Saturday, July 31, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 4 (Daisuku Ikeda)

Ikeda, Daisuku
Learning From The Gosho:
The Eternal Teachings
of Nichiren Daishonen


This book belongs to Lori. She briefly flirted with Buddhism before she met me.

One of my favorite games to play on Facebook is looking up people I knew in the very distant past. Not just friends from college and high school, but people I barely or only slightly remember from my childhood: primary school classmates, old babysitters, friends from the various neighborhoods in which I lived, etc.

It's not so much nostalgia, though that plays a part, as much as it is a desire to make the past seem real. Or maybe "physically present" would be a better way to put it. I remember that these people existed, that we interacted, were friends, acquaintances, enemies, whatever, and seeing pictures of them still alive after all these years convinces me that the past did in fact occur and that I was where I think I was, among those I think I was among.

I guess there is also something morbid and depressing about this habit. It makes me feel the passage of time more acutely. I realize when I see these people how much time has passed, and how quickly. I think about death.

Part of the reason I partake of this ritual is that I have lead a mostly transient life. I moved five times between birth and the age eight. I have moved twenty-six times since graduating from high school. Even within Buffalo, where I have lived for thirteen years, I have moved around a lot. I have also tended to live among friends who will be leaving soon (because they are graduating or because they can't find work in B'lo), which heightens my sense of transience.

Here's the map of my moves:

1968: Born, Dearborn, Michigan
1971: Moved to Los Gatos California
1972: Moved to another house in Los Gatos
1975: Moved to another house in Los Gatos
1976: Moved to Vienna, Virginia
1986: Graduated high school, moved to Breckenridge, CO
1986: Moved to Dillon, CO
1986: Moved to Silverthorne, CO
1987: Moved home to Vienna
1987: Moved to Wheeling, WV for college
1988: Changed dorm rooms at Wheeling
1988: Moved home to Vienna, transferred to George Mason U.
1988: Moved to Burke, VA
1989: Dropped out, transferred to Fordham University, moved to Arthur Ave., the Bronx
1989: Moved home for summer
1989: Moved to 187th Street, the Bronx
1990: Moved home for Summer
1990: Moved on campus at Fordham, the Bronx
1991: Moved to Belmont, Ave., the Bronx
1992: Moved to 4th St and Ave. B, Manhattan
1994: Moved to Quito, Ecuador
1994: Moved to new apartment, Quito
1995: Moved home for summer
1995: Moved back to East Village
1997: Moved to Cottage St., Buffalo
1998: Moved to College St., Buffalo
2001: Moved to Ashland Avenue, Buffalo
2003: Moved to Dearborn St., Buffalo
2008: Moved to Auburn Ave., Buffalo
2008: Moved to Norwood Ave., Buffalo

Probably the most major dislocation in my life occurred between junior high and high school. I had gone to public school since the second grade, but during junior high I started to get into a lot of trouble. My parents decided that I had to go to a Catholic school in order to get straightened out. They gave me a choice between the all-boys Jesuit school in the city, where they wore no uniform and had a loose dress code, and a co-ed Catholic school in the suburbs where they wore a tie to school every day. I chose the former, partly out of curiosity about the city, mostly because I hated wearing ties.

Nearly, all of my friends went to public schools for high school, and none of them went to the high school that I did. So, at age 13, I was effectively separated again from all my friends. I tried hard to maintain contact with them, to go to their parties and football games and whatever else, but we were in different worlds and I eventually lost touch.

(I think the phrase "losing touch," as in: losing physical contact with particular people, places and things in time, is very apt when discussing the past or nostalgia or whatever it is I am trying to talk about here today.)

I felt even less at home in the high school I went to. Almost all the students had gone to Catholic schools their entire lives, and a good portion of the student body came from money. I showed up with long hair, a corduroy jacket, a pack of cigarettes and an attitude. It took a few years before some of my classmates started to discover the things I had discovered at age twelve, like drinking and smoking and drugs.

By the time they did, I resented most of them for the way they had treated me when I first arrived.

Anyhow, this leads me back to the beginning of this here post. The other night I looked up a friend, D., with whom I had gone to grade school and middle school. D. was the star of grade school -- the girls all liked him, his dad coached the "150-Pound Raiders" football team in the youth league. They won the championship every year and D. was the quarterback. We went to camp together one summer, and had a great time and it felt like we were friends, but afterward, back at school, we were never on an equal social footing. He would occasionally lash out and punch me in the arm or put me in a headlock just to remind me of my place -- and to remind everyone else of his.

(Funny, in his current FB profile pic, he is holding a small boy upside down by his ankles -- I guess things don't change.)

When I looked him up, I also checked his friend list and was somewhat shocked to discover that he had friended nearly everyone with whom we went to grade school and middle school (and his case, likely high school, too).

I spent hours trolling around on the public pages of my former classmates. I recognized some, not others. One guy had posted some class pages out of the grade school yearbook. My third and sixth grade classes were posted there, including tagged photos of me. I was surprised someone had recalled my name.

Several of them wrote comments about how much they LOVED sixth grade. It seems kind of strange and sad to me that so many 40+ year olds could look back on sixth grade and comment with such certainty about how much they loved a particular year. I guess there's a limit to how connected I feel -- or at least how immediately connected I feel to the past.

I mean, I remember a lot about sixth grade, but none of the emotions I feel towards that general period in my life are current, and I would have a hard time now discovering within myself a judge that could make a distinction between the quality of one grade school year and another.

On the other hand, seeing certain faces of old crushes or enemies brought up memories that felt surprisingly fresh. Ouch. I have no idea where I am going with this today or how to end it, so I'll leave your with some Buddhist wisdom.

From Learning From The Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonen

Time and Again We Will Be Reunited

The sutra states, "If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddha-hood." This means that even if one were to point at the earth and miss it, even if the sun and moon should fall to the ground, even if an age should come when the tides cease to ebb and flow, or even if flowers should not turn to fruit in summer, it could never happen that a woman who chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo would fail to be reunited with her beloved child. Continue your devotion to faith and bring this about quickly.

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