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True Tales of Instant Karma

More months ago than I can remember, I ran across a news item that the Dalai Lama would be visiting Seattle. And to guarantee an audience with His Holiness, I nobly surmounted death-defying obstacles of Himalayan scale — which is to say, I linked to the sponsoring organization, requested a few free tickets, clicked send, and promptly forgot about it.

I’m a bit of a lapsed Buddhist: the Eight-Fold Path speaks to me, and you will never see a saffron-robed monk beheading a journalist, bombing a Planned Parenthood, or blaming a natural disaster on the gays. But all those years of practice — all that mindfulness, silence and non-attachment — have led me down another kind of path: one in which (instead of yoga) Michael’s OCD commands we organize the garage right this second, and my every effort at silence is thwarted by one small girl-child or another in need of attention, and hey, screw Mommy’s meditation schedule, babies are JUST THAT SELFISH.

Then last week, the tickets to the Dalai Lama’s symposium came in the mail, and it didn’t take much math to realize that without some Benadryl-spiked sippy cups, I would not be wrangling a toddler and an infant to Key Arena on a weekday afternoon, and have you ever tried schlepping a collective 48 pounds of comatose child around the Seattle Center? Clearly, the tickets would have to go to someone who would actually use them, and with all the events long sold out, a grateful Buddhist soul would surely be easy to find.

And on the Craigslist ticket listings, I indeed found souls in abundance. GREEDY DOUCHEBAG SCALPER SOULS.

And minutes later, in an indignant fury, I posted this in response.

I don’t know what I expected, really. A slew of cranks, a couple of crazies, a few arguments of, “Dude, I’m just covering my ‘expenses’!” because useful as Craigslist often is, it is also far too representative of anonymous internet users, or “cranks, crazies and shameless liars.” At best, I hoped for a sincere response or two, at least one of which would offer a happier outcome for those tickets than the recycle bin.

So it speaks to how far removed I am from daily Buddhist practice that I clicked POST with no mind to the cycles of cause and effect, no regard to that flap of a butterfly’s wings.

Because by experiment’s end, the tsunami of responses found me overwhelmed, deeply humbled, and in awe of our shared humanity. The emails began with simple subject-line cheers for countering the scalpers, and quickly progressed to chaptered stories of people’s most intimate lives: their victories and failings, bad luck and perseverance, deepest regrets and most cherished moments of pride. I heard from runaways who now worked with troubled kids, crime victims who had offered forgiveness, parents wanting their young children to hear a message of peace. Soldiers wrote me of rescuing others only to face lives of resultant chronic pain; caretakers for the mentally or physically handicapped invariably found their own strength and will meager by comparison. There were pregnant women seeking the Dalai Lama’s presence as blessing for an unborn child, addicts who’d found recovery through an unlikely kindness, and people who’d carelessly driven their lives into a ditch only to find an outstretched hand — one refusing anything in return.

There were people who wrote even though they already had their tickets, and others who simply wanted to respond to my challenge. And overwhelmingly, this message emerged: that people had found an indescribable joy in telling me — a faceless stranger — their stories. Nearly to a respondent, they actually thanked me: for inciting them to examine their lives, for a chance to visit with the ways compassion had touched and altered them, and for a reason to put it all down in words.

And a great many literally wrote “I love you for what you’ve done,” thanking me for honoring the spirit of the Dalai Lama’s visit and for dropping a pebble into a pond that would continue to resonate in ways none of us would ever know.

In truth, I did nothing. Or at best, I did the right thing, the honest thing. Indeed, had I truly possessed a whit of wisdom, or an ounce of foresight into how the Dalai Lama and Tibet would create international headlines and make his visit even more anticipated — and to how that would elicit, with no apparent irony, the insatiable greed of some — I would have reserved a HUNDRED tickets to his events, tickets to be passed along to the 50-plus (and unbelievably, still counting) people who wrote to me seeking tickets and the manymany more who simply joined in, people whose guilelessly open hearts nearly broke mine. (And in the spirit of Buddha, I would’ve also shared some of those tickets with my enemies. By which I mean, “Scalpers, I would’ve personally driven you to Key Arena and stapled your butts to the seats.”)

In the end, only one party could receive my two meager tickets. Though I’d vowed to make no decisions until Thursday at 6pm, I knew the winner as soon as I read it Tuesday night. Following is an excerpt of Andie’s response to my challenge.

I have benefited in more ways than I can ever recount from the compassion of others, and I have seen amazing acts of compassion directed toward those I loved. When I was in graduate school in Texas in 1985, my best friend was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. As a Dutchman, his visa would not be renewed once his diagnosis was known, and he would be forced to leave the United States and never be allowed to return. Jan had rescued me from my despair after my relationship ended abruptly, appearing at my door to take me on hikes, or to prepare dinner for me when I was very much alone. He was an amazingly compassionate man; I remember him standing in his kitchen with an IV bag hanging from a nail above the stove, cooking my surprise birthday dinner. He was much loved and had accepted me, the only female, into his loving circle of male friends, where mutual support and compassion for one another was invaluable during such terrible times, when hatred toward gays seemed the order of the day. In such difficult times, and after a barbecue lunch one afternoon, I got down on one knee and proposed marriage. I won’t go into detail, but we had a wonderful ceremony among friends and family.

After the ceremony, both of us having completed our graduate work, I moved with Jan and four friends to Denver where we shared a large house. I remember those years as being incredibly difficult, particularly as Jan’s health declined, but as more loving and vibrant than I can express. The compassion and love I witnessed, not only amongst our family “of choice” but also from the many medical professionals with whom we interacted constantly, easily outweighed the discrimination we experienced from some. Though Jan was a gay man, we were married for six years and shared a home until the time that he passed from this world in 1992. Jan and the boys taught me true compassion, and through my experiences then I learned this: That standing witness to one another’s existence and experiences is a sacred act of compassion, and our responsibility in this life.

And before I’d even had a chance to read her response, Andie had already emailed me back, telling me about Lauren, her elderly friend who was actually “a much more deserving candidate” for the tickets than herself. While so many people’s stories had deeply moved me, her added selflessness was cripplingly profound.

Thursday evening, I invited both Andie and Lauren to the house for the ticket exchange, and learned that Andie had recently been laid off and that they had been on the cusp of pooling their limited savings to pay $100 each for those exact tickets until the moment Andie read my post. My tickets could not have found a more deserving home: both Andie and Lauren are wonderful, good people, their gratitude overwhelming, and I am the richer for meeting them.

I’ve received far too much thanks the past few days for my simple act, and as the Dalai Lama departs Seattle for his exiled home, I’d like to redirect that gratitude to everyone who responded with stories, solidarity and hope. Your compassion, your humanity, the conscious and thoughtful attention each of you devotes to life is more powerful than you realize, your hearts as fearsomely open as Buddha’s himself.

A special cheer to Sunny in Kingston, who added a pair of tickets to our runner-up.

And I sincerely thank you, all of you, for this moment we were given to share.


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