I got my initiation into a brave new world a few days before Christmas. I had driven my son up to a ski resort, and while he was on the slopes, I drove over the pass to the nearby town of Truckee. Around 4 o’clock he called me, saying he was ready for me to pick him up. In the meantime, a snow blizzard had started. As I drove back onto the freeway to go get him, the traffic was very backed up. To go over the pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains in a snow blizzard requires 4-wheel drive or snow chains. On this occasion they had put up a road block, so that only one car at a time could pass through after being checked.
It took me one and a half hours to drive the three miles from Truckee to the roadblock. By the time I finally did get through, I had maybe six feet visibility in front of me. I drove up the mountain through the heavy snow. Somebody behind me must have gotten stopped for having no chains, because once they let me onto the pass, nobody else followed for several minutes.
It was then that my clutch started to misbehave. I was hardly moving in second gear, so I changed to first. But the more gas I gave the engine, the more the clutch was slipping, and the car was moving more and more slowly. It was right on the peak of Donner Summit that I completely lost power, right in the very middle of the freeway. I put my blinkers on. It was a couple of minutes after that that the cars started to come again. One by one they came up behind me, and only in the last minute realized that there I was, in the middle of the freeway, not moving.
Finally the highway patrol arrived. I heard through the megaphone “Pull over to the side of the road.” Of course there was nothing I could do. “Pull over to the side of the road,” came the voice again. I got out of the car to walk back and explain. “Get back in the car and pull over to the side of the road.” Finally the cop came to my window. I explained to him that I couldn’t move because my clutch had gone out and he pushed me over, bumper to bumper.
I was stuck at the top of Donner Summit in a snow blizzard for four and a half hours. My ex-wife had to go and pick up my son from the ski resort. It was during those hours that my initiation into a new world began. The engine was still working fine, so I had my heater. I was warm. This also meant the engine was recharging the battery, I could keep my iPhone plugged in. I spent those hours calling random people that I loved: my wife, Chameli, my other son, old friends. Outside the car was a raging snow blizzard with no visibility, but I was warm, safe and magically connected to people I loved, and who loved me, all over the world. Every ten or fifteen minutes a kind, loving, caring angel, in the form of a highway patrolman or a snow truck driver, would come knock on my window to see if I was ok, and to reassure me that a tow truck would be there as soon as possible.
The tow truck finally arrived at 10 PM. I do not think I have ever felt so happy to see anybody in my entire life. He welcomed me into the cab of his truck and put my car on the back. Right away we got to talking. “Where do you live?” “Truckee, how about you?” “Nevada City. You got kids?” “Yeah, two, how about you?” Like long lost friends who have missed each other painfully for years, we got caught up on all our details. Then he came to tell me about the crescendo of his life. He announced to me how much he loved Jesus. Now prior to this initiation into a world of goodness, I must admit that I might have found this a little off-putting. Oh, a fundamentalist Christian… religious fanatic… etc… etc… But it just drew us closer. “I love Jesus too,” I admitted to him proudly. It seemed hardly relevant to mention that I also love Buddha, and Rumi, and Lao Tzu and Quan Yin. Jesus was quite enough at this point. “Whenever I think of Jesus I feel such love.” “Yeah man, that’s it. Jesus is love.”
And so we basked together in Christ consciousness for a few minutes. I wanted to know more about him. It was just a few days after the tragic shooting of kindergartners in Connecticut. “So I’m curious,” I said, “What do you think about guns? I always wonder how people can love Jesus and also support violence. To me, Jesus was — is rather — the ultimate pacifist.”
The bond of brotherly love was threatened for a few minutes there. “Well no, I believe in every citizen’s right to bear arms,” said my new brother. “We need to defend ourselves against evil.” But then I realized it was a minor detail. We could disagree about guns and come back to our shared love of Jesus. What was more important, to be right or to feel connection?
When he dropped me off at a hotel in Truckee, it was a painful parting. But the goodness just went on and on. There was nobody there at the reception in the hotel, and the restaurant had already closed its kitchen. Another angel, this time disguised as a young waitress, told me to go get myself some food in another restaurant, and she would contact the hotel manager.
It turns out that every single restaurant in Truckee had already closed its kitchen, it was after 10 o’clock. I remembered then that I had not had lunch either, when I was driving my son, it was during lunchtime. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Here I was, in Truckee, in a snow blizzard, with nothing to eat, and nowhere to sleep. But even that could not shake the dawning realization that I was swimming in an ocean of goodness.
I went back to the hotel, she hadn’t been able to find the manager. I told her I had not been able to find food. So she went into the kitchen and brought out a bowl. It was the food set aside for the restaurant workers, after all the guests had gone. It was not exactly what I would usually choose to eat. Very, very gristly meat served with dumplings, that I think might have been made out of cardboard. But it didn’t matter, it had been given with love, it was somebody else’s food that they were sharing with me. I ate it, along with the white bread and butter on the plate beside it, with gratitude and relish. The waitress called all over town to find me a hotel and a taxi. When I arrived, they were waiting for me, like a family greeting a soldier home from the war. They found me toothpaste and a tooth brush, and when it turned out they had no dental floss, the woman on reception gave me some of those little floss sticks that her own mother had given her earlier that day. I tried to refuse, but no, the angels would not let up their kindness.
