By Deb Avery
At 8:00 AM the waiting room of the local clinic in my small town was sparsely populated—an elderly couple, one lady in her 30’s, and myself being the sole occupants.
Usually I find a quiet corner and read until I’m called back, but this morning, while leaving in a hurry, my book was left on the kitchen table. Having thumbed through any and all of the halfway interesting, old magazines on previous visits, I simply sat and waited my turn.
The other occupants were busily engaged in small talk about various subjects. And as always, in my little corner of the Bible Belt, it didn’t take their conversation long to zero in on religion.
In the Southern US, 99.9% of the population is Southern Baptist which consists of ultra-conservatives who take the bible quite literally and leaves no other options for avoiding hell other than salvation bestowed from Jesus who died on the cross over 2000 years ago.
Being one of differing opinions and beliefs, I was used to the shaking of heads, the “I’ll pray for you” comments, and even the more nastier retorts that usually follow if/when I reveal that I am a Buddhist. Actually, I am fairly eclectic in my beliefs and do not like labels, but if I have to label myself, Buddhist is a good fit. And Buddhism is to me, more of a philosophy than a religion anyway.
Nevertheless, I have had some strange reactions over the years when pressed to state my religious affiliations—some of which were not pleasant. Yet, after many years of practice, I have found that remaining mindful with a non-reactive attitude, along with a big dose of humor, can usually get me through these sometimes difficult situations.
But in that waiting room, when I replied to the elderly lady’s insistent question regarding where I attended services, I was not quite prepared for her reaction.
For a couple of seconds, you could have heard a pin drop. Then, as I’ve seen in countless vampire movies, and in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the lady brandished her hands in front of herself, and making the shape of a cross with her fingers, she pointed them in my direction. But unlike the unholy vampires of legend, the only effect it had on me was to tickle my sense of humor. I tried, and managed, not to laugh. But the smile on my face brought one of equal size to her husband’s face sitting beside her, as well as to the face of the lady sitting across from them.
But the lady brandishing her cross was not in a smiling mood (at least not yet anyway).
She asked me what a Buddhist was and what they did other than go against the very teachings of Christ. Keeping things calm, plain and simple, I tried to explain as best I could that to me, being Buddhist meant living a life of kindness, mindfulness and of not harming others. I also threw in that there were a lot of similarities between the teachings of Buddha and that of Christ.
She was still far from being impressed.But by not reacting, not taking anything personally, and through kindness a doorway of conversation was opened and she wasn’t as hostile as before, nor was she condemning me to hell and damnation.
At least not verbally. Gently we bantered back and forth for a few minutes like a lazy game of volleyball played with giant, bouncy beach balls. And soon, slowly at first, a smile began to form on her face. Although acceptance was not present in the room, the typical intolerant attitude that I often encounter was slowly diminishing.
In fact, everyone in the room was smiling. Or, maybe they were inwardly laughing at this strange, crazy Buddhist woman who refused to take anything personally. Either way is fine by me. I had much rather be referred to as strange or crazy rather than angry, intolerant or just plain rude. The best part of it was that she had stopped trying to get me to see things her way, while still firmly holding onto her own beliefs. I could not ask have asked for—or expected—more. But in the end she chose not to react with anger or hate.
That, plus the fact that I can still have a good laugh just thinking about the cross maneuver, is what’s really important.
May we always celebrate our differences.
May we stand up for the rights of others to be different from us.
May we all remember to relax and smile instead of simply reacting.
May we all find peace and humor in life.
Editor: Dana Gornall