than 19 years old, conversed animatedly with the desk agent. The boy held a low-priority ticket. He pleaded with the agent to help him get to New Orleans so that he could take the bus to the obscure Louisiana village he called home.

The agent wearily told him the prospects were poor for the next 24 hours, maybe longer. The boy grew frantic. Immediately after Christmas his unit was to be sent to Vietnam–where at that time war was raging–and if he didn’t make this flight, he might never again spend Christmas at home. Even the businessman in the grey flannel suit looked up from his cryptic computations to show a guarded interest. The agent clearly was moved, even a bit embarrassed. But he could only offer sympathy–not hope. The boy stood at the departure desk, casting anxious looks around the crowded room as if seeking just one friendly face.

Finally, the agent announced that the flight was ready for boarding. The travelers, who had been waiting long hours, heaved themselves up, gathered their belongings, and shuffled down the small corridor to the waiting aircraft: twenty, thirty, a hundred–until there were no more seats. The agent turned to the frantic young soldier and shrugged.

Inexplicably, the businessman had lingered behind. Now he stepped forward. “I have a confirmed ticket,” he quietly told the agent. “I’d like to give my seat to this young man.” The agent stared incredulously; then he motioned to the soldier. Unable to speak, tears streaming down his face, the boy in olive drab shook hands with the man in the gray flannel suit, who simply murmured, “Good luck. Have a fine Christmas. Good luck.”

As the plane door  closed and the engines began their rising whine, the businessman turned away, clutching his briefcase, and trudged toward the all-night restaurant.

No more than a few among the thousands stranded there at the Atlanta airport witnessed the drama at Gate 67. But for those who did, the sullenness, the frustration, the hostility–all dissolved into a glow. That act of love and kindness between strangers had brought the spirit of Christmas into their hearts. 

The lights of the departing plane blinked, starlike, as the craft moved off into the darkness. The infant slept silently now in the lap of the young mother. Perhaps another flight would be leaving before many more hours. But those who witnessed the interchange were less impatient. The glow lingered, gently, pervasively, in that small glass and plastic stable at Gate 67.

President Monson then writes,

My brothers and sisters, finding the real joy of the season comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done or in the purchasing of obligatory gifts. Real joy comes as we show the love and compassion inspired by the Savior of the World, who said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

A Brief Note on The Rent Collector

I recently finished this book for the third time. It’s about a woman named Sang Ly who lives with her husband and constantly-ill son in a garbage dumb in Cambodia. Even though life is challenging for them (to say the least), Sang Ly begins to learn to read so that she can help her family. And the more she reads, the more she discovers the value of literature, the inner goodness of most people (even those who may at first seem to be our enemies), and, above all, hope.

I highly recommend it.


I found this image on http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/69/9b/58/699b5840d8b644ee031337e9be42f5e9.jpg

A Short Story of Kindness, Told by a Dentist in December

Here is a brief story that was written a handful of years ago that illustrates a simple act of kindness around Christmastime. I like it because it motivates me to do something nice for someone else:

“I am a dentist by profession. [Last December], my receptionist informed me that an acquaintance of hers was coming into my office. She had problems with two of her teeth. She knew this woman and told me of her circumstances. The woman carried many burdens. The family business, which she ran, was doing poorly, and the family was three months behind in paying rent. They had five children, many grown into adulthood, but all had moved back home because of difficult personal circumstances. By sheer force of will, she had kept her family together for some time. Now two teeth were broken.

“The woman arrived for her appointment and explained about her dental problem. She asked if I would allow her to pay her bill over time. She explained to me that her family had experienced several financial reversals and were just recently starting to pay some overdue bills.

“I assured her that her credit was good with me. She asked if I could repair just one of the two broken teeth at that time. I assured her that I could, and we began.

“Since I had the time, I repaired both teeth, for which she was grateful. When the work was completed, . . . I told her that if she would not be offended, I should like to make a Christmas present of the dental work, for which there would be no bill. She was astonished. I could sense the depth of the stress and strain she had carried, as uncontrollable tears of gratitude gushed forth due to a small, simple act of kindness. It must have been years since someone showed her some little favor. Not able to speak, she made her way out.

