Strawberry – 1st Place Winner, 7th Annual Essay Contest

By Ronda Matthews Cluff

Ronda Matthews CluffPema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, tells the story of a woman being chased through the jungle by tigers. She comes to the edge of a cliff and, with the tigers behind her, has no choice but to climb down a vine. Once she does, she sees tigers below her, too. What’s more, a mouse is now gnawing at the vine to which she clings. What to do? She sees a ripe strawberry growing within reach, tosses it into her mouth and “thoroughly” enjoys the treat.


When I read this story for the first time a couple of years ago, I was stunned. Yes, life is often a case of “tigers above, tigers below,” as Chodron phrases it, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of whole-heartedly, without a single reservation or concern, immersing myself in the joy of a small moment in the midst of a life-threatening challenge.

Over the days that followed, I began to own “the strawberry story,” because I have a potentially life-threatening challenge – Polycystic Kidney Disease. I also have a “strawberry” – my 7-year-old daughter. She’s a live wire and she has brought me into the world in a way that my introverted temperament never allowed. But because it’s in my nature to dwell on my fear of the unknown and the things I can’t control, I sometimes need to stop and ask myself out loud “Where is the strawberry?”  Most of the time, the answer is this 4-foot tall creature who doesn’t take no for an answer and lives for small moments of joy. It is amazing how many joyful moments there are, and how powerful they can be, when you’re really paying attention.

I’m 42 years old and while my kidney functioning is pretty close to normal right now, I know it won’t be that way forever.  The impact of PKD on generations of my family has been enormous, and I’ve watched this disease take its toll on aunts, cousins and my own mother. As I write, my mom has been on dialysis for 18 years and a cousin is nearing the point of getting on a transplant list. Meanwhile, my own blood work and need for blood pressure medication show that PKD is staring me down, too. “Tigers above, tigers below.”

But in every day there is at least one strawberry:  An unexpected hug given so enthusiastically that I nearly lose my balance, sitting down as a family to watch The Wizard of Oz (for the 100th time), or going for a walk hand-in-hand on a late spring day (despite the salt-marsh mosquitoes). I accept that life won’t ever be without dilemmas and challenges, and sometimes things are not only messy, but downright ugly.  I also know that if I welcome small, joyful moments into my life, and live completely and without reservation while in them, I will continue to be able to lead a joyful life.