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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN M Ay 2009 30 to school. We’ve put lots of youngsters through school.” “Just one family?” I asked. “That seems like a major gift.” “Well,” she laughed, “we’re not a small family. There are ninety-six of us now, with children and grandchildren. We can do it. anyway, you have to do something when a terrible thing like that happens to you. a few of us go over there every few years just to visit our children.” The plane landed and taxied to the gate. as soon as the seat belt light went off she stood up, thanked me again, reached for her coat and nudged her way in front of the man in the aisle, who was just gathering himself together, so she could be among the first to disembark. I was happy for her and for myself, too. I felt with this woman, as I often do when I talk to strangers, that if I ask the right questions the world is full of wisdom teach- ers waiting to remind me of important truths. Life is hard for everyone. Grief can seem interminable, but peace is still possible. Benevolence can be an antidote. and the infinite and complex web of causes and effects that keeps events unfolding is vast. The Buddha said that karma was one of the “imponderables.” I thought about the mysterious connection between a young stu- dent in Guadalcanal going to school on a scholarship because a boy named Jim chose the navy over the army sixty years ago. When I was young I listened to my mother starting conversa- tions with strangers on trains and noticed that they usually seemed eager to talk. She talked to my friends when they came to visit me. I recall family members saying, appreciatively, “Gladys is a terrific talker.” I also remember that when I left for college she gave me this advice: “Be interested in other people, Sylvia. as soon as you meet someone, ask them something about themselves—what they’re studying or anything, really, that might be important. Then, pay attention. Don’t pretend. Be really interested. people will love you.” The most important part of that advice, I think, is “Be really interested.” Connecting with warm attention feels to me like an exchange of love. “hello” just means I notice you’re here. But “how are you?” is the beginning of connection. everyone who sits next to me on a plane or a bus or anywhere, really, where there is time to talk, knows something about how to live a life that’s challenging—because everyone’s life is challenging. It’s been my experience that most people like companion- ship and appreciate sharing moments of good-willed connec- tion. Classic stories about spiritual seekers often have a person traveling a long and difficult road to find a sage with an answer that solves everything. I wonder, when I feel buoyed by the gift of someone telling me their story, whether it’s the information itself that’s uplifting or the moment of see-and-be-seen connection. ♦ If I ask the right questions the world is full of wisdom teachers waiting to remind me of important truths.