I grew up in a home with a mother who is deeply committed to Buddhism. She continues to chant regularly in the morning and then again in the evening as she has done since her late teens. I don’t know of day that she has ever missed this daily practice. My own practice wavered as I developed my own beliefs about religion, spirituality, and the deep meanings of life. However, the philosophy of Buddhism remains a foundational influence in my Becoming. One primary concept is karma.
My high school had the typical cliques found in most high schools all across the country. We had the Competitive Athletes, the Energetic Cheerleaders, the Band and Choir Geeks, and the Nerdy Academics among several others that created spaces of identity and belonging for me and my classmates. As an ambitious over-achiever, I found myself in several of these groups and enjoyed a well-rounded high school experience. Unfortunately, there was one group that actually wasn’t a group at all. The members of that group, the Loners, shared a common experience with each other but didn’t come together in the way members of other groups did. They remain isolated from each other and “the rest of us.”
The Loners’ high school experience was one that existed just beyond my immature perception at that time. I didn’t particularly like or dislike any of those classmates. We simply appeared to be so different that it didn’t seem to matter to befriend them. I couldn’t have known how wrong I was in that line of thinking. Ten years after graduation our class held a reunion that brought me face to face with the alternate reality for one of my classmates. He walked up to me and asked, “Aren’t you Tina?”
I replied, “Yes…” but before I could say another word, he started talking to my husband not conversationally but more like someone purging his feelings. He must have recognized my husband as my boyfriend from high school because he introduced himself as Robby Daniels (name changed) and quickly asked, “So, you ended up marrying Tina?” Without waiting for a response he went on with his thoughts. ‘You’re lucky to have married someone so wonderful. I was hoping she would be here because she was always so nice to me. I’ve never forgotten how she always smiled at me and said hi to me…’
I felt so incredibly awkward and embarrassed for several reasons. First, he spoke to my husband as if I wasn’t standing right there. It seemed the words were for me but he couldn’t bring himself to say them directly to me. Another reason for my discomfort was in how he characterized me. Though I consider myself to be kind, Robby described someone extraordinary that I didn’t recognize. There’s no way that I deserved his accolades…no way. I couldn’t deserve those praises because sadly, I didn’t even remember him.
He finally ended his heartfelt soliloquy, turned to thank me for treating him nicely all those years before, and walked away. I now remained standing there not only embarrassed but truthfully a bit stunned and ashamed. How could Robby have been impacted so deeply by my apparent words and actions without me ever knowing it? How could I have left such an impression without intention or knowledge of it?
I went home that night and searched my yearbook for Robby’s picture. Upon seeing his face, I was still perplexed. I recall him as someone who kept to himself and didn’t seem to have a group of friends to hang out with on campus. There was a vague memory of perhaps having a class together once. None of this helped to answer the questions that lingered after our reunion encounter. In the end, I concluded that you should always be kind. You just never know what someone is going through and unknowingly, your simple and friendly smile could be the highest form of love he or she receives that day.
I remained content with that learning for many years. Throughout my classroom teaching career, nearly all of my students have heard my Robby Daniels story. My intention was to inspire them to be kinder, friendlier, and more compassionate. Most of them fully understood the depth of the message as it was difficult to hold back tears while telling it.
It’s only now in reaching back for that lesson that I realize a far greater meaning. That encounter with Robby was the pivot point of a shift in balance. That moment represents the manifestation of the universal law of cause and effect, or karma. Where Robby was once so grateful, now I am eternally grateful for him. Where I was once unknowing of my impression on Robby, he is now unaware of the immense impact he has made on me.
It is because of Robby and my repeated telling of this story that I have come to value connection and belonging not only for me but more importantly for the lost and lonely; the overlooked and dismissed. On good days, I’m mindful to share a smile, to listen intently, and to accept others without judgement. On the not so good days, I think of Robby Daniels and vow to do better.
The intentions we put out into the world, positive or negative, have a way of finding its way back in the karmic flow of energy. Let’s aim to spread more positive for you, for me, and all the Robby Daniels wanting to be seen.