“Both my assistant and receptionist were so moved by her reaction that they also [shed] tears and could hardly speak. I, on the other hand, was doubly glad. One part, in seeing such a simple act have such a happy effect on another. And the second part, for once in my life having a patient in my office crying for joy and not for pain! 

“To you, my very best wishes.

“Sincerely,

“A brother in the gospel.”

(From Thomas S. Monson, “What is Christmas?” Liahona, Dec. 1998, 4-5.)

A Story from the Book of Mormon about a Group of Refugees

I woke up this morning with this story on my mind, so I wrote about it. Now I’m sharing it because I hope it might be beneficial to someone.

Before we get to the story, we’ll need a bit of context. And because I’m summarizing many chapters of a fairly complex narrative, I’ve simplified much of it.

In this story, there are 2 general groups of people: The Lamanites and the Nephites. 

Over a period of many generations, the Lamanites taught their children to hate the Nephites, so the Lamanites felt justified murdering and plundering the Nephites whenever they had the chance. And while the Nephites would often defend themselves, at this time, they did not go on the offensive against the Lamanites. Many Nephites also regarded the Lamanites as enemies, and some didn’t think there were any good Lamanites (see Alma 26:23-26). But, a Nephite named Ammon had compassion on those who he believed should have been (and were!) his brothers and sisters, so he went with a few of his friends to teach the Lamanites about God and Jesus Christ. 

One somewhat large group of Lamanites listened to the messages of Ammon and his friends. This group had a change of heart and felt deep sorrow for the many murders they had committed. So they dug a huge pit, buried their swords and weapons of war, and made a covenant with God that they would never again shed blood. Then, to distinguish themselves, both from others and from their own past, this group took upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehies. 

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies began to be persecuted by the Lamanites and by another group, called the Amalekites, who are described as apostate Nephites. The Amalekites, because of their hatred, incited the rest of the Lamanites to become angry with, to attack, and to destroy the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

In the following excerpt from from Alma 27The Anti-Nephi-Lehies seem to me to be a group of refugees. They are about to be destroyed by the Lamanites, but they’re hesitant to ask the Nephites for protection because know that they had once done many wrongs to the Nephites:


Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them . . . they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king [of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies]:

“Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.
“But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
“And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
“And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
“But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
“But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.
“And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:
“Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.
“And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.
“And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.
“And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.
. . .
“And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.
“And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
“And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
“And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.

“And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.

“Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. . . .
“And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.
“And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
“And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.
. . .
“And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.
(Note that the words “zeal” and “zealousness” in these passages refer to great energy and enthusiasm. They are in no way associated with fanaticism or extremism.)
I find this story inspiring because while neither party was perfect, it seems to me that the Nephites treated the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as they would have liked to have been treated if they had been in a similar situation–like fellow human beings. The Nephites, though they may not have liked everything about the other party, when they learned of the plight of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, were still persuaded to help the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, on the other hand, were hesitant to ask the Nephites for assistance–they knew they had been and would continue to be a burden to people who had done nothing to them. But they still asked. And they received the help they needed. 

I wonder if we could even say that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies gave the Nephites an opportunity to help them–an opportunity that many of the Nephites perhaps needed. What I mean is I wonder if the Nephites needed to learn something about both the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and also also about themselves. They, at least the ones who saw the Lamanites as evil, needed to learn that the Lamanites weren’t evil–they were just mistaken. Not only that, but the Nephites who had seen the Lamanites as evil were also mistaken. Both parties were to some degree mistaken because of the stories they had been telling themselves about the other party over many generations. Though there were extremes on both sides, there were also normal people–human beings–on both sides, people who were just trying to do the best they could with what they had. People who, when they received greater light and knowledge than they then had, chose willingly, even enthusiastically, to embrace it.

Turning on the Car and Knowing that the Car is Running

I stand at the door with my keys in my hand. Then, when I find the right key, I put it in the door and turn my wrist to unlock it. I pull the key out, open the door, sit down in the car seat, then shut the door. Then comes the moment of truth. I take the key and put it in the ignition, but before I turn my wrist I hesitate: will this work? It’s worked every time before, but what about this time? How do I know it will work? Will this small action of mine actually start a chain of events that will turn on the car?

I hope that it will, so I act in accordance with my beliefs: I turn my wrist and, sure enough, the car starts. 

