Lillian Schumacher was, shall we say, on the far side of middle-aged. She had been widowed for the past eight years and was feeling persistently lonely. She hadn’t had any success at all in filling the sometimes desperate, aching, isolated, emptiness that plagued her soul. Her cats were a comfort, but they didn’t take the place of the companionship she had enjoyed with her husband before he passed.
Lillian had certainly done her due diligence. She had volunteered at the local hospital, participated in food drives and bake sales, joined church-sponsored groups of mixed singles, and even subscribed to the big-city newspaper so that she could scan obituaries for recent widowers. Being a woman of reasonably good character and self-esteem, she gave that up about as quickly as her brief inspection of the talent at the local bars.
To put it bluntly, Lillian had finally decided that she wanted a man and she wanted one soon. Fortunately, Lillian was still smart enough, worldly enough and self-possessed enough to tolerate some deferred gratification. “Damn,” she thought, “If eight years isn’t sufficient deferred gratification, I don’t know what is.” Still, Lillian wanted a particular kind of man and she was determined to be as patient and persistent as necessary. But, she had several problems to deal with first.
For one thing, Lillian Schumacher’s house always smelled of cats. It wasn’t the cats’ fault; cats are fairly tidy in most respects. They groom themselves often. When the mix of cats is stable and everybody knows their place, they groom each other as well. Cats work really hard to find a clean patch of litter to do their business and they work even harder at (or at least go through the compulsive motions of) covering their scat.
However, it was Lillian’s responsibility to change their litter from time to time and she had arthritis. This made it difficult for her to carry the entire litter box outside, rinse it, refill it, and put it back into service. She thought she could tell the difference between when her sweet kitties swirled and mewed around her feet in affection or just concern for the disposition of their box. Besides, they would start kicking the litter out of the box and onto the floor if she were too dilatory.
Her kitties would also swirl around her feet in the morning while Lillian was making coffee. Her kitties knew that this meant they were about to get their once-a-day treat of real, honest-to-goodness, grocery-store, chunk light tuna in oil. She would serve the same grade of tuna to human guests, made into her well-regarded tuna salad. However, she reserved a few cans of the solid white premium Albacore tuna in spring water for her own occasional treat.
Lillian Schumacher didn’t actually have a colony of cats; she had five. Only five. And all five were properly spayed or neutered. They were good cats and reasonably-well behaved. A variety of scratching posts and pads lay scattered and mostly abandoned around the house. For some reason, her kitties seemed to prefer the furniture exclusively, except for the occasional times that Lillian tried priming her approved scratching places with catnip.
She reflected that whatever man she ended up keeping, he would have to tolerate cats. He wouldn’t have to love them, just not be offended when they decided to sleep on his hip or he discovered that there were enough fur balls under the bed to knit a sweater. And, she added to her mental checklist, “Real men scoop litter.”
With renewed resolve, Lillian Schumacher signed up for a premium account on a popular Internet dating site, threw caution to the wind and exposed her heart to the “slings and arrows of outrageous dating profiles.” “There’s no reward without risk,” she told herself and, in an impulsive burst of curiosity, googled “reward risk quotes.” She discovered that her philosophy paralleled not only Shakespeare, but the postmodernist counterculture Beat Generation author William S. Burroughs. It was a little alarming but not completely off-putting.
It must be confessed that our staid maid also got her hair fixed, received a complimentary makeover and had a new picture taken. On that same day she edited her profile, losing 20 pounds and 4 years. For the next few months, Mrs. Schumacher trolled the suggested-match listings. Occasionally, she agreed to meet a fellow in a public place for dinner. The results were predictable.
There is no need to trouble you with the unexceptional repetition of Lillian’s buoyant anticipation quickly drowned by reality-in-retrospect. As Richard Nixon’s press secretary once said, “Mistakes were made.” The phrase has been characterized as “passive-evasive” and “past-exonerative.” Yep, that about covers it.
Several times, Lillian Schumacher was ready to give in to discouragement and abandon her quest. Friends had told her that “a good man is hard to find.” Lillian thought long and hard (no pun intended) about her experiences and struggled to understand the course of her life. She consulted her pastor and was not satisfied with his appraising eye and suggestion that God might not have exactly the future she was seeking within the fullness of his plans for her. No, she was not at all satisfied with that.
With renewed insight and purpose, Lillian quit going to her traditional services and began reading contemporary Buddhist literature. It agreed with her growing realization that she brought on much of her own suffering by grasping for what she desired with expectations of specific outcomes. Actually, this resonated with earlier injunctions to “have faith.” She began to spend less time regretting the past and being anxious about the future. She began to spend more time enjoying and appreciating the goodness that she could find in every moment.
And so it was that Lillian Schumacher ventured into a Buddhist meeting hall to sit in Sangha, hear a Dharma lecture and try some guided meditation. As luck (or Karma) would have it, Bill Donaldson had also begun attending there several weeks earlier. It turned out that he was looking for companionship too, and had decided he needed to polish his skills to shine as an example of that elusive “good man.” He had heard of Buddhism’s gentle ethic of practicing goodness and becoming worthy. It appealed to him.
Over not-too-long a time, Bill and Lillian became good friends. They shared similar outlooks and expectations. They both worked to exercise compassion and exhibit gratitude. She fed him tuna salad sandwiches and he cleaned the cat box. You get the idea.
Bill proposed marriage one day after taking out the trash. He had had an enlightening realization – a sudden flash of awakening insight. Lillian had started giving him the solid white premium Albacore tuna in spring water.
I confess that I borrowed the name “Lillian Schumacher” from a real person. She was the aged, stern and much-feared math teacher at my Middle School. Miss Schumacher seemed more human after the day I chanced to meet her at the unpainted door of her small rural home. None of us kids ever really knew much about her personal life. We assumed that she was simply our caricature of a cranky old spinster. After all this time, I feel better giving her someone to love and something to care about besides algebra.