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February is a funny month. It’s associated with love and cupid and hearts. It also holds the birthday of my dear friend and Acariya. But for me, the past four Februarys have been bittersweet. You see, four years ago, one of my best friends was killed in a tragic accident overseas while working with Doctor’s Without Borders. She was also a UNICEF delegate and wanted nothing more than to share health and wellness with every woman she met. She was an Ob/Gyn for women managing terribly painful pregnancies sprung from rapes or from one form of sexual abuse or another. Of course, there were some that were simply complicated pregnancies because the mothers were malnourished to begin with. She was involved in so much more too, like a program for vaccinations and making sure that pharmaceutical companies were not illegally dumping chemicals in village water sources….chemicals often found in the medications we take here in the US. She fought to better hospitals and educate medical professionals and sincerely worked to strengthen the resolve of so many woman who, for most of them, by the age of 9, saw atrocities you and I couldn’t imagine. She was hardened against the men who still believe women to simply be a “tool”, not worthy of happiness, education, sexual pleasure, friendship, food, clean water, proper healthcare or anything else that most of us here in the West take for granted each day. And she was softened daily by the men who cherished their mothers, wives and daughters, and treated them better and more respectful than their peers. I often asked her how she stayed so calm in the face of so much injustice…..so much violence, so much unfairness, pain and suffering…..she would tell me that the grace of the women she worked with taught her that life isn’t always fair and that balance is the only way to combat such truly horrible experiences. She would tell me that almost 90% of the women that went to her for care, showed deep grace, calm and compassion in the face of the horrific things that had happened to them. This isn’t to say they accepted it, or welcomed it, they were simply graceful and faithful. It seems to me now, as I think back on some of the things Summer wrote to me about, the women (and Summer also) she worked with taught the truest and purest form of Buddhism. Compassion, grace, non-violence….and how if one person’s actions are grounded in those tenets, they can impact another for the rest of their lives…..
In honor of Summer’s 50th birthday, this February 23rd, I’ve attached an email she sent me on February 23, 2003…her birthday….I am no longer looking at February as bittersweet….in fact, I am looking at it as very sweet.
It doesn’t always make sense to me, but when ambiguities such as grace and love manifest themselves, I’m moved by the clarity they bring.
The spring I was in the third grade, my teacher planned activities to celebrate the season. For weeks I looked forward to making treats and dying eggs. I remember telling my mom how much fun it was going to be, and I imagined what colors and designs I would choose. Before the big day, my teacher told us to come to class on Friday with a hollowed-out egg. We were also told to bring our spelling test signed by a parent, and if we didn’t, the teacher warned, we would sit out from the activities.
At nine years old, I was the perfect student. I was studious, I was obedient, and I was responsible. So when I forgot to bring my spelling test that Friday, I was devastated. I knew what the consequence would be. When my class jumped from their chairs to collect art supplies, I sat still at my desk examining my perfect, hollowed-out egg, fighting the inevitable tears.
It wasn’t long before my teacher pulled me aside. She knelt down and told me I should join the rest of the class. With tears in her eyes, she told me I could bring my spelling test on Monday. And then she gave me a hug.
I couldn’t believe it. My disappointment disappeared with this unexpected gift.
Many years later, I still remember that moment. Even though I fell short of what was required of me, my teacher graced me with love and understanding. She could have stood her ground and let me sit out as an example to the other students, but she knew punishing me for this small mistake wouldn’t teach me a new lesson. The lesson I learned that day was how much grace can lift someone’s spirit.
Yet, I seem to have a hard time grasping grace in my life. I sometimes subscribe to the idea of karma: what goes around comes around. But then I remember that balancing a behavioral checkbook is detrimental to my happiness. If I’m constantly keeping count of what I feel I’m entitled to, I may never be satisfied. If I’m blessed beyond what I deserve, I might never feel worthy. I must remind myself that I know better. Not everyone is punished for breaking the rules, just as not everyone is rewarded for their efforts. Life may not be fair, but when I think about it, more often than not I’m on the fortunate side of the imbalance. And this moves me to offer the same grace to others.
I believe in being gracious to others, and I believe in accepting others’ graciousness whether I’ve earned it or not. Sometimes you are blessed simply because someone loves you. And that is why grace is a gift—not a reward.”