This was just a regular hotel chain. But when I got to the room and found the bed turned down, and the remote kindly left on the bed in case I wanted to watch TV, and the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and the tea maker, I was close to tears. We are living in a world overflowing with goodness if our eyes are only washed clean enough to see it.
The next day, it turned out they could not tow my car back home yet, the blizzard was still going on. I called the rental car company, they were completely out of the 4 wheel drives, which is what I would need to get over this summit. I was stuck in Truckee maybe for many days. They told me there was a Greyhound station across town, but it did not answer the phone. So I set out to walk there. It was a few miles. Within a minute or two, a police car pulled over. “Where are you going?” he asked. I explained. “Hop in,” he said, “I’ll drive you over there.” Another angel. He asked me why I was walking in the snow and I explained that my car had gotten stuck the night before on the summit. “Are you the man with the green Subaru?” he asked. “We all know about you. You were the talk of the police radio last night.”
The policeman handed me over, like a swaddled new born baby, to the woman at the Greyhound station, who also seemed like she had been waiting to greet me forever. We got everything sorted out. It went on and on and on: at the diner where I had breakfast, in the ride from a total stranger on the trip back to get my stuff from the hotel. I couldn’t resist it anymore. We are swimming in an ocean of goodness.
Just in case I had missed the point from this initiation into a new world, a large, black SUV with government number plates that bore the initials ‘DHS’- Department of Homeland Security – was parked outside of the hotel. I have no idea why they were there, but when I walked into the lobby of the hotel, there was a man in a black suit, a government-y looking coat, talking on a cell phone. He looked worried, afraid, he looked urgent. In a flash, he showed me the world we create when we see it through the eyes of fear. Then everything is a danger, everything becomes a reason for more guns, for more protection, for more distrust of “them.”
When the Greyhound bus arrived on time, I climbed aboard. I must admit I have not been on a Greyhound bus for a long time. I have a car, and for longer trips I travel by airplane. As I looked down the aisle, I realized that the Greyhound bus is mostly frequented by my fellow human beings who have been less lucky than I have been. People looked cold, a little broken, kind of hopeless. The seats would accommodate two people on either side of the aisle, and every seat down the whole bus had at least one person sitting in it, so I had to take my pick of who to share it with. I chose an old man, about half way down the bus, who was looking out the window and muttering to himself.
“Hello,” I grinned enthusiastically, “may I sit with you?” He grunted and huddled to himself more tightly. “Where are you going?” I asked, by way of introduction. “San Francisco,” he muttered.“Oh really? What are you going to do there?” Slowly we started a conversation, his body uncurled a bit, and he told me about the misfortunes that had besieged his life, but also his hopes of putting it back together again. I saw that he was also an angel, his heart was also full of loving kindness, only it had been temporarily hidden under a mantle of protection. It only took a little massaging and encouragement to bring the loving kindness forth again.
Since my adventure in the snow in Truckee, I feel like I am living in a different world. I think I heard a prophecy somewhere that the world was going to end on December 21st, 2012. I am pretty sure that it did, at least for me. The world that I live in now is safe, and benevolent, and populated by kind and caring people. My job is just to remember to wash my eyes regularly, so I can see them for who they are.
It is true that recently two people got pushed to their deaths on the subway in New York. But it is also true that millions and millions of people did not. It is true there was a tragic shooting in Connecticut a few weeks ago involving children, and it is true that there have been thousands of other gun-related deaths in the United States this year. But it is also true that kind and intelligent and caring people are thinking twice about having semi-automatic weapons available to just about anybody, and are ready to make changes. We are also re-thinking our responsibility to take care of the mentally ill. It is true that a woman was brutally raped in India in the middle of December, and subsequently died. But it is also true that hundreds of thousands of people rose up in the wake of that event and demanded that we take more care of each other, that we re-think a culture that is sexually repressive, that we think twice about the effect of widespread pornography.
I know now that when I see the world as dangerous, when I see that I need to protect myself against “them,” I become part of the danger itself. If I had seen my tow truck driver as a religious fanatic, instead of a kind man who loves Jesus, I would myself have become part of a prejudiced world. If I had seen the lonely man on the Greyhound bus as someone to keep at arms length, I would have become part of a world that breeds loneliness. By opening our eyes to the innate kindness hidden in every human being, we live in a brave new world.
Then we can gladly remember that the world as we knew it indeed did end on December 21st, 2012.
We have the choice to dance with the angels now.
OK. You know how much I love to hear your thoughts. I just wrote 2350 words for you. Now its your turn. Tell me your thoughts in the comments box below. Catcha soon!