By Nathan Alling Long
Last week I meditated in a cabin in the woods beside a pear tree that fruited only two pears, or—I laughed when I thought of it—one pair.
The third step of my childhood home was cracked and weak, which is how, and when, I learned to walk carefully around things in the world.
Every day, I’d sit, then walk, sit, then walk, my mind focused on my body, my posture, my breath, and on those two ripening pears.
I was often sick as a child, and once, after a string of ailments, my doctor gave me a silver dollar, which made me feel so special, I recovered the next day.
A pear tree in the woods struck me as a rare thing.
The steps to the cabin were new and made not a sound.
On the last day of the retreat, I climbed the steps, reached out and held one of the pears in my hand, the weight of the thing, trying to distinguish the line that separated its skin from mine.
As a teenager, I liked to swim naked in the lake near our house, my body dissolving into the cold water.
A pear is not like a coin: it will not last but can be safely swallowed.
When I was six, I stole an apple from the neighbor’s yard.
Despite a week of meditation, I stole that pear.
The owners of the cabin will know it was me…unless they believe a squirrel or a bird took the pear.
I set the pear on my desk at home and stared at its solitude.
In the cabin, I became pure observation: a bird lighting from a branch, a squirrel rustling up a trunk, a cloud drifting above the trees.
I slept, dreaming of a forest becoming a staircase into nothingness and I woke to the pear staring at me like a question.
In meditation, one starts to see that the self is an illusion, that there is nothing there behind the story of “I.”
I took the pear in my hand and took a bite.
In my fourth-grade cafeteria hung a poster that said, You Are What You Eat.
As I took each crisp bite, I said to myself, This is what I am.
Stolen fruit tastes sweeter—and more complicated.
To say you are sorry is to say you experienced pleasure and now guilt.
The pear, its sweet juice and pulp, its sharp stem and bitter seeds, is now a part of me.
I might well have been a bird or a squirrel, whom we never expect to say are sorry.
Now, alone in my room, what I feel is not a sorrow for what I have taken and eaten, but for the pear I left behind, the one that hangs from a branch, alone.