Heart Enough for
the Whole Trip

Sylvia Boorstein

  
I started a conversation not long ago with a woman in the airport in Newburgh, New York, by saying, "Are you going somewhere to visit or are you going home?"  I was waiting for my flight to Chicago.  She had come from Chicago and was waiting for her connecting flight back to West Virginia.  I had noticed that when the young man with her had settled her into the seat next to mine saying, "Stay here, Grandma.  I'll go get you a Pepsi," she had just sat.  Not reading.  Not looking around.  Not rummaging in her purse.  Not doing any of the things people do in airport boarding lounges.

"I'm going home," she responded.  "And this is only the second time I've flown anywhere.  Flying here the day before yesterday was the first time."  She half turned her face to me and spoke quietly but seemed glad to talk--more shy than nervous.

"Why did you come?" I asked.

"My granddaughter was getting married, so I really needed to come."  We talked for a while about the wedding.  I asked about the church, the service, the minister, the bride's dress, and the wedding cake, and each time she smiled, her face still turned only partly toward me, and told me something particular enough to let me know that she was enjoying our conversation.

Then I said, "Is this granddaughter the child of your son or daughter?"

"She is the child of my daughter," she answered, still quietly, still half looking, but not smiling.  "But my daughter died ten years ago.  Of stomach cancer."

I waited a moment, took a breath, and said, "Was that the worst thing that ever happened to you?"

She thought for a little bit and then said, "No.  I think it was my first husband's death that was the worst thing that ever happened to me."

I waited again, wondering what to say next, caught up short not so much by the pain in her life as by her capacity to reflect about degrees of worse.  Then the conversation seemed to pick up by itself.  Her second husband had also died.  Her first child, a son, had been stillborn.  A second son had died after Vietnam, "something to do with Agent Orange," she thought.  One daughter was still living.  She had three great-grandchildren in West Virginia.  Her voice was modulated, her story straightforward.  The remembering aloud of the major grief of a lifetime--in five minutes, to a stranger--seemed remarkable in its ordinariness.

I said, "Are you a religious woman?"

She looked up, turned straight to me for the first time, and smiled.  "I do the best I can," she said.

"Does your church hold you up?" I asked.

"It does.  But you know what?  I have very good neighbors.  I talk to my neighbors."

Her grandson returned with apologies about the line being too long at the concession stand to get a Pepsi and the news that their flight was boarding.  As I watched them leave, I looked around the boarding lounge at everyone else coming and going and thought about how heroic people are, everyone walking around in the middle of their whole personal life of suffering and happiness, doing the best they can.  I thought about how good people are, about how kind it was to have a stranger, a momentary neighbor, make the story of her life a teaching story for me and then, just by getting up and keeping going, reminding me that we have Energy enough, and heart enough, for the whole trip.
   
   

Sylvia Boorstein has written
the definitive guide for
Westerners to the Buddhist
practice of the Perfections of
the Heart. Pay Attention, for
Goodness’ Sake
is delightfully
clear, accessible, and immediate,
as wise teachings should be,
and it is surely destined
to be a classic.

Jack Kornfield

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What we hold in our hearts for others is the way we'll act toward them.
A hard heart makes for hard judgments; a compassionate heart
understands the humanity of the one we presume to judge.

Joan Chittister
Seeing with Our Souls

   

  

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The experience I'm talking about has given me one certainty:  the
salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human
heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in
human responsibility.  Without a global revolution in human
consciousness, nothing will change for the better, and the
catastrophe toward which this world is headed will be unavoidable.

Vaclav Havel

 

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