A Single Flower

IH35, 7:30 A.M.

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.” Buddha

Early Saturday afternoon, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Mopac–It’s Saturday folks, for Chrissakes! What are you all doing out here?–and I suddenly understand what Jesus meant by loving one another.

I had just picked up my race packet for tomorrow’s Cap2K Open Water Race, and decided I wanted to get a haircut. I don’t really care about my hair, but when it starts looking a little shaggy I’ll decide I need to cut it in case I run into an ex-girlfriend. I don’t know why it matters to me that I’ll look kept-up in case we meet; it has been a long time, and we’re never going to run into each other. But I’ll see pictures of her occasionally with her current boyfriend, and I guess he decides that he gets to relax on weekends, so he looks a little rough and isn’t always shaved in their pictures together. So I’m always shaved, and try and keep my hair trimmed. Is that weird?

Anyway, of course people are trying to enter this wall of automobiles from the on-ramps. It is intimidating, trying to merge in and join the flow, and if you live here long enough you can easily begin believing that you have to be hard and cold just to get through each day.

Sitting in my car, I was still absorbing what had happened during my packet pick-up. Let me preface by saying that I am not anything special as a swimmer. There is no reason for anyone to remember who I am. But Sandy Neilson, the woman who organizes the Cap2K every year with her husband Keith, had recognized me last year at the check in, visibly happy to see me back. She remembered my face, attached it to a name. I had come up to her at the end of the prior year’s race while she was still in full organizational mode during the awards ceremony, dealing with all the people and issues and handing out awards. “Sandy, thank you so much. You have made something special for me. This is amazing, so much work. Thank you.” She looked at me, stunned, and asked what my name was. You could feel something shift in the air, and I knew I had understood something I had never thought about before. I just didn’t know what.

Sandy on the chair, pre-race briefing

If you’ve ever loved a child, loved a parent, been in love, you understand already that there are different kinds of love, different degrees perhaps. I started loving fairly easily a few years ago–something just freed itself up inside me–but have learned that you can’t throw that stuff around willy-nilly. Love can get out of hand; and I knew I could not love everyone. I harbored very high standards for love.

This year, I told Sandy she looked good, but she told me she had been in a bad car accident since the last time I saw her, and hadn’t been the same since. “It’s the names mostly” she said, pointing to her head. “I can’t remember names.” We lose people, we are lost to people. But somehow, something remains.

“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.” Buddha

So I’m sitting in this traffic, which is actually ok with me because I’m almost never in a hurry to get anywhere and my car is the only place I get to really listen to music. And I’m thinking about Sandy, wondering why we can’t help people. I’m in the right lane, where people are trying to enter the flow. You can feel the stress–“Look at the traffic! No one is going to let me in.” And so I paused, and let a car in, and understood instantly that I had fallen upon the easiest way to by kind, to help people–to love one another. It felt wonderful, an accomplishment ex nihilo.

That ex-girlfriend’s mom died recently, shortly after my own mother passed. I loved my mother the way a son does, but my mom was ready to go. It was the girlfriend’s mother’s time, too, but I still felt bad for her. I’m 60 now, she is too, and we each start to know a lot of people who deal with sadness, and loved ones dying, and the slow tapering off of life’s fullness.

I am about as Buddhist as I am Christian; let’s call me a student. Buddhism encourages non attachment, not so much to physical things, but in a spiritual sense. You have to let go of the idea of a perfect person, holding others to some impossible standard. You have to accept people for who they are unconditionally. Each and every individual person.

And so standing before Sandy today, and sitting in that traffic surrounded by total strangers, thinking about my mother, and getting my hair cut for a girl I will never see, I understood what Jesus meant about love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7