Sister Marilyn: Touching the Divine, at a Gas Station

Trupti Pandya, Feb 3, 2023 in Gandhi 3.0, 2023

[During our Local Immersions, we had an evening at Seva Cafe, where this story graciously flowed through Sister Marilyn.]

I always wanted to do standup, but I just want to say that this has been an amazing couple of days. It feels like a couple weeks already, and the experience has been so rich. I have been button holding people here and there, and telling them some of the amazing things that have happened in my life. I will just share one story unless you demand an encore. :) [Laughter.]

Excuse me, for name-dropping, but I have to tell you something about the Dalai Lama and my day with him, in order for this story to make sense. The story is what happened the day after I spent the day with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama came to San Jose, California, which was where I was working with refugees at the time. He called together a group that he called 'Unsung Heroes of Compassion'. I was privileged to be somehow nominated to be part of this group. (So now I am a 'sung hero of compassion'.) [Laughter.]

During the day there were several dozen of us, and we heard the Dalai Lama speak. Of course, he is a refugee. He's the most famous, well-known refugee in the world. I have devoted my life to working with refugees and displaced people, so it was really special to be in his presence, and also a Catholic sister, Sister of Mercy. He famously says, "Compassion is my religion." And he means it. At one point, during the day, each of us was able to go up and greet the Dalai Lama in person. Although we had been dialoguing in a group; in person, we received a khata cloth of blessing, put it around my shoulders, and then we embraced. That was really wonderful. My mother happened to be in the audience, and she was so thrilled. She almost catapulted herself over the table to shake his hand, which she did. But anyway, that's just background. That's the setting.

So the next morning, I get up, as usual, do my meditation, and I come out for breakfast. And, always, I would read the San Jose paper, The Mercury News, because I needed to know what was going on in San Jose before I drove to work. My workplace was about a half hour away. And I am so happy. I am thinking about the Dalai Lama, and just reveling in the grace of the previous day. So I am not paying a whole lot of attention to what I am doing, and suddenly, I realize I am almost out of gas. So I have to pull into a gas station.

You have all done this. Fill your tank with gas, and you drive off right? As I drove off, I heard the sound you never want to hear when you are driving away from a gas station. It's a metallic, screeching sound. In the mirror, you see gasoline spurting everywhere, because you have forgotten to take out the hose from the pump -- because I was thinking about the Dalai Lama! [Laughter.]

So, I am horrified.

I mean, talk about a stupid thing. So I put the brake on, I jump out of the car, and I am fishing around to find my purse, because there's puddles of gasoline everywhere. It's dangerous. And as I am trying to find my insurance card, I see coming from the booth, a little man about five feet tall. He's not just coming towards me, he's running towards me, and he's going like this [waving], "What in the world?!!! ... It's you!"

This man, turns out, was from Tibet. He was reading The Mercury News, and my picture in color was on the front page of The Mercury News with the Dalai Lama hugging me. On this day, when I had this horrible experience, I was wearing the same jacket. So he recognized me, and he is bowing to me.

I say, "I am so sorry, I have wrecked your place and it is going to take you time to clean up."

He says, "No, no. It is such an honor that you came to my place of work."

And I am not getting it. "Right, so what do you need from me now? My identity card? My insurance card? Whatever is needed?"

He replied, "No, no. One thing only -- may I touch you?"

And then, I got it. Of course. He believed the Dalai Lama to be the reincarnation of the divine. And he, a gas station attendant, was never going to have a chance to meet the Dalai Lama. But he so believed amazingly that, if he touched me, he could touch the divine. I was so moved by that experience. To tell you the truth, I think he taught me more than the Dalai Lama.

What touched me the most was his simplicity. He wouldn't take anything from me. He wouldn't let me do anything for him. But we embraced, and he just looked so deeply serene.

I was reminded of that incident because being here this week has been an experience of touching the divine through each of you, in your own journey, and in your own way.

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