Life Falls Together…Right Here in New York City

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Let me start with Friday, January 2nd.  Based on this:

Peter Doobinin

dear friend,
there will be a downtown meditation community “new year’s day sitting” on january 1, 2009.  we hope you can join us as we greet the new year.

the sitting will end at 8:30pm, followed by time for fellowship.  refreshments will be served, but if you would like to bring something, food (vegetarian), or beverage (non-alcoholic), please do.

Peter was my first meditation teacher.  I studied with him for two years, taking his introduction to meditation course, the intermediate offering and then taking the introduction again.  After that I did a series of “sandwich retreats,” meetings held in his apartment on a Sundays, Tuesdays and then Thursdays, thus sandwiching meditation and dharma talks (“sermons” to you Christians and Jews out there) with life in the usual world.  Peter is knowledgeable, compassionate and focused to the point of seeming almost abrupt at times.  His job is to transmit the word, not to debate it.  He follows the Insight tradition, not the Zen with which I currently study.

Having had a quiet New Year’s celebration and not having seen Peter in maybe four years, I decide to accept the invitation.  Being a good Jew underneath it all, I of course have to bring a little something either vegetarian or non-alcoholic. Opting for the former, I stop at the Subway on 14th Street about three doors down from the rented room where we are to meet.  I order the Vegetarian Footlong and request it be cut into ten pieces.  The counterman looks at me for a long instant, smiles and says, “Sure.”  Sure he was, doing a magnificent job without the aid of a calculator, ruler or calipers.  I thank him, tip him, exchange best wishes for a great new year, then set off to the meeting.

Ok, soI’m  in the elevator with a coupla other folks heading up to five, when we stop at four and someone known to the others gets on.  Some dialog now:
“How come you’re on four?”
“The men’s room on five isn’t working, so I hadda come down here.”
“Hmm,” thinks I, your writer.  “This is a message I can read.”

So I exit the elevator, find the back-up men’s room, make use of it and arrive upstairs just in time to remove my jacket, sweater, shoes and cap, locate a mat and space on the floor for it, open my seiza bench (my nifty, padded, folding–Christmas-a-few-years-ago gift from stepson David) meditation seat and assume the position.  As Peter begins his presentation, it occurs to me that something is missing from all this.  Yes!  The ten piece, toasted vegetarian footlong is missing.  I don’t recall putting it on the table with the cheeses and crackers and hummus and raw vegetables and bowl of fruit.  I don’t remember leaving it on the table next to the free literature (Peter always has good free literature) where I’d put my outerwear.  It’s definitely not with me here on the seiza bench.

Peter’s words are lost as my mind hurtles backward in pursuit of the toasted vegetarian footlong.  Is it in the back-up men’s room on the floor below?  Back at the Subway?  Meanwhile the chanting is starting.  Wherever it is, I figure.  It’s safe.  So, along with the forty or so other celebrants in the room, I chant.  Then I meditate, then listen to the dharma talk (Insight folks call it the Dhamma Talk,) the questions and comments period, and only then, as we stand and pick up our mats do my thoughts return to the errant sandwich.
Quickly I run down to the back-up men’s room only to find nothing.  Ok, either someone who needed (or wanted) it found and took it, or it’s still back at the restaurant.  Whatever, I return upstairs, speak happily with Peter, have some wonderful cake and leave.

When I arrived at the Subway looking more joyful than sheepish, I am greeted by the counterman, looking more sheepish than joyful.  Arms out and palms up I begin:

“Duh…”
“When I saw you left it behind, I ran outside to look for you, but you were gone.”
“Yeah, I just was about 3 doors down.  You still got it?”

“Naw.  I threw it out.”

“How far out?”

“I really threw it out!  It’s ok.  I’ll make ya another one.  Vegetarian, right?  See, I remember.  What kinda cheese?”

“Swiss.”

“All outta Swiss.  American?”

“Ok, but just cut it in half.  I’m not going back to the party.”

So, laden with seiza bench and footlong vegetarian hero and no hunger whatsoever–I had a BIG piece of cake and, besides, Bobbie fed me well before leaving home–I travel uptown by small “s” subway to my stop at 72nd Street.
Now here’s the part that let’s you know that (ta da) Life Falls Together and not just in Bhutan, but right here in New York City.

It was cold enough when I exited the station that only one man was sitting out on the stone seats in front of the entrance, his bundles in front of and next to him.

“Howya doin’ tonight,” I begin.
“Na mobly tow towa bummle,” it sounded like.  Not much interest in conversation.
“Would you like a sandwich,” I continue.  His eyes brighten, making contact with mine.
“That’s  your sandwich!”
“I thought you’d like it.”
“What’ll you eat?”
“I got stuff at home.”
“You sure?
“Yeah.”  I hand it to him.  He takes it, hefts it.
“You sure?”  I nod.
“Thanks,” he says.
“Happy New Year,” I wish for him out loud.  No response. My moment in his life is over.  Me, I smile.  I’m still smiling.

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Happy New Year!

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Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice one. Every once in a while I buy someone a sandwhich. I did it once while with my son Sam and he tells me he sometimes gives away his lunch now. Which bugs me a little because it’s frequently something that I made for him. Oh well.

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  2. Happy New Year from Hyderabad, India! 🙂

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  3. What a wonderful thing to do. Happy New Year to all.

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  4. ;dear richard, random thoughts. the statement no progress in presence of self hate is so negative.
    its been my experience the most valuable thing i’ve done is get closer to experiencing my hate
    for others then my self hate. the closer i get to experiencing and closer i get to accpting it the
    better i begin to feel. i visulizine some one like Ammachi holding my self hate and permeating
    it with love. doesn’t matter how but some way its important to begin to become aware of and
    then accept these “unacceptable feelings” i have expereinced what you did that day in the zendo
    (awful feeings) many times. as far as i can tell this experience is a move towards health.
    we must feel it. it seems to dilute and eventually disolve . i would restate and say no progress
    without being in the presence of self hate.
    so there. how does that strike you?

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  5. I gave someone my leftover Chinese food once, on the subway as I was coming back to the apartment from Chinatown. Like your experience, it just happened. I was not seeking out someone to give my food to; in fact, I was looking forward to having a second meal with it the next day. When the person was begging for money for food, it seemed like the natural thing to offer my leftovers. I like it that God provides venues for us to do good whenever we need a nudge to do so…

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