She was the end of my rope, this fat, bare-armed Buddhist woman. Before this I thought I could handle almost any challenge posed by the transportation world. I had mastered the art of tolerating airplanes and the odor of humanity wafting through. I had endured a freezing sixteen-hour bus ride through the snowy Balkan Mountains. Just fine. I had settled in to the communal bunks of the Indian sleeper train well. I had even come to enjoy the places of our world where – when there is no room left on the bus – they find a way to fit thirty more bodies aboard.
But this was it. I was sure to crack.
On the hottest day, on the middle of the Equator, in a packed city bus, this abundant woman stopped right in front of me. My American judgments against obesity and my individual need for space collided in slow motion. But there was no time to react. Over her shoulder, she eyed the vacant half seat I was using for balance. Then down, down she came. I moved my arm just before she would have snapped it like a birch twig. I felt our bodies melding together, her hips into mine, my thighs with hers.
Our bare arms and shoulders—I was sleeveless too—pressed into one another and stuck like a naked back on a leather seat. I closed my eyes resisting every temptation to flee (where was I going to go in this sardine can?) I needed something quick before I lost it; I was going to explode.
What if I had taken a few more classes on Theravada Buddhism? Would it have prepared me for this moment? What of intercultural theory? Could I have reasoned my way through it? No. This was pure emotion and the unmasking of something buried deep inside. It was anger. Though my wisdom has grown since, I doubt I could reproduce the miracle that happened to me that day. No, she did not move to a different seat. I found the will to love and abandoned myself to the ancient practice of appreciation.
As I centered my mind in that fateful moment, something happened I did not predict. It was as if a flood of appreciative power swept over me. Where did it come from? I had no idea. Not from the reserves of my own impatient spirit. I knew that much. My anguish turned to serenity. “I am touching this person, bare arm to bare arm”, I thought. “How lucky I am to be able to touch another person. How many humans in this world, in my homeland, live their lonely years without ever feeling the warmth of human-to-human touch?” Don’t get me wrong. This was not a perverted thought. Trust me. I was in no way attracted to this woman. It was a letting go of the need for control. It was a moment where I perceived the hidden nobility in this woman, and we shared a moment of unavoidable contact. I experienced a form of power that day. It was not the kind that demanded entitlements or sought to justify my superiority. It freed me to love this life even when everything else seemed to implode. Appreciative abandon saved me on that momentous occasion, on a hot bus, in Sri Lanka.
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