I’m writing this on Christmas morning, shortly after sunrise. I’m on my way to Nassau and then on to Paradise Island and the Sivananda Ashram where I will be teaching for the week. As always I pick up a copy of USA Today.
The best article in the paper is about David Menasche, a forty-year old high school English teacher dying of brain cancer. David is travelling around the US visiting past students and asking them if he, David, made a difference in their lives. Wow.
My mind immediately ticked off a list of teachers, now deceased, who have made a difference in my life: Peter Santos and Michael Gelinas, the two high school social studies teachers who introduced me to Hinduism and Buddhism. Miss Marshal, my junior high school history teacher with whom I stayed friends until the end of her very long life. Dr. Terri Havens, my first guru, who introduced me the Mother and Her many guises. Dr. Taitetsu Unno, my Buddhist Studies professor at Smith College who taught me too sit “like a mountain.” Sasaki Roshi who challenged me to be a “Zen Rabbi.” And Dr. Ellis Rivkin and Bonia Shur, two professors at Hebrew Union College, who taught me how to read Judaism for its archetypal wisdom, and how make it come alive by letting that wisdom speak through me, respectively. Reb Zalman Schachter–Shalomi who showed me that as wide my thoughts roamed, Judaism could always accommodate me, and he would always love me.
Not a long list, granted. And there may be others whose names I have forgotten at the moment. But without these people I wouldn’t be who I am.
I have reached thousands of people both in person and through my books, and while I am not aware of any terminal illness, Mr. Menasche’s question remains: did I make a difference?
As we enter the new year, I find this a question worth asking. May you live the new year so that when you die you know you have made a difference. For the better, of course.