My dog introduces me to my teacher who introduces me to my new life

In gardening, idtenity, life, relationships, Uncategorized on September 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm

At Carl’s Jr., I like the Big Burger meal — just a bigger patty — with extra pickle. At McDonald’s, the Southern chicken sandwich has taken over the Quarter Pounder as my top pick – it’s a decent copy of the Chick-fil-A chicken classic which I always prefer but CF is further away.  At In-n-Out, I go protein style (wrapped in lettuce, no roll). At Jack’s, the chicken strips are thick, firm, good. The same goes for Arby’s and Popeye’s though, if I had my choice, Popeye’s gets best of the chicken pick. 

Recently, I have been eating at these places less frequently. I think the reason dates back to the summer of 2008 and the other -worldly man who introduced me to the garden in my backyard though he has never seen it. I hope I will see him again. I hope he sees this. I want to thank him. He changed the course of my life.

He walked out from the heavy morning mist at the dog park behind the high school. Very small, old, Asian.  Even through the haze, the bent, beat-up parked car held together by rust that he stepped from stood out. He was wearing huge orange earphones — the kind used by the guys on the airport tarmac who signal the planes into the gate with cone flashlights. He shuffled towards me. I can hear that sound now: crisp, sandpaper, took me back to me in the feet pajamas we wore as kids. What was that around his neck? An old-fashioned cassette tape deck from 1970. The thing must have weighed 4 pounds.  Still something about him — his age, size, smile, soft countenance — told me not to fear, and not to laugh, in fact to pay attention. There was something here.

“Precious dog,” he said.

I stroked Jessie’s big black Newfoundland head. “Yes, she is.”

“If this dog is in your house, no ghosts come,” he said.

Jessie had been my true comforter for 6 years; for the first two, she was a puppy and more of a floppy entertainer.

“I like ghosts,” I said.

He straightened to his full height, at which even then he wouldn’t be permitted on the big kids’ rides at Disneyland. He looked curious, stunned, in his orange headset and vintage cassette player necklace, looking me over like I was the oddball.

“You see ghosts?”

“All the time.” This was not true, and when I see him again I will make amends;  on occasion, they visit me, not all the time.

 This conversation moved onto the names of things. I told him I don’t believe in names, that they blind you to what those things really are. This is something I have thought about for a long time. Names are convenient, necessary, for daily life — shorthand — but in the speedy transaction, the truth is lost. They cover up what is really there. When you use a name, you might believe you know that which is being named, so it makes it harder to actually see it as it is at that moment. So we miss who it is, what it is really, at that moment. Like when you go home to your family as an adult and they still warmly call you the nickname you had as a toddler. They see past your beard or your children to the person you were and still partly are but not who you are now. And at the Thanksgiving table they lovingly reach to cut your food as they did 20 years ago. That’s not the best example, but it’s in the general direction.

“You Buddha.” he said pointing at my middle.

I smiled, shook my head, and told him, No, I’m not Buddhist.”

“Yes, you Buddha.”

I believed he meant it as a compliment.

“Write your address here and your name please, here.” He was insistent.

Now, I am protective of my privacy. No one comes to our home; my parents, when they visit from Queens, sleep in a hotel. But something about him convinced me to agree. I wrote carefully, legibly. I wanted him to have my address.

Giving any information about myself to anyone was as rare as meeting a tiny ancient Asian man in feety pajamas wearing a big orange headset and some 1970s cassette player bling emerging from the morning mist. As I said, he changed the course of my life. It started there in the thick mist where you couldn’t see left or right more than a few feet .

Waiting outside my front door the next day sat a brown paper shopping bag, containing six books on Buddhism and a note from my new teacher saying that when he returned from his trip he would take me into the lowly forest of Buddhism. He signed his name. I will not share it here in order to protect him. 

A year passed from that meeting to opening and reading the first pages of one of the books. And another year before I put on the blue grippy gardening gloves and started carrying away the rocks.

I have come to believe that morning in the mist directly led me to begin, among other things, a vegetable garden.

Is this true, Teacher?

  1. You do have a beautiful Newfy.

    And sometimes the best teachers don’t say much and leave you to wonder, think, read, dream and realize that not everything is perfect but you still fit in the mold.

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