We had calzones at Grand Avenue Pizza, her treat. I agreed to go because I enjoy her company, but my ulterior motive was to put some Buddhist books into her hands. She accepted them with that "but I'm not a Buddhist" look on her face...

The meal was done and we were laughing, the way we always do; making fun out of nothing. We were quite large just then, chuckling loudly enough to make the diners near us look and wonder what we were talking about. Then suddenly - quite suddenly, it seemed to me - she needed her inhaler very badly. Not badly enough to compromise her dignity, but badly enough to add a bit of haste to the movements of her hands as she prepared it. Three big hits as I took her home, and still not breathing well. Shakey legs, weak hands, racing heart rate, flushed face - and those were just my symptoms...

We were not so large once I got her up the stairs to her apartment. The cup of hot tea I placed in her hands, and her room mate hovering nearby made me feel somewhat better, but she was still in pain. She made a good attempt at being tough; I must have heard "I'm fine" about 30 times. I felt that I was in the way - after all, her roomie is an intelligent and trustworthy young woman, quite capable of handling an emergency should one arise - so I decided to leave. "She needs to rest," I told myself. "She will go to bed sooner if I stop making her laugh and just leave." Besides, what could I do for her?

I made my excuses, and began to stand up. She patted the couch next to herself and whispered, "don't go." Then she looked away, as though it had pained her to say it. She was quite small by this time; like a child, but wiser. It seemed she whispered so her room mate wouldn't hear her; maybe so I wouldn't even hear her. But she was to my right, near my good ear, so I heard. I sat and she leaned on my shoulder, and for the first time in a long while, I think, she rested more than just her body. Faced with her suffering, and how hard her simple request for solace had been, I felt very small indeed.

The Buddha discovered that illness and death are not the true enemies; it is the loathing of them - the wish that it could be otherwise - that makes us hurt inside and turn on one another to spread the suffering around. We are all very small.


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