Broken Car, Restored Hope

By Lora Ben

A few days before Christmas I was doing community service at the local American Legion Post, when an old man came in and asked if he could have a cup of coffee.

I asked him to sit down while I made some fresh coffee. As I was waiting for the coffee to brew, I asked him if he was a member of the American Legion. He told me that he was not but that he was eligible to be because he had served for many years in the U.S. Armed Forces.

This town is very small and I know almost everyone, but his face was not familiar to me. He told me that he lived in New Mexico, and was on his way back after visiting his son, who lived in Northern California, when his car broke down. He was sleeping in his car with his little dog, when a local policeman stopped by. He explained to the police officer what had happened to the car, and said he was waiting for daylight to try to find a place where he could stay. He also told the officer that he had no money until the first of the month, so he was not sure if he could find a place.

Moved by the old man's story, the police officer escorted the old man to the local motel and paid $350 for one month rent for the old man.

I asked the old man if he had anything to eat, he said that he did not have any money to buy food. I went in the back where we collect food items for the needy, and came out with some food that he could take with him to last until the end of the month. The man showed much gratitude.

On Christmas day, I was cooking at the Legion for those who have no family and invited the old man to come and have dinner there, but he refused because, he said, he does not really like to sit in bars. So after I finished cooking and serving the dinner to those who came, I prepared a tray and brought it to him.

The man had tears in his eyes and thanked me. He asked me if I would stay and chat a while with him, so I stayed for a bit.

I noticed that he had many books on Buddhism, including a Buddhist Bible (I did not even know there was such book). We talked for a while and he asked me if there was a doctor in town, because he needed to see one. So I handed him one of my cards that have Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on it and wrote down my phone number, and told him to call me when he was ready to see the doctor, and I would take him. When he saw the card, he told me that he knew those words. He used to chant a long time ago in San Francisco, but after he moved he could not find any members where he was. But he continued to search for something that could tell him more about Nam Myoho-renge-kyo. He bought all the books that he could find about Buddhism, but he never found a book that mentioned it. Most of his books are about Zen, Shinto and other types of Buddhism.

The Zen book had only a short mention of Nichiren, a paragraph long. So I offered to bring him the Outline of Buddhism, and also some of my old World Tribunes and Living Buddhism.

The next day he told me that he had been in search of something that was about our practice for so long and, thanks to his broken car, he had finally found what he was looking for. He asked me if there was a bookstore where he could find more books, the gongyo book, and beads. I told him the closest bookstore was at two hours away, so I invited him to come with me to New Year's Gongyo at the Buddhist Community Center. He was delighted by the invitation. I was delighted by his acceptance.

By the way, I forgot to mention the man decided to settle here in our little town. I visit with him and his little dog (who did not like me much at first but loves me to death now) almost every day. I also invited one of my senior leaders to visit him.

Tomorrow the senior leader, his wife, my son and I will go and visit the old man. His name is Emory and the dog is Elena, named after his second wife.

Love and Daimoku to all,

Lora