Now, as I sit here in the car seat and listen to the engine, I wonder what goes on under the hood. I’m not a car expert, and I can’t even see under the hood–I mean, I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, and the hood is closed. So of course I can’t see the engine or any thing else that’s going on. But I can hear it, and I can feel it. So, even though I can’t see what’s going on, I still say that I know that the whole system is working. I know that my car is running, but that doesn’t mean that I have a perfect knowledge of the entire car–actually, I don’t need a complete and full knowledge of the entire system to know that it works. 

And besides–can I even have a full and perfect knowledge? Isn’t there even something that the experts themselves don’t know and about which they debate? Who are these experts? Well, they’re human, just like me. If I wanted to, I could be like one of them, but it would take a lot of work on my part, a lot of learning, and a lot of training. But I could do it, if I wanted to.

But how do I know that? Well, it seems obvious–though I must admit that even on this point I don’t have a perfect knowledge. Yet my belief in that potential becomes a partial knowledge as I continue to act on it. And as I act, my knowledge grows greater and greater until it becomes that of an expert. Though even as an “expert,” I will still have much to learn. 

There’s nothing confusing about any of this.

A Story about a Man who Went on a Cruise

This story comes from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, “Your Potential, Your Privilege.” President Uchtdorf is second councilor in the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I appreciate this talk because it persuades me to not want to take for granted the gifts I’ve been given. Instead, however, I want to maximize my full potential, get to work, and do my very best. I like it. 🙂
Here is the story:

There once was a man whose lifelong dream was to board a cruise ship and sail the Mediterranean Sea. He dreamed of walking the streets of Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. He saved every penny until he had enough for his passage. Since money was tight, he brought an extra suitcase filled with cans of beans, boxes of crackers, and bags of powdered lemonade, and that is what he lived on every day.

He would have loved to take part in the many activities offered on the ship—working out in the gym, playing miniature golf, and swimming in the pool. He envied those who went to movies, shows, and cultural presentations. And, oh, how he yearned for only a taste of the amazing food he saw on the ship—every meal appeared to be a feast! But the man wanted to spend so very little money that he didn’t participate in any of these. He was able to see the cities he had longed to visit, but for the most part of the journey, he stayed in his cabin and ate only his humble food. 

On the last day of the cruise, a crew member asked him which of the farewell parties he would be attending. It was then that the man learned that not only the farewell party but almost everything on board the cruise ship—the food, the entertainment, all the activities—had been included in the price of his ticket. Too late the man realized that he had been living far beneath his privileges. (Uchtdorf, “Your Potential, Your Privilege,” April 2011.

Isn’t that interesting? Now let’s get busy and do our very best with all we’ve been given!

The Unwise Bee, A Brief Story by James E. Talmage

Sometimes I find myself under obligations of work requiring quiet and seclusion such as neither my comfortable office nor the cozy study at home insures. My favorite retreat is an upper room in the tower of a large building, well removed from the noise and confusion of the city streets. The room is somewhat difficult to access and relatively secure against human intrusion. Therein I have spent many peaceful hours with books and pen.

I am not always without visitors, however, especially in the summertime; for when I sit with the windows open, flying insects occasionally find entrance and share the place with me. These self-invited guests are not unwelcome, and many times I have laid down the pen and watched with interest the activities of these winged visitants with an afterthought that the time so spent had not been wasted. For is it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?

Once, a wild bee from the neighboring hills flew into the room. At intervals during an hour or more I listened to the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened window failed. 

When I was ready to close up the room and leave, however, I threw the window wide open and tried to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing full well that if it was left in the room it would die just as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. But the more I tried to drive the bee out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.

Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand–the very hand that would have guided it to freedom–and finally alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of either help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me rather pity than anger, for I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate.

Three days later, I returned to the room. When I entered, I saw the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life.

To the bee’s shortsightedness and misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.

Are we so much wiser than the bee that no analogy lies between its unwise course and our own lives?

[Slightly adapted from James E. Talmage, “The Unwise Bee.”]

I found this image on The Culinary Exchange:
http://www.theculinaryexchange.com/blog/how-the-bee-will-determine-the-future-of-the-food-ecosystem/#.VeOSS_lViko