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Lions Roar : September 2012
67 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 understand what Buddhism was or why my family was so devoted to it. I was being awakened in the way a new- born registers it has fingers and toes, and those fingers and toes have func- tion. I was being awakened in the same way you realize that if you see one bird, you might see another and another. You realize that you are not as alone as you thought you were. The world is filled with birds, or in this case, with buddhas, and every buddha is a friend. “I SPOKE TO HIM every day,” my friend told me. “His name was Bob.” My friend and I were in our early twenties, and in the best place to be on a hot summer evening in Chicago—an over-air-condi- tioned bar. He was relaying tales of the imaginary friend he had when he lived clear across the ocean, growing up in a semi-affluent family in Poland. “What did you two talk about?” I asked. “Bob was well-versed in all subjects.” We laughed. “Do you remember when he started appear- ing?” I said. “About the time when my mom was about to ditch my dad and come here.” “You think that’s why Bob appeared?” Imaginary friends, I’d discovered through research, often materialize during stressful moments in a child’s life. It is how the child grasps and copes with the turmoil of his or her situation. My friend shrugged and seemed to speak more to his drink than to me. “I remember what Bob looked like, though.” Then he went on to describe Bob, who had crazy wild hair that went in all directions and who always appeared barefoot and in a blue-and-white-striped sweater and khaki shorts. “Isn’t that crazy?” he said. I shook my head. “What’s crazier,” said my friend, “is that I thought I saw him the other day. At work.” “An older Bob or young Bob? “The same Bob.” “Was he barefoot?” I asked. “Can’t be barefoot in Home Depot. But he had on the same sweater and he was holding hands with his dad.” “Are you sure it was Bob?” I asked. “Nope.” My friend ordered another drink. “When you talk about imagi- nary friends, you really can’t be sure of anything.” MAYBE I CAN’T BE SURE of Buddha. But I am sure that when I was seven I was picked on and bullied. I am sure that I was born an only child and spent much of my time by myself. I am sure that I am the son of two immigrant parents who loved me with all their being, even more than they loved each other, and sometimes, because of this love, they smothered me with suffocat- ing affection. I am sure that my fam- ily was scared and they, too, turned to Buddha for day-to-day guidance through this world that was not Thailand, where it snowed when there should have been hot, devouring sun. I am sure that I possessed an overactive imagination. I am sure that when I felt overwhelmed, I hid myself within the darkness of my arms and made the world sound hollow like a cave. I am sure that the safest place in the world when I was small was the back of my mother’s knees. I am sure that the mind is a mysterious muscle, and the mind of a child is even more mysterious. And of this I am positive: every time I looked at the Buddha in the living room, I found myself calm, serene, as if caught in a moment before waking or sleeping. Before I went to sleep, I talked to Buddha. My parents were trying to reclaim their bedroom. Up until then, I’d wedged myself between them on their handmade bed. I was a husky boy and prone to tossing and turning. When I was three or four, this was fine, but now I possessed a larger body that took up more of the bed, and my father was tired of having my hand slapping his face. At night my new room scared me, even though my mother and father had painted it the light shade of green I’d asked for, and even though I’d been in it countless times during the One day imaginary friends are there and the next they are not. This is true of real friends, also. “Remember Buddha?” I want to say. “Dude told the craziest stories.” ➢