The late night news bulletin surprised the entire world. "Osama Bin Laden Killed!" In moments, every other news story that had been "hot" just days before - the Royal Wedding, Tornado Damage, Midwest Flooding, US Debt - fell to the back pages. His death opened old wounds for many who had lost family and friends on 9/11. The reaction of thousands who gathered in front of the White House chanting USA, USA, USA, was understandable. It was a cathartic primal release for them.
My reaction however was much more subdued. Maybe it was even hollow. I thought about how the world we knew changed on 9/11. I thought about Bin Laden, the mastermind. I thought about the fact that I was supposed to be in the north tower that morning. I thought about the people I knew who were lost. I didn't feel like cheering. Instead, I experienced a great sadness for what the world had become since that horrible day. In that sadness I needed to do something, to ponder the meaning of it, and to make sense
of it all.
Pondering is an interesting past time that brings about revealing insights and changes perspective. My ponderings often occur at the beach and this was no exception. Most people on the beach are sun-bathers in swim suits or shorts so I wasn't sure what he was when I first saw him. His hair was long, stringy and gray and his very thin body was a deep copper color as though burnished by the sun. He was fully clothed but his shirt and pants, almost the same color as his skin, were in tatters. He squatted on the beach near the edge of the water directly in my path. Instead of going around him, I watched him.
He drew a diamond outline in the sand and placed four objects on the points. He put a small coconut in the west, a date pit in the north, a scallop shell in the south and a round, brown spiky pod in the east. I asked him if the objects in each position meant something significant. He shrugged. Then I asked him why he'd chosen to place each of them in the assigned position. His reply was, "Every position is north." He could tell I was mulling his answer so he elaborated further. He said, "A position just depends on where you're looking. It's how you're perceiving." He never told me what the objects meant but his short answers were thought provoking.
In an attempt to find out more about him I asked his name. He only laughed in response. Eventually he offered up a few facts. He had lived near the beach his whole life. He said he washed up there eons ago. I wondered why he'd never left the area. He said he didn't need to. He had learned about all of life's teachings by living alone and being near the ocean.
He squatted further down with his eye against the sand. He told me he could "see universes in a handful of sand." Then a remarkable thing happened. He picked up one grain and placed it in mine. As I studied it, the grain seemed to grow at least six inches large. Then it dissolved into many grains. Still wondering who he was I asked him his name again. He laughed again but this time responded, "Oh call me Sam."
As time went on and the news about Bin Laden's death became more probing and soul-searching on the part of the media I thought about "Oh call me Sam" and what he told me about perspective. If every position is north as he said, then maybe all we need to do is look "up" (or north) for guidance in interpreting any of life's situations. I did that in relation to Bin Laden's death and my perspective shifted. All I felt was a deep sadness and tearful compassion for everyone involved on that fateful day.
I later read that the Dalai Lama said Bin Laden's "actions were destructive - - - and his action must be brought to justice." He also said, "we must have compassion and concern, even for terrorists like Bin Laden." In compassion I found myself offering up the Hawaiian Huna prayer much more frequently: I love you; I am so sorry; Please forgive me; Thank you!
Maybe that's the universe Sam perceived in a handful of sand. It was a very temporal one. Like he said, "it depends on where you're looking." Or in the Dalai Lama's words, where your heart is.
Jo - June 2011