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Maya's Questions

Written by Elisa Pearmain, this story is an adaptation of the story, "The Three Questions." This Buddhist-like story is often attributed to Leo Tolstoy who included it in his collection, Fables and Fairy Tales (New York: New American Library, 1962, originally published in 1903). Many of the stories in that collection are not original tales, but variants found in many countries and predating Tolstoy. Versions of "The Three Questions" appear in One Hand Clapping: Zen Stories for all Ages by Rafe Martin and Manuela Soares (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.) and Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from around the World by Elisa Pearmain (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1998). A picture book adaptation is The Three Questions by Jon Muth (New York: Scholastic Press, 2002).

Read or tell the story.

Once upon a time a girl named Maya was playing in her front yard with her big sister and some of her sister's friends, while her father watched from the kitchen window. Soon Maya's friend Annie came along and wanted to join in the game. Maya's big sister and her friends whispered to Maya, "You can play with us, but not Annie, she's too little." So Maya said, "Sorry, Annie. I can't play with you right now." Annie walked away sadly.

Soon Maya's father called her in for some lunch. "Hey," he said, "how do you think it made Annie feel when you wouldn't play with her today?"

"Sad, maybe," Maya answered. "But it was because the big kids told me to say that."

"I know," he said, "but how did it feel to you?"

"Not so good." She replied.

"Right," he said. "I know that you want to be a kind person, but sometimes it is confusing as what is the right thing to do isn't it?"

"Yes," Maya replied. "I don't always know who to pay attention to, or who I should listen to, or what to do."

"I think those are excellent questions to think about," said her father. "Let me see if I can repeat them: Who is the important person to pay attention to? And what is the best thing to do? I think you know the answer to the question of who to listen to, right?"

"Yeah, listen to my heart or ask a grown-up who I know," Maya answered.

"Why don't you take those questions and go ask your grandmother," her father suggested. "She would like a visit from you this afternoon, and she will know the answers to your questions."

So Maya went over to her grandmother's house which was only next door. Grandmom was out back working in her garden. She was transplanting seedlings into the ground in neatly divided rows. Maya could see that she was tired. Grandmom's face was flushed, and she had swipes of dirt across her brow. "Grandmom," Maya said, "why don't I bring you some lemonade and you sit down and watch me work for a while. I want to ask you some questions so that I can be the kindest person possible."

Grandmom settled herself on the steps. Maya went in the house and came out with two glasses of lemonade — one for her grandmother, and one for herself. "Thank you," said Grandmom. "Now, what are your questions?"

"Well, who are the most important people to pay attention to? What is the most important thing to do?" Grandmom smiled, but she didn't say anything. Maya thought that her grandmother was trying to think of the answers so she kept on working. She dug little holes, planted the seedlings, tamped down the dirt and watered each seedling with care as her grandmother had taught her.

After a while she got tired and stopped for some lemonade. "Can you tell me the answers now, Grandmom?" But it looked like Grandmom had dozed off. So Maya went back to the seedlings that still needed to be planted. There were only a few more.

All of a sudden, a cry came from out in the street. Maya ran out the side of the yard and around the house. There was Annie, laying on the sidewalk all tangled in Maya's bicycle with a bloody knee and elbow and tears streaming down her face. "Grandmom!" Maya called, and her grandmother came quickly, too.

They helped Annie into the house. Maya got a wet cloth to clean Annie's scrapes. She was very gentle so as not to hurt Annie, who was still crying. Maya patted her on the back and offered her a cool glass of lemonade. Soon Annie was calm. Maya helped her grandmother put several large bandages on her knee and elbow.

"What were you doing?" asked Maya. She had noticed her bike on the sidewalk.

"I was mad at you for not playing with me," said Annie. "So I took your bike from your driveway. I was going to hide it until you said you were sorry. But I hit a bump on the sidewalk and fell over."

"I am sorry I told you I couldn't play," said Maya.

"I know," said Annie, "And I can see you are a good friend by the way you are taking care of me and helping me feel better. I wanted to hurt you, but now I am sorry."

"I'm glad you know I am your friend. I'm really sorry I hurt your feelings," said Maya.

"Thanks," said Annie. "And thanks for the band-aids and the lemonade."

Maya and Annie picked up Maya's bicycle and leaned it on the side of Grandmom's house. Then Annie went home. Maya and her grandmother went back out into the garden and worked, side by side, for a while, to put the last seedlings in the ground.

"Grandmom, are you ever going to tell me the answers to my two questions?" Maya asked.

"Well I don't need to, Maya," she smiled. "You figured them out yourself."

"I have?" Maya looked confused.

"Yes," said Grandmom. "You asked me, 'Who is the most important person to pay attention to?' When you first came over the most important person to pay attention to was me, and the most important thing to do was to help me because I was tired. Because you stayed to help me, you were here to help Annie, and she got a chance to see how kind you are. Now she is no longer mad at you and she didn't want to hide your bike anymore!

"When Annie hurt herself, she was the most important person to pay attention to," Grandmom continued. "And the most important thing to do was to help her."

"You mean, Grandmom, that the most important people to be with are the ones who need our attention right now? And the most important thing to do is to treat them kindly?" Maya asked.

"Yes," said Maya's grandmother. "If you pay attention to the people who are around you, and be kind, you will always be doing the most important thing. And I think you knew that, all along."

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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