A knock came at my bedroom door at four o’clock yesterday morning, while I was sleeping deeply; I barely heard it. Then it came again. “We can’t sleep; we’re leaving,” said one of my guests.

The night before had been difficult for them. We had sat at a Devon Avenue restaurant, eating mild Indian food. We tried to talk. We did talk, but not easily. They clearly were distracted.

Earlier in the day, they had learned about a leaking pipeline in one of their rental properties back home in Indiana. It really did not matter much that they were here in Chicago as they sought a solution. What they needed was an expert who could be located as easily here, by phone, as there. But still they worried. And worried.

Until they located the right person, the water would keep leaking. The water bill would keep rising. Their profits would keep pouring away, into saturated earth between the city water line and the renter’s house.

Thus, the 4 a.m. knock, to tell me they were going home two days early–home, where they might find some peace of mind, knowing that they were doing all they could to get the leak fixed.

I understood. I’d have done the same thing.

Twenty minutes after they drove away, I got out of bed, unable to sleep myself now. I made coffee, and went to my waiting e-mail–sorry for them, irritated by the disruption of it all, and grumpy about the fact that the morning paper would not come for another 90 minutes.

There, awaiting me on the computer screen, was a message from my son in Tokyo, containing the axiom: “Every man serves a useful purpose: A miser, for example, makes a wonderful ancestor.” (Laurence J. Peter)

My guests, misers? Surely not. Attached to their profits? Definitely. Able to roll with things as they came? Not this time.

I wanted to laugh. But I just chuckled. We’d lost most of an evening’s conviviality. We’d lost two days of enjoying each other’s company. We’d gained a good deal of anxiety, and fear, and distraction. And I’d become grumpy. All because of leaking water and vanishing money.

Bob Thompson reminded us on this blog last May 28: “Among life’s greatest challenges is getting over our attachments.” He was in good company in thinking that.

Jesus said it too: “Take no thought for tomorrow.” “You cannot serve God and Money.”

Buddha taught that attachment–to anything–causes most of life’s pain. In the worlds of The Dhammapada, “One is the way to gain, the other is the way to nirvana.”

Yoshida Kenkō, an ancient Japanese essayist, observed, “Since olden times there has rarely been a sage who was wealthy.” (As a teacher, I loved putting that one at the bottom of student review sheets, to shake them up a bit as they studied.)

And my favorite Japanese writer, Kamo Chōmei wrote, after living for years in a ten-foot-square mountain hut, “Quiet is my only wish,” though he admitted that, in the end, he never could stop loving his hut–itself an attachment.

Then there was the Dao De Jing: “Lessen selfishness, diminish desires; abolish learning, and you will be without worries.”

I do wish I had remembered all these; I might have been able to sleep when I went back to bed yesterday morning.