Crossing the Rubicon

Sometimes we turn down a new road, with little idea how momentous the consequences will be. Thank goodness that’s possible.

“What we call ‘the world’ is not so much an array of lifeless things with some living beings thrown in for good measure, but an ongoing search for meaning . . .

“Life’s meaning is not found in ‘other worlds’ . . .

“. . . to the extent that the person has become unified, he is capable of seeing more unity in the world.” Longchenpa’s Kindly Bent to Ease Us–The Ethical Impulse.

“Rubicon: the boundary by passing which one becomes committed to an enterprise.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

In the late 1980’s, I arranged for a four-month leave of absence from my job at the UNM Computing Center, in order to explore my growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism and potential for a meaningful life.

I hoped to dive into the teachings and the environment available at the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, California, in order to deepen my understanding and to more fully engage life.

Before my planned departure came around, I met with my friend Foster for one of our regular breakfasts at the Frontier Restaurant—chosen for its easy access for his power wheel chair and for its complimentary green chili, which we always generously ladled over our breakfasts. But that morning he had something significant to share.

As had happened to me already, his marriage had reached a point where he could no longer continue living with his wife. However, for someone who needed help with many of the activities of daily living, this was a Rubicon that couldn’t be crossed by renting a bachelor pad somewhere, as I had done. Foster was looking at the prospect of moving into a nursing home, if he couldn’t make some other arrangement.

Looking back, I see that in that moment an important shift occurred, affecting the direction of both our lives. It was an unexpected side to the eggs-over-easy, wheat toast, and hash browns covered with green chili stew that we shared that morning.

We rented a house together; I took two months off work instead of four, and attended a month-long retreat devoted to studying Longchenpa’s “Kindly Bent to Ease Us”.

Living with Foster over the following months—although he had home services for his daily care (and had the guts to spend the nights alone in an empty house during the month I was in California)—I became a householder in a household of two: cooking, cleaning, and sometimes lending a hand when nature called unexpectedly.

Our time together created a spirit of collaboration, between an RN with ALS, who knew firsthand what it takes to live under very challenging circumstances and myself, a man who often felt on the edges of his own life. It was a collaboration that led to our founding Friends in Time, a non-profit which served people with ALS and MS for 20 years. And it inspired my novel, “Falling on the Bright Side”, where I explore the collaboration between a wise disabled man and an able-bodied man drifting in confusion: a story, set in a nursing home, about how we can all learn from each other.

It was just good luck that Foster and I met at the “Frontier” restaurant that morning, and that I wasn’t dining alone at the “Life as Usual” Café.

“The welfare of others is more important than personal aims”, “Kindly Bent to Ease Us” tells us.

What may be less evident is that our “personal aims” are not separate from the wellbeing of others; and only by travelling together can any of us feel at home wherever we are.

5 comments to “Crossing the Rubicon”
  1. Beginnings are wonderful aren’t they? Mornings, moments, friendships, breakfasts with eggs-over-easy, toast, and hash browns covered with green chili stew… they are pointless points…not useless, but rippling events that are centerless and open that seem to expand forever…

    You make me hungry to open these precious moments, one-time gifts… thanks for sharing…

  2. So it was your breakfast with Foster that led to our meeting about 9-10 years ago. That was about the same time I met a mother from Tibet who had her 10 year old daughter help me prepare her tax return. I saw them again today. The daughter is now a student in UNM, a pre-med student on a state scholarship.

  3. Thanks for this little personal event, Michael. We all have them don’t we? It’s becoming aware of them and realizing what a gift they are that changes us.

  4. David, Walter, Lynsey,
    I appreciate the way you each extended my account of a personal experience in your own ways–thereby spreading the net wider and affirming that we all understand the importance of moments and their combination of being both universal and individual..

  5. Ahhh, a piece of the puzzle I didn’t even know I missed. Having had the distinct privilege and honor of meeting the two of you some years after, I had no knowledge of what has made your bond so strong. We all muddle through life to the best of our abilities- some do better marketing of their public selves to disguise the apparent chaos, but in truth, we all are muddling. And out of that can come some wonderful things, such as you and Foster created.
    Pleasure to muddle along with you both, for the time we have.

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