Our daughter Brooke told Peter and me that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was returning to New York to the Beacon Theatre, where we were first in his presence for his teachings in September, 2003. Brooke wanted to give us tickets for my 73rd birthday. Peter and I were excited and decided we would definitely go.
Thinking deeply about how much this would mean to us, as Peter was clearly in the evening of his earthly journey, we discussed going and this time we wanted to share His Holiness’s enlightening teachings with friends. As a birthday present to myself, I invited six friends from Stonington to join us. James, a Buddhist friend, agreed to arrange for the tickets and discovered His Holiness was also going to be in Boston several days before going to New York city, and because he was going to Guatemala for a friend’s wedding and week’s vacation November 2nd, we all decided to go to Boston November 1st. Blessedly one thing inevitably led to another.
James is the chef at a favorite restaurant in Mystic. One Saturday night, when Peter arrived in a wheelchair, I whispered to James that Peter hadn’t eaten for several days. “We’ll fix that up Alexandra. I’m going to make him some miso soup.” We now reverently refer to this dinner as “The Last Supper,” because it was. Peter sipped some sparkling Rosé, ate some hot cornbread fresh from the oven as we talked about going to Boston. In Peter’s customary enthusiasm, he scooped his thumbs up and smiled broadly. Within three and a half days, Peter died.
Several weeks later I was off to Boston with friends. For a brief time I felt a conflict: dear friends invited me to join them at MIT Friday, October 31st, for His Holiness. Rather than taking the 6 AM train to Boston Saturday morning with our friends, I could take the 6 AM train Friday morning, meet up with my friends Kerri and Matt, go to experience His Holiness’s teachings, we’d spend the night in Boston and meet up with our friends early the next morning. A major priority in my life is to be with my grandchildren whenever an opportunity arises. Cooper was coming to the cottage with her parents and her two best friends and their parents for Halloween. Cooper loves Halloween. I don’t. Peter didn’t. If I’m in Boston, I won’t be with Cooper. It didn’t take me long to realize I need to seize this rare opportunity and do the right thing under the circumstances; I decided to go to Boston Friday morning, rationalizing Cooper would run around the village trick or treating and I’d be royally ditched. Intuitively I knew it was a blessing that Matt, through his Harvard fellowship, was able to get me a ticket to The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. Once I accepted, I felt I was blissfully embracing my healing. I smiled in anticipation.
Luck would have it we stayed at the same hotel His Holiness was staying at, a fact we would discover quietly upon arrival. Peter and I loved staying at the old Ritz Carlton on Newbury Street, overlooking the Commons. I’d gone there since I was a young child with my Godmother and mother. Peter and I have fond memories of going with friends. The hotel is as lovely as can be. Peter and I stayed there several years ago when I gave a talk in Boston. It felt comforting to be returning to a place that holds meaningful memories, including going to the Ritz years ago for lunch with John Bowen Coburn, who married us May 18, 1974, (and became the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts).
The greatest gift I could possibly receive after Peter died was to study under the Dalai Lama and to have a one-on-one serendipitous moment with him on Saturday morning where we held hands. Kerri and Matt met me at 7 AM in the sun-filled dining room on Newbury Street for breakfast before driving to meet our friends for the 9:30 AM session. The night before, we were inspired by our day at MIT and sat by a warm fire in the cozy bar of the hotel before going to a French bistro around the corner for dinner. Our enthusiasm to share with the bartender about our day proved to be prophetic. Tom winked and said they had a very special guest in the hotel. His sister had spent time in India in a monastery studying under her guru, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
After breakfast, there was a hush in the lobby. Richard Gear and a photographer appeared. A few moments later His Holiness walked out of the elevator, close to where Matt, Kerry and I were standing. I was the first person he approached. What a rare privilege and honor it was to be in his presence again. Under my breath I asked him to pray for Peter. A calm came over me. I thanked His Holiness for the blessings of transformation. In Tibetan the word blessing means transformation. With a grin he said, “Goodbye, Goodbye,” as he moved on.
I stood motionless. I felt lifted up in a lightness I’d never experienced before. Ever. The Dalai Lama says he’s just a simple Buddhist monk with no special powers. His humble spirit is cultivated by pure love, pure compassion, pure empathy and pure altruism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is pure light.
In September 2003, Peter had just had knee surgery and we were in the handicapped front row of the Beacon Theatre. I treasure the two snapshots I took of his His Holiness on the stage with his monks. My friend Matt’s pictures of us shaking hands will inspire me to continue studying. At MIT on Friday we were all given ribbon bracelets (and told not to put them on) with three words: Think, Transform, Inspire. The teachings about global warming and climate change were compelling.
After the scientists and economists completed their powerful presentation, we were invited to put a bracelet on the person next to us. Matt tied one on my wrist and I did the same to him. We were asked to commit to what we intend to do to leave less of a footprint on our fragile planet Earth. Apparently everyone’s ribbons fell off. I laugh because the teachings of the Buddha are all about non-attachment and impermanence. Everything is always changing. Don’t cling. Don’t be needy. Don’t be materialistic. Lasting happiness is cultivated by giving unconditional love and compassion, trying to help others relieve them of their suffering. Saturday’s teachings were crystal clear. “Educating Heart & Mind.” If we cultivate oceans of compassion, we will acquire oceans of happiness.
With stars in my eyes, feeling awe, calm and blissful, we went to share a banquet at a fabulous bistro, Eastern Standard, that Jamie (not James!) had selected for us. In a driving rain storm, we celebrated our brunch celebration with the hope of awakening to the possibility of our achieving some degree of nirvana in our lifetime. We toasted His Holiness, Peter, and each other.
We took a train home; I was eager to be with Cooper to hear all about Halloween. I loved being able to share my happy news with family and friends, who gave me their greatest blessing: their attention.
After breakfast Sunday, Tony drove Brooke and Cooper and me to New York City. I decided to go to New York, to return to the Beacon Theatre, for two more days of his teachings. I went by myself Monday and I never felt less alone. Everyone was like-spirited. The woman in front ome invited me to join her and friends for lunch next door “with lots of delicious vegetarian options.” Brooke joined me Tuesday, a profoundly beautiful shared experience.
Brooke and Alexandra gave me a magical birthday the following Saturday in the City, November 8th. Friday night we went to the famous Balthazar French bistro downtown, and Saturday Brooke, Cooper and I went to the exuberant Matisse Cutout Exhibition.
My cup is more than half full. I feel Peter’s presence profoundly and more each hour. Enjoy your holiday traditions, whatever your faith, pray for world peace and let it begin with you.
Great love to you. My heart is expanding by the oceans of love you have showered upon me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.