Nope, that’s not the start of a joke. That was one of the precious memories in my life. It shows how we as individuals are all interconnected in a wondrous fashion. God puts people in certain places, for reasons unknown to us, until we look back, and see the wisdom of His acts.
It was the middle of July, 2002. Dad was in hospital for several weeks now. His life hung in the balance. I had hope upon hope for a miraculous recovery. I was taking the Metro-North train down to visit him. I did this every other day. Mom was there on a daily basis.
I must have looked a fright. My clothes were probably wrinkled, my hair wild and unkempt. I had dropped several pounds, and my pants and clothes were bagging around me. I looked as depressed as I felt.
I was standing on the platform when I saw him. He was a youngish man. If I remember nothing else about him, it was his bright purple and orange tie-dyed t-shirt that caught my eye. He was heavy-set, and of average height. He had an ease about him that said “I am happy to be alive. I am content.”
He was smiling at nothing in particular, and his head turned toward my direction. As I caught his smile, I smiled back. It was not a flirtation. It was just an acknowledgement between two humans. I don’t remember how it began. Maybe he asked me about the train schedule. We exchanged first names , and pleasantries. His name is Mike. The train arrived. I got on first, and took a seat. He had some stuff to stow away. I saw him nearby and out of politeness, I indicated the seat next to mine. He took the seat.
It was an hour and a half of train ride, and not a minute of silence passed between us.
As the train passed a little island with the remnants of a castle on it, Mike asked the conductor about it. The conductor was happy to oblige. He said it was Bannerman’s island, once long ago, owned by a wealthy family, now abandoned and in ruins.
Mike and I exchanged mini life stories. I discovered that he was Jewish by birth, Buddhist by conversion, which is sort of the opposite of me, as a Buddhist by upbringing, and Christian by rebirth. Mike was here for a Buddhist weekend retreat. He told me of how he admired “Master” (I forget the exact honorific and name he called his teacher). He said that Master was in a high position, but at the end of the ceremonies, he too, was sweeping and cleaning alongside of his disciples. He was impressed with Master’s down-to-earth qualities. Mike told me of how his parents lived in Florida, and that he ran a delivery service down there.
I told him about my father’s illness, and that I was riding down to visit him. Then Mike looked at me, smiled, and gently said “Don’t worry, your father will be okay.” I don’t remember if I got teary then, or just felt it. I well up every time I think about those words, and the way he spoke them. He said it with such conviction that I felt a deep sense of relief and happiness. Yes, I thought to myself, Dad will be okay. For that hour and a half, my spirits lifted.
At Grand Central, we parted ways. His friend was waiting, and was immediately greeted with a hug, so I waved to him a final goodbye.
A few weeks later, I had the privilege to watch Dad pass into the embrace of our Lord. Mike was right, Dad is now at peace; he is …okay. I often thought of my Buddhist friend. I tried to find him on the internet, looking up the event, and the day. I never did locate him or his identity. At times, I thought he was an angelic messenger from God to watch over me on the train ride. I believed that for many years.
Fast forward to 2005. I was working part-time at a doctor’s office, my first paying job after a long hiatus of full-time motherhood. The commute was long, the position was low. The doctor is considered a maverick among his specialty, and many insurance companies dropped him because he did not play by their rules. I’d admired this doctor’s work from afar. It was an opportunity for me to watch a real scientist up close. Little did he know, I would have practically paid him for the honor of working for him. He was single mindedly determined to find a cure, or something that would alleviate the symptoms. He is a true healer. I didn’t get to interact with him much but I got to chat with his physician’s assistants.
The doctor is a Buddhist. His physician’s assistant, John, newly hired, was an old acquaintance of the doctor, and also a Buddhist. I figured, hey, Buddhists are quite the minority in this county, and there must not be too many monasteries or temples in this little town, so it didn’t hurt to ask the question.
I told John my story about a young Buddhist I met on the train, years ago. I told him Mike wore a tie dyed shirt. At that mention, John’s eyes lit up in recognition. He continued to described Mike to me. Apparently Mike was famous for his colorful garb. John told me Mike was an accomplished guitarist, until he was taken by an ailment that prevented him from playing. I didn’t know that, and it saddened me to think about Mike’s lost art. John said Mike never dwelled on his own problems, and despite his setbacks, was usually of a sunny disposition.
John gave me Mike’s full name, and email. I was stunned that John actually knew Mike! I found my imagined angel; he was real, and not a figment. I emailed Mike to thank him for the words he gave me. He did not write back. Even with no reply, I’m glad I was able to finally tell him how he touched my life, at a time, when I didn’t even know that I needed the kindness. God, in His ever so unusual way, sent a Jewish Buddhist to give comfort to this Christian who lacked faith.