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"The Proper Plate" featured on SpiritSite.com, is Copyright © 2002 by Alan Cohen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"I pray that I might be so sensitive to support others in their sense of well-being and transform potentially painful situations with a stroke of kindness."


  Alan Cohen, 
The Proper Plate

When Rev. Roger Teel, minister of the Mile Hi Church of Religious Science in Denver, was a shy and awkward-feeling high school senior, his father encouraged him to take a date to the senior prom. Rogerís dad even offered to underwrite a corsage for a young lady and dinner at a fine restaurant. Nervously, young Roger asked one of his classmates to the prom, and to his happy surprise, she accepted.

Finally the big night came and Roger picked up the girl at her home. She looked ravishing! He took one look at her bare shoulders graced by a spaghetti-strap dress, and his knees grew weak. Somehow Roger maintained his decorum and the two drove to the restaurant, staring straight ahead, speaking hardly a word. Apparently the girl was as nervous as he was!

At the restaurant, the young lady ordered scallops and Roger ordered a steak. When the entrťes arrived, Roger, still feeling uptight, reached to cut his steak, and something horrible happened: his knife slipped and the steak flew off the plate, right past his dateís spaghetti-strapped shoulder, and onto the floor! (It was one of those events one watches in slow motion, with just enough time to think, "I canít believe this is really happening!") Young Roger, of course, felt completely mortified, at an utter loss about what to say. Here he is on his first big date with a knockout babe, and he blew it right out of the chute!

Before he could think of what to say, the maitre dí, who had watched the entire episode, dashed to the table. "I am so sorry, sir," he blurted out, terribly apologetically, with the errant beef, now napkin-covered, in hand. "The chef placed your entrťe on the wrong kind of plate. It would have slipped out of anyoneís hands. Please accept my apology. Iíll get a replacement for you immediately." A few minutes later a waiter returned with a new steak ĺ on a different colored plate ĺ and made a big deal about the order now being on the appropriate "steak plate."

There was, of course, no problem with the original plate; it was a perfect steak plate. The maitre dí, you see, was a perfect angel. The man had a keen eye and a huge heart. He saved Rogerís date and his honor. As Roger left the restaurant, the maitre dí flashed him a kind and wise smile.

When I heard this story, I stopped in my tracks. What a powerful model for compassion in action! I pray that I might be so sensitive to support others in their sense of well-being and transform potentially painful situations with a stroke of kindness.

Here we are in the Christmas season. More than anything else, Jesus stood for compassion and forgiveness. He used every opportunity to remind people that they were whole and loved, and that the spiritual path was not about underscoring sin, but remembering innocence.

Every year I become a bit less interested in the social aspects of the holiday season and more interested in its spiritual poignancy. Every year I buy a few less gifts and seek more to be a gift. I donít want any more stuff; I just want connection.

One man who lived the spirit of the holiday was Jay Frankston, a Jewish man who wanted more meaning in his life. One December Jay went to the mother of all post offices, the one on 34th Street in New York City, where he picked through the letters that children had written to Santa Claus at the North Pole. Jay became so inspired by these childrenís touching requests for things beyond toys that he decided to play Santa Claus and deliver gifts to these kids in poor sections of town. Jay chronicles his adventures in his book, A Christmas Story, A True Story. I cry every time I read this account ĺ it is right up there with the flying-steak-returning-waiter. (You can find the book at Amazon.com; it is listed as appropriate for ages 4-8, but donít believe a word of that. Adults need this book a lot more than kids.) Okay, so maybe I will buy some gifts this holiday ĺ Iíll give my friends Jayís book.

Someone asked, "Why become a Buddhist when you can be the Buddha?" At this holiday time we might ask some similar questions: "Why become a Christian when you can be an expression of the Christ?" or "Why be Jewish when you can recognize yourself to be one with the great I Am?" or "Why write a letter to Santa when you can be Santa?" We are prone to seek salvation from someone out there, when meanwhile we are the salvation we seek. Perhaps the most cogent statement about how we give our power away came from former child movie star Shirley Temple Black, who reported, "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."

Our roles in the play of compassion often reverse; sometimes we are the vulnerable kid knocking the steak off the plate and sometimes we are the observant maitre dí swooping in for the save. My guess is that the more we can practice being the kind maitre dí for others, the easier it will be for ourselves the next time our steak flies over our dateís shoulders.

Alan Cohen is the author of the best-selling The Dragon Doesnít Live Here Anymore, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life, and the acclaimed Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It. To request a free catalog of Alan's books, tapes, seminars, and life-transforming Mastery Training in Maui, phone 1-800-568-3079, visit www.alancohen.com, email admin@alancohen.com, or write P.O. Box 835, Haiku, HI 96708.

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