The Mercy Mystery

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

There is a lady who walks her dog on State Street in Portland every day. When she gets to Mercy Hospital, she takes a little detour so she can place a polished rock on the hospital’s front entrance steps or the guardrail going down to the Emergency Department where someone will find it. On one side of the rock is a mandala she has painted; on the other side is the message, “For you, with love.”
The reason for her near daily pilgrimage of appreciation to the hospital is because her husband had once been a patient at Mercy. He was cared for so compassionately during this difficult stretch of time it softened the hardship in the way only human touch can. She keeps her gratitude alive by leaving something from her heart for Mercy’s compassionate employees who dedicate their lives to helping others.
I know about this lady and her mandala mission because an employee at Mercy told me about her after last week’s story about mandalas. He wasn’t the only one who had something to share about mandalas, which makes me feel like there must be something uniquely captivating about its design – maybe its mesmerizing, uniform beauty? Calming energy? Inclusive accessibility? Whatever it is, it seems like a perfect vessel to carry this woman’s anonymous message of gratitude.  The person who finds the rock won’t know the story behind the love, but maybe will feel it anyway in the mysterious way symbols can carry something of us.

A month ago I didn’t even know what a mandala was but mandalas are apparently where it’s at based on the number of people who wrote in with something to say about mandalas and their mandala plans! I heard back from so many people about mandalas (and also Zen tangles, a close cousin) and their mandala plans after last week’s Wellness Wednesday. Not just for individual projects, but also to do together as a group or department team-building activity. I thought this was a brilliant idea so I immediately ran to Jen to spread the news about this creative spin-off of her work. She also saw the brilliance.

But then I got a note from someone who had tried a similar sort of group activity which had gone south because everyone was too worried about laying down the mark that would ruin the whole project. In a panic, I immediately ran back to Jen to get some advice on how to save these team building mandala projects I’d loudly encouraged being put in motion.

“Jen! We’ve got a problem!”

Calm in the face of this disaster, Jen simply noted that even though the group in question had been reassured there was no wrong move and therefore no risk, having a very well-defined structure goes a long way in putting people at ease. Still, reassurance plays an important role, so Jen immediately crafted some additional instruction:

"The mandala’s readymade framework takes a lot of the creative risk away. The beauty of mandalas is the
repetition and balance. Even a “weird” mark looks right once it’s been deliberately repeated in a symmetric
pattern as part of a greater whole. It just has to be stress ed there is no messing up. Whatever you do is the
right thing; whatever comes out is what it is it’s what’s supposed to be there."

To me this is as good as saying we are supposed to be here contributing our marks, some of them kind of weird, all of them adding to the larger creation in some way. Thinking about being comfortable with our marks immediately reminded me of the mandala my 5-year-old granddaughter, Zoe, made at my house the other night, getting right to work the instant she saw Jen’s mandala on my kitchen floor. I had an idea Zoe might be thus inspired so I was ready for her, having copied off Jen’s instructions.

Here’s Zoe’s mandala:

It’s clearly beautiful. However, if you’re like me, maybe your eye went right to the big smudge left when she tried to erase the star that for some reason came out as a star instead of a triangle. I certainly noticed this “imperfection” when she showed me her work and briefly wondered if we might be able to patch it up with some white-out so we could “get it right.” (In my defense, weak though it may be, the original is darker than the scan so I’m practically positive it’s more obvious than it is here.)

But Zoe was bothered not one whit by this smudge when she presented me with her mandala, following her gift right up with an enthusiastic offering to help me paint the other floors in my house. She was excited to bring her contributions to the team. When were we going to do it? She was ready.

I want to report I’d instantly responded with grand plans to dive right into painting one of the other floors, but, in truth, I fumbled around a bit in a panic until I thought of the oddly positioned room we use as a big clothes closet/exercise room, at which point I started warming to the idea. But I know there is a lesson in her happy offer to make her mark on the world. Though my instant reaction was to see the smudge, that smudge truly is beginning to look beautiful to me right now as I look at it. In fact, I love it with the smudge; it adds depth. It adds a story of little fingers scrubbing away at a star then deciding to leave it and be fine. It adds a little girl to the art.