Peter was my all-time favorite professor back when I was an angsty, wild-child, hot-mess of a college student. He's also the person who introduced me to Buddhism (I received the Five College Buddhist Studies Certificate as a part of my Religion and American Studies double-major). Beyond Beginners Mind and the Beats, through his kindness, honesty, and sense of humor, he introduced me to the practice and experience of compassion, beginning with compassion for oneself.
I desperately needed this at the time I met Peter, which initially happened off-campus, when he asked me, outside a coffee shop, if I could spare some change. I said I'd be happy to buy him a sandwich, but... wasn't he employed? (I'd seen him around campus and assumed he was faculty.) He extended his hand and introduced himself, explaining that he was panhandling as part of a Buddhist movement to bear witness to marginalized populations, and to create positive social change (all proceeds would be donated, of course). I enrolled in his classes immediately thereafter, and he ultimately became my academic advisor, but even more ultimately filled a role I'd sensed (without knowing what I sensed, exactly) was incongruously missing from my educational experience to date: a true teacher. School had always been easy for me, but life had me spinning. Peter never said much, but he always said exactly the right thing, bearing witness to my angsty mess but also to the calm, strength and potential that lay beneath. By the time I graduated, I felt happy in my own skin, and confident that my success need not follow a predetermined path. While I ended up (and it took me several years to admit this) learning a great deal in college, and even having a pretty great experience (many of my friends from that time are still my very best besties), I also think higher education has a way of glorifying predetermined paths to the detriment of those it sets out on them. So, I'm grateful to have emerged with experience and ambition, but most importantly with an open, adventurous mind.
Peter can be credited with a lot of that, and I was always grateful for our paths crossing as they did. I got to know his wonderful wife, Margie (and sweet dog, Maya) before I left for New York, and heard a bit about his daughters, both young adults at the time. I introduced him (and Margie) to Aaron before we got married, and then Aaron and I introduced them both to Kaspar when he was only a few months old; we drove through Northampton on our way to New Hampshire for my grandmother's funeral -- she hadn't, unfortunately, gotten to meet her great-grandson, but she'd been delighted to hear the news he'd been born... and her passing shortly thereafter made the preciousness of our various human connections all that more immediate for me. Peter mentioned, during that visit, that Tara had entered acupuncture school, and that she was loving it; she'd found her calling. We sat and drank tea, traded gifts and then departed; I haven't seen them since. In the whirlwind that followed-- moving to Texas, Kaspar's food allergy stuff, this crazy busy couple of years-- I kept meaning to write him an email, or call, but there always seemed too much to say. (And I felt kind of embarrassed for always having talked his ear off, anyway.)
As we discovered Traditional Chinese Medicine and as it made our sick baby well, I'd forgotten that Tara was in acupuncture school. But Peter emailed me recently, and I instantly recalled what he'd said (also instantly made plans to visit with him and Margie, when we drive again from New York to New Hampshire next week... Just after meeting with a leading TCM expert at Mt. Sinai, no less). These two years have flown by, and so much has happened in all of our lives. I was so excited to hear about what Tara is doing with her TCM expertise (Peter sent me Tara's letter with his email). Although I'm still yet to meet Tara, I feel connected to her family, and to her line of work (for obvious reasons). I also feel a deep connection to the part of the world in which she'll soon be doing that work; practices that developed there have, through connections across time and continents, made my life better, and my heart bigger. TCM, traveling around the globe and back again, has similarly -- especially through projects like Acupuncture Relief Project -- initiated incredible healing. I hope you'll become a part of this chain of connections and help Tara to now reach the people who need her most. Please give what you can -- even $10 will help a real person you've never met but are nonetheless connected to.
May the ripples of compassion between us extend to every corner of the Earth.
Here is Tara's letter.
Dear Friends and Family,
I am writing to ask you to make a contribution in my name to the Acupuncture Relief Project, a free community health clinic in Chapagaon, Nepal. I am excited that I’ve been selected to work there for two months this winter. As a non-profit organization, this clinic relies solely on donations for its existence. In particular, it depends on the fundraising efforts of volunteers such as myself, and my ability to work there will depend on your support. I need to raise $4,500 in donations by September 14th.
In the last four years the Acupuncture Relief Project has provided over 140,000 treatments. Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, and with a per capita income of about US$244/year, it lacks many vital social services. The clinic provides the only access many people have to health care, and they often have to travel a great distance to get there. Patients seek treatment for a wide variety of conditions, such as musculoskeletal pain, digestive disorders, hypertension, diabetes, post-stroke rehabilitation, asthma, tuberculosis, recovery from surgery, as well as HIV-AIDS. Acupuncture has proven to be a highly effective, low cost, and safe form of medical treatment.
This August I will be graduating with my Masters degree in Chinese Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, where I have been studying for the last three years. I believe that access to health care is a universal right and I look forward to being part of this project, which offers such a valuable service to the community in Chapagaon. I believe that the experience will also prove invaluable for helping me fulfill my ambition to provide affordable health care to underserved populations when I return to the U.S. To read more about me and my interest in this project, please see my bio at http://www.acupuncturereliefproject.org/volunteer/201213-clinic-team/tara-gregory
Your tax deductible donation will directly help fund the operating costs of this project, including all medical supplies and the cost of local interpreters. Contributions of any amount would be greatly appreciated! Even a small amount will go a long way: $10, for example, will pay for ten people to be treated, and $100, for clinic supplies for one day. To donate please follow this link and select Volunteer Tara Gregory under Select campaign. http://www.acupuncturereliefproject.org/donate Thank you so much for your consideration and support for this project! If you know anyone else who would be interested in supporting this venture, please forward this to them.