On June 18th a raccoon in Minnesota climbed up the side of a building and captured a nation’s heart.
Observers believe that she originally went up there to steal eggs from bird nests, but got stuck in the process.
Well-meaning maintenance workers tried to help her by building a make-shift ladder for her to climb down.
But the animal got scared and scampered over to the Minneapolis Public Radio building to continue her upward journey. She was quickly dubbed MPR raccoon by onlookers as she scaled the 23-story tower. She was up there for 2 days without food or water.
Trapped on the side of a skyscraper, MPR Raccoon lived by the only rule that matters. Climb or die. When she was tired, she climbed. When she was hungry, she climbed.
When she was wrapped in a blanket of despair so heavy that it sucked the air from her lungs, MPR Raccoon continued to climb because that was the only choice she had.
In this way, MPR Raccoon is all of us.
We wake each morning, finding ourselves trapped on the side of a skyscraper called life. We don’t know what’s waiting for us at the top. Moreover, we can’t go back to the bottom. So, we live in this middle ground, this purgatory of not knowing, and we wonder what to do.
Some people are paralyzed by the choice. They cling without moving to the side of the building for fear of the unknown. They’d rather stay in the same place, consumed by fear and suffering, than risk making a wrong decision.
Others can’t stop moving. They move up and down the granite face of their lives like a raccoon on meth; running in circles in the hopes of finding an easy fix to their existential angst. “Who am I?” they ask as they run in endless circles.
Thankfully, the Buddhist path offers us a third option. A practical and systematic approach that helps us cope with the fear and confusion of our lives. No longer, do we have be helpless in the face of suffering or run from place to place looking for comfort.
Instead, we can grasp the well-worn hand holds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that came before us. And we can climb up to a better place.
When we sit on the cushion, we climb. When we keep the precepts, we climb. And when we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to every moment of our lives, we climb further still.
As we do this, we realize that even in our darkest hour we are never truly alone.
Like MPR Raccoon, we have countless people watching us from afar, and supporting us in our journey. Some of them even leave gifts for us along the way. In fact, gifts are everywhere if we know where to look.
A gift is the smile of a close friend when we’re having a bad day. It’s the favorite pet who snuggles with us on the couch. A gift can be incredibly simple. In fact, we’re given one every morning when we receive another sunrise, another day, another chance to climb again.
After 2 days of climbing, MPR Raccoon made it to the top of the Minneapolis Public Radio building. Then she was coaxed into a live trap where a well-deserved meal of soft cat food was waiting for her.
Later that day, wild life officials released her in a forested area nearby, and she scampered off into the great unknown.