Homage to the teachers, the wayfinders, the seekers and visionaries. Homage to the ones whose patience and compassion run deep. Gratitude to the crazy wisdom teachers who meet us on street corners asking for a smoke. Heartfelt appreciations for the teachers who help us realize who we are.
I’ve had the great fortune to meet several such teachers. This one’s name was David.
It was my second year of chaplain training at a large hospital. As part of the training, chaplain interns took turns at a 24-hour shift and it was my night. Around 3 a.m. the pager buzzed so I was off to the ER. As the elevator door opened I could hear him yelling obscenities and threatening people as they walked by. He was very drunk and was restrained on a gurney. When I saw him I could tell he lived a hard life on the street. His hair was matted and his skin was stained with dirt. He smelled. Bad.
His ranting was beginning to upset other patients in the ER. Past experience with prison populations taught me a few tricks for working with unruly folk. Thought I would try to convince him to settle down. It worked. David agreed to the terms; I would stay to visit if he stopped yelling.
I sat so we could be eye-to-eye and David told me about his fears and his anger. Alcohol fueled hallucinations. When his voice would rise I reminded him of our agreement and he calmed down again. We visited like this for about an hour. David became so subdued that the nurse eventually removed his restraints.
Just as the nurse left David reached his unsteady hand towards me. My heart jumped and I hoped removing his restraints hadn’t been a mistake. He made gentle contact with the side of my face. Everything seemed to change. As if by magic his yellowed rheumy eyes cleared. The whites perfectly white. The crystal blue irises as clear as the Caribbean Sea. Focused, his eyes seemed to look into me and beyond me. In a clear voice without a hint of waver he said, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could reach out and touch Jesus’ robe?” It was one of those moments and it seemed time stood still. Hanging perfectly, pregnantly in space. Ear-shatteringly quiet.
In that clear moment and in those eyes I saw his divinity and, through this, the divinity of all beings. I saw a divine being trapped in human circumstance and drama. I saw it in him and in myself. I felt sadness and joy and could only agree with him that, yes, it truly would be wonderful.
The moment began to dissolve and sounds of the ER again filled space. I was called to another situation and when I returned David was gone.
Homage to you, you wild teacher who showed that we are all divine. Gratitude to the teachers, gurus and yogis. You crazy masters of disguise who show up in any form. Intentional or unawares, you help us awaken.
Kunzang Brown is a long-time student of Vajrayana Buddhism, Brown leads practice groups at Bodhi House in Olympia and at the Washington Correction Center outside of Shelton. You can contact Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.