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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 70 that you’re upset because you had to listen to someone speak Spanish before you reached a representative? My name is Sophia. I’ll find you a clean fork. How may I help you? The twenty jobs I’ve had since I was fourteen had one thing in common: customer service. Early on, it never crossed my mind to offer compassion to the people approaching me for help. I saw each individual calling in, checking out, or asking a question as just another needy customer. On bad days they were annoyances, rocks in my shoes as I tried to get through another day. Then there were the truly angry and rude customers. As I matured, it dawned on me: without these people, I would not have a livelihood. Until then, my customers weren’t quite real to me. “Have a good day” was just an easy nicety that made ending a phone call or seeing a guest out of the office a little less awkward. Work is, after all, different than other basic human interactions. We can spend day after day, for years and years, serving strangers rather than ourselves or those we know and love. Where are we supposed to find all the compassion, empathy, and under- standing that a fifty-hour workweek demands? How can we be sure there will still be enough left for ourselves? Reminding ourselves how lucky we are to have a job isn’t always enough. Sitting on my meditation cushion, I’ve discovered something that I did not expect: each individual calling to lodge a com- plaint or trying to return a worn pair of shoes is an occasion to simultaneously give and receive. They present the opportunity to plant the seed of compassion while replenishing the supply in the same exact moment. Suddenly the question, “How may I help you?” has a new meaning, and a new answer: I can offer you what any creation truly needs and deserves—compassion. And, of course, I’ll be happy to get you a clean fork. SOPHIA AGUIÑAGA lives in Portland, Oregon, and now works as an editor for a private foundation. Captain Hook & Indian #2 SUSAN YAO MY FIRST HEARTBREAK happened at the tender age of thir- teen. I had a crush on Captain Hook, aka Zach, in the school play. My role was Indian #2, a nothing to a celebrity like Zach. I pined after him, imagining myself as the Tiger Lily to his Captain Hook. When the play was over, I decided to announce to him that I liked him. I locked myself in my bedroom with a phone and called. He had absolutely no idea who I was. I quickly mum- bled, “Never mind,” hung up, and cried. I remember this middle school rejection distinctly because my dreams were epically unrealis- tic. I somehow hoped that 1) Zach knew who the hell I was and 2) he secretly loved me back. Ten years later, I worry that I’m still that way when it comes to love. I was recently very interested in some- one. Let’s call him Joe. We were both Buddhist, had graduated from the same college, and were teachers. I imagined us raising social activist, politically radical (yet humble) Buddhist babies. We started spending time together, and I dared to wonder: Had I finally convinced some unsuspecting fellow to date me? Nope! According to him, we were Good Friends. We would never be a Buddhist power couple. The disappointment was crushing. Was I being naive? Did I not put out the right sig- nals? Were my hopes as epically unrealistic as they had been in middle school? Ultimately, I realized that my pain, insecurity, and disap- pointment were the results of attachments to unrealistic expec- tations. I use “attachment” here in the Buddhist sense, which means a futile attempt to hold on to what is impermanent. When we do this, we suffer. Now, with Zach and Joe in mind, I try to date without any expectations. I tell myself, “If we date, great. If we are friends, great. If you are a therapist who can help me overcome my fear of slugs, great. If we never see each other again, then I am at peace with that too. I will enjoy the present moment, whatever it brings.” If I maintain that clarity, then not-dating will not feel like rejection. Not-dating is simply another possible outcome of the interaction of two people. When I was thirteen, I wasted time fantasizing about how things could be different with Zach. Instead, I should have just introduced myself. Maybe then, when I called, he would have known who the hell I was. And maybe, just maybe, he would have loved me back. SUSAN YAO is a middle school history teacher in New York City. PHOTOBYGRAHAMMERIWETHER