The scholar asked Jesus: Who is my neighbor?
These collections of Buddhist fiction [You Are Not Here and Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree] are favorites of mine. The stories tend to be ambiguous. No tidy endings. More about characters than plot. I offer no answers today, only fragments of stories.
The year 1972.
I voted for Shirley Chisholm after seeing her at a rally, then blew off high school commencement and headed out with a backpack and 50 bucks to explore beyond my whitebread roots.
I often traveled alone, sometimes with others. We were restless, hitchhiking teenagers, On The Road. As Dorothy described Oz “it was a real, truly live place…and I remember some of it wasn’t very nice…but most of it was beautiful!”
I spent nights under highway overpasses, in wooded upstate New York, beneath a bridge leading to Juarez, Mexico. Every day I, a stranger, encountered “my neighbor”.
Two black men picked us up on an entrance ramp. One brandished the stub of a finger from which a short length of bone protruded. With a laugh he said he went by the name of The Claw! They gave us a ride.
I met Little One in a Phoenix bar. A large black swastika tattoo adorned her broad, pale chest. She gave me an address where I could stay in Long Beach.
In a gritty area of Dallas, a manic black guy called Rocket Man told of us of an abandoned house we could crash at.
Late one night a Navajo gave the three of us a ride in his pickup and let us out a stone’s throw from the Grand Canyon.
A Cuban-American allowed me and another hitchhiker to stay at his upscale townhouse in the French Quarter.
Next night a Baptist mission shelter in a decaying New OR-linns neighborhood opened its doors to this non-Christian, and I was fed red beans and rice.
A girl in rainbow shades skipped up the beach to this transient in his denims and hiking boots to eagerly ask me my story. She gifted me with her attention.
A black OB/GYN in southern California held me tenderly as I never knew a man could.
A white guy in an old car picked me up near Seattle; his friend owned an apartment building, and she gave me one of the units overnight for free.
An Alabama farmer and his wife let this Yankee stay overnight in a small trailer on their property. They fed me biscuits and gravy the next morning.
Young Hispanic men shooting pool in an El Paso bar. One said I could stay at his grandmother’s adobe home. Cockroaches and an old curtain separating the toilet from the main room, but a haven.
Under a blazing sun, a white-haired couple in an air-conditioned Winnebago picked up this shaggy vagabond. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. They gave me doughnuts and cold milk.
A friend and I stayed a few nights at an Ashram in New Paltz, NY; the Taiwanese guru and gentle people would rise before dawn to chant and practice kundalini yoga. We usually joined them plus did a share of communal work.
And that time we partied late with the town college crowd and snored until hours after morning rituals? They judged us not.
The neighbor in me honors the neighbor in you. Namasté.