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.