I’m back in the Land of Snow.
Left to Brazil in an ice storm and returned to snow 8-1/2 days later.
Fairly unperturbed, I’ll add. You hear stories, you see things, and as so many of us discover, you realize that you are probably the luckiest person alive.
My friends didn’t pick me up in the early morning in Boston, too much snow. But the buses rolled, and five hours after our Boston landing, I was in Springfield, where they picked me up and we all went for a great Dominican lunch because I was famished.
Eventually we drove north, and finally I rolled down a snowy driveway on studded snow tires that give me confidence. The dogs rushed into the garage, Henry barking like crazy, Aussie a little more demonstrative than usual. A big hug to Lori, who dragged my heavy valise up the stairs, and 15 minutes later I conked out on my bed, asleep.
Long before Bernie died, I wondered what would happen to me later, after he went. He was 11 years older than me, it was reasonable to assume he would predecease me, though I was shocked and unprepared when it finally happened. I was afraid of being left alone. Nobody would call, nobody would email. There would be no money.
“People will take care of you,” he said, and he was right.
In Brazil I gave a few talks about those Greyston years of struggle and hard labor, and remembered how, if I would complain to him that there wasn’t enough of this or that, he’d say: “All the Buddha’s wealth is there for us to pick up and use,” and he’d wave his arm from side to side, half pointing to the ground, as though it was there right at my feet.
You can say that the Buddha, once he left his father’s palace, had nothing other than his simple robes and bowl. But what Bernie meant was that the wealth of the world was at our disposal. Sometimes the timing wasn’t right, sometimes we encountered resistance and rejection. When that happened, he’d shrug. Perhaps it wasn’t the right thing to do at that time, but it’s still there, like the flowers, waiting for the snow to melt and the earth to soften, the right season, the right amount, and bashfully they’ll rise out of the ground.
Bahia had a bigger assortment of fruits and vegetables than I’d ever seen. It felt as if every day I would sample five new fruits I never tasted before. Everywhere I looked there were mango and papaya trees, huge, heavy coconuts, big melons.
And still, so many people there go hungry. I am sure that if we could cast off our typical self-centered miasma, we’d see how much is available for everyone. Maybe some of us learn to live more simply. Instead of tuning into the relentless thinking machine that occupies us night and day, we take a step back and look at how others live, how they make do, how much they love their children as we love ours, how much they struggle for life.
When I was in Boston’s South Station trying to find my way to the Peter Pan buses, I went into an elevator with my valise only to find a large shopping cart with a worn blanket and pillow, cartons, newspapers, clothes, and a torn tennis paddle taking up half the space. I looked around for the person who’d left it there; there was no one. I went in with my valise containing clothes, books, and gifts, looked at the simple articles in the shopping cart, and pressed the button for Exit.
It reminded me of traveling on a highway in Salvador. On one side were modern, tall apartment buildings, accommodating middle-class families. On the other side of the road were shanties with leaking roofs, many containing no doors or windows, looking dark even at night-time. Each side looked at the other every single day, and I wondered what it takes from us to shrug and go on with our lives as if that chasm didn’t exist, and what it takes from those with so little to eat to see, day in and day out, that others live very differently.
It’s a big koan for me. That means I don’t look for an answer, just live it day by day.
I’m both energized and tired now, with a cold that, happily, is not covid. My brother will pop in for some 36 hours soon, and he’ll describe to me his trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for conferences between Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, bringing him finally here.
How do I describe to him my journey, this path to Bahia?
If you are reading this post through a Facebook link, I was unable to link to Facebook while in Brazil, but you can check my website for posts on Bahia.