I was thinking about this older lady named Dorothy, who used to pack us Japanese food after temple service in Sebastopol. I was newly dating Kenneth, and sometimes I accompanied him on the long trip up north to visit his son. Back then I was a detached Catholic. I sat stiffly in a pew next to my boyfriend, refusing to press my hands together or bow. Not even following along in the service book, but listening, kind of like how you might let a salesperson run through their pitch before politely declining to purchase anything.
After the service, there always seemed to be a luncheon. Kenneth salivated at the cultural food that reminded him of his deceased mother. It was all foreign and new to me. My only other exposure to Asian food was my first taste of tofu in China during a college trip, and cash-only Chinese takeout from down the street. We would eat, and before we left Dorothy would flag us down every time with something she packed for us to take on the road. We were total outsiders, but Dorothy made us feel at home. The only other person who worried about what I would eat on a 9 hour drive home was literally my grandma. It amazed me that Dorothy could show such kindness to people who were practically strangers. I wasn’t even sure she knew our names.
Recently I was contemplating the little moments in our lives that feel insignificant as we experience them, but you later realize were instrumental in the formation of who you would become. That’s when I thought about Dorothy. Her name hadn’t crossed my radar in well over a decade. I put my Nancy Drew sleuthing skills to use and looked her up. That’s when I discovered Dorothy died in 2011. 2011 was a good year for us–the eye of the storm in a turbulent time in our lives. Our young family was prospering. We were married with a son, and Kenneth’s son was also living with us. I didn’t even think about Dorothy during that time– we stopped going to the Sebastopol temple when the visitations stopped.
But all of these years later, when I think about how I got into Buddhism– from the young woman who sat in the back with her arms crossed, to who I am today– I think about Dorothy. Kenneth inadvertently gave me Buddhism, and in doing so he left me with something that would help me survive after he unexpectedly passed away. But it was Dorothy who had been right there when I first wandered across the threshold between two worlds, welcoming me with loving kindness.