Thursday, July 30, 2009

flowers as food

thanks Megan!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Loving Someone Well

Benaras: A Mystic Love Story was a Hindi film Genla and I watched together. It was his copy, a VHS tape with a fluorescent sticker on the spine, practically an artifact. Every time the tracking got way off, Genla’s TV made the screen go blue. I could only get the picture back by using the remote to first clicking over to “TV”, then back to “AV input.” The movie, nevertheless, was great.

A few days ago, in the afternoon, we went for a walk as we always do.

“Genla,” I said, “you know my father used to be a minster . . . ?”


“When I was home he told me a story. One woman from his church--she was older--she had lung cancer.”

“And then?”

“She was dying. She had oxygen by her hospital bed.” I made a gesture with my hand as if holding a mask over my mouth and nose. “And she wanted to have a cigarette.”

“And then?”

“Dad turned off the oxygen for her so she could smoke.” Short pause.

“And then?” Genla asked.

“Is this compassion?” I wanted to know.

Genla continued walking. “Your father is smoking?” He meant, does your father smoke.

“He smokes now, yes.”

“Is your father happy you don’t smoke?”

“I think he would say it’s good. I don’t know. Maybe if I smoked he would be happy to have that in common.” I realized I had not yet asked what was really on my mind.

“You know my father had heart surgery,” I said, “but he’s still smoking every day. The doctors say it’s very bad for him.”

“Bad for the lungs.”

“Bad for the heart too. And I want to tell him to stop. But when he doesn’t smoke he is very unhappy. Smoking makes him very happy. So which is compassion, to ask him to stop--?”

I wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. I wanted to say, “--or to turn off the oxygen?”

“Have to look at the consequences,” Genla said.

That’s right, I thought--illness, and eventually, death. But what Genla said next confused me. “You remember Banaras?”

“Of course,” I replied. But I wasn’t sure what it had to do with getting dad to quit smoking.

“In that movie, the mother wants to stop the girl from marrying that boy. The girl run away,” Genla said, misconjugating a verb. “You cannot know for sure the consequence of your father’s action. But like the mother of Benaras, you will see the consequence of your own action.”

On some level I had wanted Genla’s stamp of approval on my righteous ire. I want my dad to live forever for my sake. I don’t know what I would do without him. But ironically, as Genla was pointing out, my distress was in between me and loving him as he is, not holding out for what I wish he would be. It was, of course, a very Buddhist instruction--respond to the situation in front of you, not the one in your head--but by no means exclusively Buddhist. By loving people as they are, you open up new possbilities. You begin loving them well.

photo of Medicine Buddha and Tara