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Finding the Buddha
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By the time some kind soul took the time to reverse the hinges of the door on my refrigerator so I wouldn’t have to walk clear around the thing to open, retrieve (or stare and wish) and return to the counter with my eggs or yogurt or Brussels sprouts, my habits were set. What did I care, taking two or three extra steps?

“Nah,” I said. “Don’t bother.”

But he was right. This is much easier.

After the switcharoo, it was weeks before I stopped reaching for the handle on the other - as in original - side. Then there was the experience of looking - as in staring and wishing - at the shelves.

Nothing had changed inside. There were the same six paltry items, the same identical bottles of pickles and maple syrup. But approaching them from the other side changed everything.

But now I think about the favor he did every time I open to stare and wish.

Same thing with the squeak on the pneumatic tube of my screen door. It was annoying to be sure. But after awhile, not being too mechanical myself, I put up with it even though I hated it. I learned to anticipate the delay so I wouldn’t have to wait for the slow door to close.

As it happened, a friend who was visiting did not share my patience. And he was not afraid to speak up. “It’s bent, but I think I can fix it.” And with a tug here, a pull there, he straightened the aluminum rod.

“It’s a mitzvah,” I said, referring to the Hebrew word for performing an act of human kindness. “Thank you.”

Except in this case, I did not need to rely on the kindness of a stranger.

Unlike the encounter I had at the receiving and loading area of Home Depot. Last week, sometime around 7:30 in the morning, while waiting for someone to unlock the pile of fencing, a man with the same car as mine, a 1992 Isuzu pickup truck, started talking to me.

“Yep, everything’s still fine,” I said, when he complimented me on how my car looked. “Well, except for this little ding I got here in the front, which makes opening and closing the door a little tricky.”

At some point someone must have run into and bent the section because when I tried to open the door it would crunch and grind and move only so far. Still, if I took my time and squeezed into the seat, everything was OK. I mean, the car still drove so what was the big deal?

“I think I can fix that,” this stranger said, after bending down to examine and consider the problem. “Do you have a butter knife or something?”

Did I? Of course. My glove box is a veritable trove of necessary repair tools. In seconds I retrieved a rusty knife I found in the garden that I must have been saving for just this kind of adjustment.

After a few minutes of inching and coaxing out the dent, the door opened and closed in complete and utter silence.

Weeks later I’m still grateful for these three small, disparate and unrelated favors.

In the meantime I heard the venerable and feisty poet and short story writer, Grace Paley, speak at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s feminist conference on visualizing the art of the possible.

And this is what I’m wondering: when Paley, a member of such former groups as the War Resister’s League, Resist and the Women’s Pentagon Action, said the next Buddha would not be an individual but a community of people, was she talking about ordinary people helping other ordinary people?

It was the Buddha reference that got me then and has stuck to me since. Except for her writing, a collection of conversations between spirited and well-drawn characters along with a poetic and occasional style of free-association, there is nothing airy-fairy about Paley in person.

Dressed in gray corduroy pants, a turtleneck sweater, a checkered shirt and comfortable shoes, maybe Merrill’s - an ensemble she wore for two days straight, I learned later - she was down to earth, easy to approach, unimpressed with herself.

“I’m just a normal, socialist, Jewish kid from Brooklyn,” she said.

She’s also frequently described herself as “a somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist,” said Armstrong’s energetic and bright Teresa Winterhalter, who put the conference together and managed to convince Paley to speak.

“I thought that was pretty good,” Paley whispered to a friend of mine in the audience when Winterhalter offered this description. But when Winterhalter or someone else tried to praise her for wearing a black arm band against the Vietnam War, she wasn’t impressed.

“Any idiot would do that,” she said.

Still, there’s Buddha to consider. Several times Paley went back to this concept, wondering each time if maybe the concept wasn’t about a god on high but a group of ordinary people in the populace doing kind and extraordinary things.

Someone who can wield a rusty butter knife, perhaps, or fix a piece of bent aluminum, or coax a panel on a truck. if that’s the case then I have seen the Buddha.