Let’s just be kind


storm sky

Storm Jonas Sky

Geshe Kelsang was in a car being shown around New York City some years ago – people were trying to point out the sights, he wasn’t unduly excited. At one point he shook his head, and said:

So many people, so much suffering.

Suffering can be seen on many faces in this towering concrete jungle. The overly entitled have affluenza in their penthouses, for example, while down below over 20,000 kids are homeless, including the frozen girl outside the Path subway stop with her cardboard sign. (Unbearable, she is still only a teenager but has been there for years. What future?) But there was a change in pace and noise over the weekend with the landing of Storm Jonas, when many were given temporary shelter, no cars were allowed on the roads, the snow muted all other sounds, and the usually high-octane New Yorkers were obliged to take it down a notch or two and cozy up inside.

I had my snow days over the water in Jersey City – we dug the car out but clearly weren’t going far on those roads, and the train was closed, so we stayed mainly on the sofa instead, along with millions of other East Coasters. Except I did go for some magical walks around the neighborhood with the dog – kids were making snowmen and tobogganing down their front stoops, everything felt far more peaceful than usual, graveyardthe cars were neatly buried, the blue sky and whiteness showed the colorful Journal Square houses off to good effect, even the cemetery looked good. It was like the olden days, like the 1950s or something, everyone convivial, the narrow or unpassable sidewalks forcing us to stand courteously aside for each other and smile. And everywhere, just everywhere, people were shoveling snow.

I had Winston with me, in his warm winter overcoat but his belly soaked. (Some people were dismayed by a photo I posted of him on Facebook because he was submerged to his nose, but what you might not know is that he is a Tibetan spaniel with snow in his DNA who chose to jump into the deepest mounds.) On shoveling snowMonday, as I was about to go inside, a friendly voice called me, “Hey! I didn’t recognize you!” I turned around. “Oh, it’s not you! But it is Winston! Where is Julian?” I told him that I was staying with Julian and France again, and that he and I had bumped into each other last year, which is true, his name is John. We got to chatting, he’s a very genial man, and he asked, “Have you come to live over here?” I said no, I still lived in Denver, to which he replied, “You should come and live with us! And meanwhile look at all this snow you brought! But it is a beautiful day.” We chatted a little longer and had some laughs. This was a good encounter and, though brief, left both of us feeling a warm connection. Life did not seem so rough in this neighborhood for a change.

John's home

Home?

Later as I was getting ready to go to Manhattan, the whole street for some reason filled up with emergency vehicles – a fire truck, 2 ambulances, a police car, all lights flashing. A queue of adventurous cars behind, no way they could pass on the snow-narrowed street. One ambulance left, one stayed. Emergency crew were coming and going with bits of equipment, and pushing snow fast to make a pathway for the stretcher. Clearly someone was in distress. “Perhaps it is the old Chinese man who lives next door?” said Julian. “I hope not, but maybe it is. Often people have heart attacks when shoveling snow.” I’d never heard that. I waited quite a while until someone was finally brought out on a stretcher, the ambulance crew still trying to pump his heart. To me, he looked dead, he had gone, only a body was left. And I said, “Julian, is that John?”

IMG_6645

Home?

We never know. Then we saw his distressed wife and 12-year-old daughter getting into the police car. I have heard since that he died in the house, that the first responders were never able to resuscitate him.

This has made me think, not for the first or for the last time, that life is way too short to waste in anger, frustration, disappointment, or intolerance. We have a few hundred months left at most. Life can end anytime so do we want to waste any of these valuable years, months, weeks, days, or even moments being angry or unkind? John was holding his shovel while we were talking. He was around my age, he looked perfectly fit and hJohn Caldwellealthy, he was having a beautiful day — but he still had a heart attack while shoveling snow. I was possibly the last person he talked to, an hour or so earlier, and if I had known then what I know now I would have asked him to go inside and sit on the sofa instead.

But that is not even all. On the Kadampa Buddhist Prayer Request FB page, someone has asked for prayers for her brother Thomas, aged 53 with a clean bill of health, who also died in New Jersey on Monday night while shoveling snow. He has left behind a “devastated” wife and teenage son. Please remember John, Thomas, and their families in your prayers.

