Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Buddhists believe strongly that people must immerse themselves in feeling others' pain in order to gain the compassion that heals the world. When your heart is full of love for your fellow man, you can reach out and actually change people's lives.

One day when my son Jack was eight-years old and in third grade, he came home from school with a notice from the principal that a ten-year-old boy in our school, a fifth grader, had accidentally died overnight from a high fever. We had never met this boy or his family, but I felt the mother's pain so deeply it shattered me. I could not stop crying. My own son had been home in bed all week suffering from a similar fever. I searched for the family name in the school directory to see if they had any other children. They had one other son in ninth grade at our local high school.

I prayed so deeply for this mother I lost all sense of time — pouring compassion out to her, holding her in my heart with love that passes all understanding. Maybe that's what prayer is — the invisible transfer of love to another. And then my tears stopped. It was exactly four o'clock in the afternoon.
I felt a sudden, urgent need to get in my car and find this woman. All I knew was that she lived in a large apartment building on Rexford Drive, a few blocks away. The car literally seemed to drive itself down the street. At the end of the block, I saw an unusually tall Asian woman in a bathrobe pacing the sidewalk, looking shell-shocked. I veered into a driveway and stopped the car. She looked at me with a depth of sadness I will never forget. “Are you Benjamin's mother?” I asked as I stepped out of the car. At that moment something surreal happened. The woman began running toward me, and I began running toward her. She rushed into my arms and we just stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, holding each other. She was sobbing. Finally she looked at me and asked, “Did God send you?”

The woman was Korean-American, and explained in broken English that she had just come outside to search for her husband, who had disappeared in grief earlier that day. She asked if I would come inside and have some tea. She asked me if I would look at some pictures of her son.
We went inside and she showed me her son's “room,” which was just a corner of the living room that he shared with his older brother. Though this was Beverly Hills, they lived modestly in a one-bedroom apartment. She showed me Benjamin's report card, schoolwork, baseball trophies, and his collection of “Yugioh” cards — which were just like my son's. She poured tea and told me all the wonderful things about Benjamin.

I silently asked the universe to give me the right words to say, and out of my mouth came some memories formed into words I cannot not take credit for. I told her about my precious brother Paul and how he had come to me in a vision a few days after his death. I'll never forget this because I was driving my car and literally had to pull over and stop. On the radio they were playing the song from the Disney movie “Pocahontas” when the lyrics about the Sycamore tree came on: “Who knows how high the Sycamore grows, if you cut it down you'll never know.” This struck me because we had Paul's memorial service beneath a giant Sycamore tree in Franklin Canyon. Overcome by grief, my head collapsed onto the steering wheel. Now I have never experienced anything like this in my life, and it may sound completely loony — but suddenly, out of nowhere, a surge of warmth and light filled my body and I bolted upright in my seat. I saw my brother's face smiling at me, beaming at me, so broadly I had never seen him like this before. It was an inner vision, but it was as if he was right there talking to me. He told me not to cry, that he'd “see me later,” and that “there is no death.” Then, he said “I love you Lydia.” This was on the third day after I had found his body after the drug overdose. I felt at peace about him from that point on.

I kept a picture of my brother Paul by my bedside, with a candle burning next to it. One morning three days after his death, my one and a half-year-old toddler Jack woke up, giggled, pointed to the picture and exclaimed, “Paul happy!” This gives me chills even now when I remember it. To this day I can't even believe he could speak this well or even say these words - or even remember who Paul was! He had only met him a few times and most the time Paul was wearing sunglasses!

On the day we scattered his ashes at sea, before we left for the boat, three white doves alighted on our lawn, and these were not doves for hire. What is it with the number three?

As I sat with this woman, I told her that her son Benjamin was a blessing and a gift she got to keep for ten years — and now God needed him back home for bigger things. I told her “our children are on loan to us.” I have no idea where I got this, as I had never even thought about it that way before.
As she walked me out she said she felt a wave of peace come over her. “I was so sad before you came. Do you believe in angels? ” It dawned on me that we can all be 'angels' and comforters for each other when we open up and begin to really care about others. It's amazing how love uses us when we make ourselves available.

Our entire school attended Benjamin's funeral. During the eulogy, the minister read a letter written by this mother, which said: “Benjamin was a gift to us for ten years, and now God needs him back home.”
Maybe God is only to be explained through acts of human kindness, benevolence and comedy. Maybe that's all we need to know. There are so many times I've received a nudge to extend myself to help someone, but out of laziness or fear, I've ignored the call. Often I didn't feel equipped to help others because I was such a mess myself - and I wasn't able to get out of my self-centered fear.
But in the twelve steps there's a saying, “The answers will come when your own house is in order.”

One day I was working on a Pirates of the Caribbean puzzle with my son. At the very same time I was succeeding at putting the puzzle pieces together, my life was somehow quietly, behind my back, slipping into place, into a sort of divine alignment. How did it happen? This journey has swept me into Hollywood and brought me to my knees. It also uncovered immense spiritual resources I never knew I had. Sometimes I think life is a tapestry and we are underneath with the long yarn, holding on for dear life, holding onto the threads and fibers unraveling, winding, knotting chaotically — but all the time being woven into something orderly and magnificent from the other angle, from above — if we would just let go and not hold the strings so tight. We just can't see the beauty of the tapestry from the other side, from God’s viewpoint.

Why do people talk so much about whether or not God exists, when God is simply love? Who can argue with love — or kindness, unselfishness, compassion, sharing, forgiveness? Asking someone to prove God's existence is like asking him to prove he loves his kids. How do you prove love exists except by watching it in action? Religion often gets in the way of God's simple purpose: to love one another. I have the profound sense that we can touch God everyday when we are loving to others, especially those who offend us and disturb us, and especially those less fortunate. Have you seen someone's face light up with just one kind word?

“Compassion for others is impossible when we are filled with a belief that we are separate and distinct from other human beings,” says Wayne Dyer. "The only response to hatred is love."

 Love really does heal everything. But 'faith without works is dead,” and we are all called to get out of ourselves and help each other, like the Good Samaritan. We must be peacemakers and take care of the poor, the meek, and the outcasts, the widows and orphans.

Einstein said it beautifully here:

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.