Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Aloha Oe, Aloha Oe, Until We Meet Again

I found out this morning that a friend of mine died last night. I knew it was inevitable. Allen had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost two years ago. I remember I shuddered when I first heard the news about his illness. Pancreatic cancer is not only a death sentence – it’s a horrifically painful one. The doctors said Allen would only live a few months. But they didn’t know Allen Abad. As a Grand Master in martial arts, he not only knew how to fight – he knew how to live. With focused prayer, he extended his life by at least a year.

And in that year I personally saw how Allen used his time to encourage others. I remember we were both at a Buddhist study meeting last summer. A young, single mom named Tiffany was there with her one-year old son. I was familiar with this young woman’s plight and I knew that she would really benefit from embarking on a Buddhist practice. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her as different men and women discussed Buddhist philosophy and history. Tiffany’s eyes glossed over and she fidgeted in her seat.

“This isn’t reaching her at all,” I thought to myself. “Not only is she not going to join this practice, we’ll be lucky to get her to attend another meeting.” This sad fact (or assumption on my part) was really a shame. From my own experience, I knew that chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, and learning about how to live a Buddhist life would be of great benefit to this young mother. However, as I watched Tiffany, I sensed she was hoping her son would have a poopie diaper so she would have a good reason to leave the room (and maybe sneak out a window). I felt my hopes of her deciding to chant were as futile as expecting the home team to win when they are down by 20 points with only seconds left to play.

Then it was Allen’s turn to speak. He was supposed to give the background on some historical event that happened in the 1200s. Instead, he stood up and apologized that he wasn’t able to prepare the material he was supposed to give, but asked if he could give a personal experience instead. Everyone perked up a bit. Allen is a tiny man, but he has a masterful presence. He talked about his illness, his determination to fight it, and his joy to be alive. It was mesmerizing. In a few short minutes, he had transformed a sleepy room full of Buddhists and guests, to emboldened men and women who were inspired to change the world.

Allen’s physical body may have been dying, but his words brought life to everyone in the room. Tiffany was so encouraged she made the decision to become a practicing Buddhist. It was a magical moment. It was one of many meetings where Allen lifted the spirits of those around him. Allen was an anomaly. He had the fighting spirit of a lion, the humility of a sage, as well as a kind and gentle heart. When he spoke, he spoke through his heart and connected to the hearts of everyone around him. It wasn’t an intellectual exchange, it was a humanistic one.

Allen, in the physical form that I have known for many years, is gone. But not his spirit. As long as I am alive, the things he said, and the way he lived, will be instilled in my heart. In my saddest moments, I will remember his words and use it as an elixir to mend my heart. And in my finest moments I hope I can use his example as a way to help others.

I can think of nothing more appropriate to say goodbye to my Hawaiian-born friend and fellow peace lover than through the lyrics of one of my favorite childhood songs written by Hawaiia's last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalini.

Aloha Oe, Aloha Oe
Until we meet again.

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