Three Goodbyes with Mark
July 2016[As context, I love to practice generosity but almost all of my philanthropy comes in non-financial forms of capital. The story below, however, doesn't fit that mold. :)]
March 2014. I was meeting an activist named Mark Dubois, for lunch at a local vegan diner. In a very public tussle in the last 70s, he was pit single-handedly pit against the US army -- "but I never felt any hatred towards them." In the 90s, he helped launch Earth Day, that involved million of people. On the whole, I'd imagine he has done more for the world than most others. Yet what's most remarkable is that he has done it invisibly. He is a person of very little means -- that's not the kind of capital he cares about. Now in his late sixties, he will still sleep on the ground under a tree: "Earth is my bed, clouds are my roof." He is humble and kind, in every encounter he has. Ruskin once said, "It's not what you get for your service, but what you become by it." With Mark, that was evident.
Not knowing any of this -- at all -- it was a conversation that was filled with rich stories and wisdom. As we were about part, we started talking about Smile Cards since I knew he'd love to learn about it. I opened my wallet to show him a Smile Card, but then spontaneously I grabbed all the bills I had in wallet and crumpled into his large hands. "Brother, this is a humble offering -- whatever little I have in this moment." He knew I would be richer for having made the offering, and graciously accepted. It was a powerful culmination of our three hours together. He later wrote, "As I drove... and thought of you... my eyes leaked... and it felt like my heart expanded... such a wonderful honor sharing deep time with you! and ALL that ServiceSpace is holding, living and expressing!" Before he even wrote that, I was thinking -- you know you're on the right track, when such elders come to bless you. :)
August 2014. I was meeting Mark again.
I had just visited Taiwan, and some nuns in Taiwan gave me some cash as reimbursement. Anything coming from nuns is sacred, so it was worth more than its face value. Usually, right before I head into a personal meeting, it's my personal practice to take something from my house with me. A book, a small art piece, coasters, a Smile Deck, magazine, you name it (don't get my wife started on it). This time, my eyes happened to fall upon a hundred dollar bill from the Taiwan reimbursement, aka the nun blessings. I took it. It's rare that I would take money as offering, but I went with the flow.
We met for lunch at a local vegan diner. This time, after our meeting, as we parted, he offered me a ride back home. "Okay great," I said. I figured I would slyly leave hundred dollar bill in his car. Except that I had accidentally left my wallet at the restaurant! So much for my plan. We parted ways.
Later that day, I went back to the restaurant. Lo and behold, my wallet -- including the hundred -- was returned back intact. En route to my parent's place in Santa Clara, I routinely stopped by at a gas station, and a homeless woman asked for change. Initially, I said "Sorry", but offered a silent blessing with a deep smile -- as is my general response. But then I remembered that I had recently decided to give something material if I'm asked and happen to have something. It's a simple and small practice in working with the heart instead of the head. :) So I went back and gave her some change.
My gas tank filled up, and I had this other burst of inspiration -- as I thought of missed opportunity with Mark. I went to her and said, "This is for you." I gave her the $100 bill, as if it was a one dollar bill. Before she could even look at the bill, I gave her a hug and she hugged me right back and immediately blurted out, "Oh, you're going to heaven." I asked her to use the money for whatever she wanted but also to consider doing an act of kindness for another person; she agreed while flashing a huge, toothless smile. She walked around the corner, to avoid eye contact with me and to inspect the bill. As I drove off, I could see her looking and re-looking at the bill ... as she discovered it was hundred. She was flabbergasted that it was $100, but probably also because Mark's spirit was embedded in it.
With a few tears in my eyes, I got on the highway feeling grateful that I had this unexpected opportunity to act from the heart. At night, I wrote to Mark that I did an act of kindness on his behalf and the inner-net that binds us together will deliver the message to him in one way or another.
July 2016. Mark and I were in circle on 'Activism + Transformation', at a tea shop in Berkeley, with about 40 others change-makers. Mark spoke very eloquently, and others were with him, so I didn't get a chance to say hello. And I was about to take off. He saw me heading out and came out running to give me a hug. Turns out that he is getting married the next week, and I was going to seeing him then, so we spoke briefly and parted ways.
Just then, I remembered something. My wife and I had just finished painting our house. Few weeks back, one of my friends came to visit and later emailed, "Somewhere in your place you will find a little something ... a clue to finding it: I sit in meditative contemplation, observing my service work ... though raised a Hindu, and though donning Sikh garb, I know the highest truth to be Love All, Serve All. :)" I searched for it, but couldn't find anything. Then, while painting last week, we stumbled into the treasure, underneath a sacred spot in our house. Three hundred dollar bills and a one dollar bill. Wow and yikes-that's-too-much, all with an exclamation point! :) Now, because we were painting and house was upside down, I tucked the money safely in my wallet.
You know where this is going. I'm saying good-bye to Mark, in the parking lot, listening to stories of his grassroots outdoors wedding that is all organized by volunteers, and I am remembering the joy of my own wedding. Just the previous day, I was sharing a story of how Guri and I unexpectedly met Brother David, just around our wedding, and he shared one of the most palpable-yet-invisible blessings I've seen (and at the time, he didn't know our name and we didn't know his -- but that's a story for another day). It's hard to match Brother David's blessing, but you work with what you got. :) And my wallet had a blessing from a friend. I turned to Mark and said, "Hey brother, I think I happen to have something that is supposed to belong to you." Three hundred and one. It felt just so perfect.
As I rode home, I called up my wife, "Hey, you know that blessing we found while painting ..." Before I could even finish my sentence, she says, "Don't tell me," as I could imagine a radiant smile running over her face, and as I know she could imagine the mischievous smile over mine. :)
What a joy, to be just a tiny instrument of a larger emergence. I can't even fathom what St. Francis must've felt when he said, "Make me an instrument of thy peace."