We weren’t sure what caused them to fall so fast and frequently. They weren’t dead. It wasn’t fall. But every night, long after dusk and far before dawn, the ficus tree dropped hundreds of green leaves onto the deck. They spread over the patio table and chairs. They stretched the length of the deck in all directions, catching between the wooden boards and piling in every corner.
Each morning they’d greet, and each morning I’d sweep.
I’d hear their rustling over my own in bed at night. “That wasn’t the wind. That was a hand shaking the tree like a tambourine.” If we had been in Bali, I’d blame the monkeys. But because we’re here, I wondered, do possums climb trees?”
This was in the dog days of August. Fire season. When the mornings were a window for movement and the afternoons a call for stillness. I was there each morning with a broom and coffee. Barefoot and proud. “Look at me,” I said to the tree, “sweeping your leaves like this. Look how Zen I am! We’re connected, you and I. I am of nature too. Tell the sun and tell the wind. Tell the sky and the stars, ‘this one has found his Zen!”
But after a week of sweeping, Zen became Chore. Repetition bred disdain. Familiarity and contempt. “Look at these goddamn leaves.”
It took twenty minutes to sweep them all each day (it was a big tree). But the Zen of it only lasted for ten. Ten minutes of Zen. Ten minutes of Chore.
And then a realization landed on my head:
I could sweep 90% of the leaves in the first ten minutes. It was the last 10% of leaves, the ones hiding between the cracks, finding shelter in the hard to sweep places. It was the last 10% of leaves that turned Zen to Chore. Enlightenment to Burden.
So I decided to let them be. I let the last of the leaves lay. They didn’t compound. They didn’t revolt. Because each day, I swept 90% of what was there. And each day, I kept my Zen.
Oh, we love to give it our all. The only thing better than 100% effort is 110%. The way you do anything is the way you do everything!
But barefoot and broom in hand, I asked myself, I asked the tree, the sun and wind: Am I here to conquer the leaves? Or am I here for a different reward?
There are some things in life where the last 10% makes all the difference.
The last rep.
The final page.
The long-winded apology.
But oftentimes, we’re just sweeping the leaves.