IMG_6647Bodhisattvas, those intent on attaining full enlightenment to free every living being from their suffering and its causes forever, have a prayer, beautifully articulated by Shantideva:

Therefore, in whatever I do, may I never bring harm to others;
And when anyone encounters me, may it always be meaningful for them.

Walking down the street this evening with Winston, I saw the tree John planted for France and Julian outside their house, his black landscaping truck that has stood still for 3 days even though the road is now clear, and his blue home with all the curtains closed, perhaps his beloved poodle waiting by the door. And I thought how the remaining piles of once innocent snow, now grubbying and yellow, might be reminding his wife and daughter of their unfathomable loss, and how they might always find snow sinister after this.

John's truck

The snow is shoveled but this truck is going nowhere.

It makes me want to remember at all times that we are all on our way to dying and our next lives, so whoever we think we are and wherever we think we come from, we are all in this together. So let’s just be kind to each other on our way.

Comments

  1. Gary Davis says:

    You are so right, as is Geshe-la. My wife and I went to visit an ailing 92 year old friend of hers last week, knowing it might be the last visit. She is in much pain almost constantly, has little appetite and is thin as a rail, and is vey bored as she’s basically confined to her 2nd floor flat. I could not communicate well as she speaks only spaniih and I onlt english. I smiled as much as I could-a gentle smile to convey love. Even if I could speak her language I was having a difficult time to think of a meaningful or encouraging thought. For her it’s really too late to enter a new path or much else. So I reached out and softly warmed her aching hand between my palms. She basically said to us, “I would be better off dead.” Sigh.

  2. Jules Clare says:

    Beautiful, poignant and such an important reminder. Thank you so much, Luna. It’s clear that John’s mind has been very blessed by all of the prayers that he is receiving now as a result of his friendly, open heart — and your sharing of his story. It could be any one of us. There is no time to waste!

  3. Thank you for such a heartfelt and simple yet urgent reminder that puts everything all in perspective: We are all going to die along with everyone we know and love and we do not know when our expiration date will go off. This is really good for helping to make decisions. We can never be reminded enough that Life is so Precious.Thank you !

  4. Deaths happening all the time around us… My first experience was at the age of five when my Mother died… Sixty years later in my meditation on Death 💀 I still see her beautiful face… These experiences can take you to a better station in this live were you repeat over and over again “I may die 💀 2day ” so…one solution is to promise to devote your whole life to practising Dharma purely and sincerely 👌💕 to use your life, in a meaningful way…

  5. Genevieve Mancini says:

    This story was so heartfelt that I read it twice
    I know all of you except John and his family
    We never know the time of our death and I often think how silly are some of the things we actually pay attention to. My RT has said that what we pay attention to grows
    I wish to grow more compassion in my heart
    Thank you Luna for all these stories that we all receive so much benefit from ❤️

  6. Judy Lamb says:

    Is that handsome man in the photo, John? How terribly sad. But you were kind and friendly; a perfect example of love. Judy L. FL

  7. Judy Riley says:

    So poignant, as your writing often is. Life is just TOO SHORT for all the strictures we place upon it and ourselves, all the opportunities lost through our self-focussing.
    Today, Mum heard that her friend’s son – only 40, with a good job & apparently everything going for him – committed suicide on one of the unmanned crossings on the Liverpool – Southport line. WHY? Answers are so hard to find. Buddha’s comfort gives such strength.
    Let’s just be kind

  8. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful article Luna. So sad about John. Yet we still get surprised when death comes. So wonderful that you had that chat with him and made a connection.

  9. briank says:

    if i live that long i will be 82 y/o soon…..every day i tell myself…. “enjoy today and try be nice to everybody”

    • 🙂 Perfect.

      • So beautiful, L. Crying here. This moment is so poignant. So real. Sending love to you,France and Julian and John’s grieving family. I am remembering how the last time I saw my brother, he was angry at me, instigated by his wife, because I had gotten back to his home late after getting lost on the way. My best friend died angry at me, because when I was caring for her (she was sick with dementia in her early sixties, the result of brain chemo) because I wouldn’t let her do something that might be harmful to her the last time I was with her. Fortunately, as a result of Geshe-la’s powerful loving teachings, I do not take these experiences personally. However, I have been saddened by their suffering and that love’s flow was obstructed. Anger is the worst inner poison. I am grateful to be on the path. Thank you for touching my heart-as you know how to do.

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