Tag Archives: prayer beads

May 4, 2015

This morning, I sat with a group of parent friends at the coffee shop after school drop-off listening to our good friend Eric recounting his heart-wrenching experiences at Mt. Everest’s Base Camp in Nepal. He had gone with his best friend Tom and a team of filmmakers to shoot a documentary about the evolution of Base Camp from a remote outpost to a small tent city busy with climbers from all over the world. Eric had finished his part of the filming, had made his way back to Kathmandu Airport, and was just about to book himself on a flight home when the earthquake struck. Though he was unhurt, he soon learned the tragic news that his friend Tom had been killed when the devastating avalanche tore through Base Camp. Determined to retrieve Tom’s body, Eric made his way back up to Base Camp with a Nepalese helicopter crew, and a day or so later came back with his friend in a bag by his side. While arranging for a Buddhist cremation and ceremony for him, he witnessed death, destruction and chaos in every direction in the aftermath of the quake. He also experienced incredible kindness shown to him by strangers in Nepal, people who often didn’t have much themselves, yet went out of their way to make this American stranger a cup of tea or give him a place to sleep.

No one can come home from such an experience unchanged. Eric, the most intrepid of all my friends for sure, is used to taking risks, like riding dirt bikes, hiking for days under grueling conditions with the toughest of athletes, and taking photographs high atop rugged mountains. A talented photographer who has shot some of the world’s most spectacular scenery (http://www.epop.com), he has never been one to shy away from danger. But what he experienced in the past week or so has been beyond scary and dangerous, and the feelings he has brought back with him are more complex than his friends back home can truly understand. Happy to see my friend back safely today but saddened by his heart-breaking loss, I wanted to give him something that might be relevant to his experience and perhaps somehow help him get through this painful time. I chose a string of Buddhist prayer beads that I was given in Japan over 20 years ago. I don’t know if Eric ever prays to any higher being, but perhaps the beads will be comforting if he feels the need to seek answers or consolation somewhere beyond this realm.

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March 25, 2015

I’m writing this blog from a hospital bed. I had another scary episode this morning, so am now spending a day or so in hospital being looked after, observed and treated for my maddening, exhausting and often frightening cough. Although I hate being away from home and family tonight, I am pleased that my doctor is taking my condition (“hyper-reactive airways’) seriously and is committed to making me feel better by tomorrow. Maybe I’ll even get a good night’s sleep.

This morning, after I dropped Theo off at school, I stopped to have a coffee with friends, including Jane (who had looked after me yesterday morning) and her husband Max, who like Jane is an animator and one of the gentlest men I know. Originally from Austria, Max met Jane in England, and the two of them moved out to Los Angeles to work as animators together some 20 years ago. I spend more time chatting with Jane (see March 13), but I also enjoy conversations with Max, who is one of those people who will often sit back and let others speak in a larger group, but when he talks, it’s clear that he’s one of the most interesting and entertaining people in the room. A few months back, I noticed a beautiful strong of Buddhist prayer beads around his left wrist and asked him about it. Rather shyly at first, he explained that he had become interested in Buddhism as a young man and was now practicing with a Tibetan Buddhist group based in Santa Monica. As an Asian art historian, I am very interested in Buddhism and its related arts, so I was keen to hear his story. This morning I was lucky enough to learn some more about it. This week, the leader of his particular lineage of Tibetan Buddhism was in Southern California, and he had not only gone to hear him lecture this week but had had a private audience with him and took Jane and their two kids along. Though I was fuzzy headed and anxious this morning, I savored our conversation about the various lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the global roles of Tibet’s different main spiritual and political leaders and issues of language in learning Buddhism from Tibetan teachers in the US.

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Moments after we got up to leave the coffee shop, one of my scary coughs started up. Jane and Max were close by and as soon as they realized I was in trouble they came over to make sure I was getting air. Both of them very calmly encouraged me to find my breath, without revealing any of the panic they were actually feeling. One I was stable again, they walked me home and we decided quickly that I should go back to the ER. Jane kindly offered to drive me there and Max reassured me in his soft, caring German voice that I was going to be ok. We stopped at my house and I packed a bag, but before leaving I decided I wanted my blog to be for him today to commemorate the lovely conversation before the cough. I gave him my copy of Richard Bernstein’s The Ultimate Journey, the story of the 7th century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, who traveled across Asia to study and then spread the teachings of the Buddha in his home country. Like Xuanzang, Max has also crossed half of the world on his professional, personal and spiritual journey, spreading his gentleness, creativity, wisdom and compassion among those he meets. Today I was grateful to be a recipient, particularly because it has allowed me some moments reflecting upon more than just my physical self.