“Encountering sufferings will definitely contribute to the elevation of your spiritual practice, provided you are able to transform the calamity and misfortune into the path.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I am not a coffee drinker so in the morning when I head for the office I stop by a local convenience store to buy a diet coke. A little about this convenience store, it is owned by Rick and his wife both from India. Rick came to America to go to college but after getting his degree, rather than becoming an engineer he got into the convenience store business like other members of his family. His business is not one of the new mega convenience stores that dot my community, it was an old store abandoned by one of the big chains many years ago.
I could stop at one of the big shiny stores and get my diet coke and a sausage biscuit, which Rick doesn’t sale, but I don’t. I like Rick, though I can’t understand him all the time. I admire how hard he works. He came to this country to get an education, start a family and become a productive and valuable member of our society and for that reason I support him and his business.
On those rare mornings when Rick isn’t working he has a couple of younger members of his immediate family, who are here going to school, fill in for him. I see one young man more often who is Rick’s nephew. He is attending the local community college with plans to transfer to a University. Although I can’t seem to remember his name, maybe because I can’t pronounce it, this young man is very personable and polite. He greets everyone that enters the store and ends each transaction with “I hope you have a great day!”
I am normally at the store early between 7 and 7:30 am, seemingly with every landscaping crew in town. While waiting to check-out the guy in front me, in his Dayglo yellow company shirt, was buying a Red Bull and a pack of smokes. After he paid, Rick’s nephew said “I hope you have a great day!” with his normal bright smile. Rather than receiving a “Thanks” or “You too” the guy shook his head and said, “I hope today is better. My house burned down yesterday. I lost everything except my dog who somehow got out of the house.”
The smile from Rick’s nephews face quickly faded, “Man, I am so sorry”. Over hearing the conversation I asked how it started? The water heater he said. The clothes he was wearing, the same clothes he wore yesterday, is all that he had left. We both offered our condolences as he exited the store.
Rick’s young nephew looked at me and said, “Man I feel bad for telling him to have a great day.” I told him not to feel bad, he handled the situation perfectly. He offered the man both compassion and empathy for what he was dealing with and I sensed the man sincerely appreciated his concern. I told him that it reminded me no matter how bad or how shitty I thought my day was going there was someone out there having a much worse day than I was having.
As I walked out the door I smiled at him and said “Keep telling people ‘have a great day!’ okay? It helps everyone, I promise.”
I thought about the guy in the Dayglo yellow shirt driving to the office. He was a rough-looking character with tattoos on his neck and arms with the deep red tan of someone who spends all day working in the hot sun. Just based on appearances, he didn’t seem to be someone who I would have much in common with. We probably wouldn’t agree on politics or beer. Racing would mean the Daytona 500 to him and the Tour de France to me. But despite our exterior differences, we were the same in many ways, we were both human beings and we both have experienced pain and suffering.
It is easy to judge others based on our exterior candy coatings. Clothes, skin color all create a category of where we place people. We label them good and bad, successful or poor, or just plain old different from us as if we are the benchmark for normal. In my younger days it was long hair versus crew cuts that telegraphed your place in the social and economic universe. Today there any number of signs that send up red flags about people we can approach or think we should avoid.
As we bump into each other like atoms in an apple keep in mind there is a common thread that runs between all of us, we all share no matter how different we look or act, our humanity. Remember to share your compassion, your sympathy, your kindness, your humanity freely with others not with just the ones that look like you, and not with just your neighbors. Ever human being deserves our respect and our attention. Planting seeds of compassion and empathy throughout the world will grow into a fruitful garden. One seed has the potential of growing another, and another. Don’t let it stop with you because of the differences you perceive between us.
“Compassion arises within our minds and therefore is like a seed that is present within the mind. Like any seed, it has to be nurtured. If we do not take proper care of the seed of compassion, the seed will either not ripen or will ripen in an unhealthy way.” – 17th Karmapa