Thursday, August 24, 2017

Oh, Lonesome Me (and Every One Else)

There must be some way I can lose these lonesome blues
Forget about the past and find someone new
I’ve thought of everything from A to Z
Oh, lonesome me!
            -- from “Oh, Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson

When I was attending college (freshman and sophomore years) in the Philadelphia area, one of my favorite albums was After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. And one song from the album that I learned to play on guitar was “Oh, Lonesome Me” written by country singer Don Gibson. Whenever I sang it, I would think of Phil, a handsome, athletic Japanese American high school boy I fell hard in love with.

Whenever Phil came over for a date, the relatives I lived with – my maternal grandparents, aunts and uncle – would give him a warm welcome. In the Philadelphia Japanese American community, everyone knew his parents were well-to-do, living in the Main Line area. But when he brought me once to his home, his family wasn’t very welcoming to me – his impeccably groomed, college-educated mother was especially cold, seeing me as a dumb slob – they all knew my mother’s family was a bunch of manual laborers in the greenhouse business.

My dates with Phil only lasted a couple months as he moved on to date others. At Japanese American gatherings I saw how swiftly he swooped down on any female newcomers. I heard about his reputation as someone dating several girls and women serially and simultaneously, so I felt like the “Oh, Lonesome Me” song had to be written for me to sing about my heartache over Phil.

In my teen years and twenties, like probably most of you, I believed that lonesome feeling came from missing out on a union with a romantic partner, a “soul mate.” But after a couple dozen relationships and over twenty years of marriage, I’ve come to feel “lonesome” is something more fundamental and more deeply felt with age. We’ve all heard of marriages and friendships that were a “perfect team” but our first-hand experience only proves there is no being totally in sync with another person.

Sometimes I think those who marry outside of their ethnic group are better off – they don’t waste time on arguments like me and my husband have on topics like the correct pronunciation and meaning of Japanese phrases. Because of our separate experiences of living in Japan, we’ve heard the language in very different contexts. The more you seemingly have in common on the surface, the more nit-picky variances you find to disagree about.

And that’s what being “lonesome” is about – the frustration of finding no one else thinks, talks and acts exactly like you. Because of our unique individuality, we can’t help being attached to the particular traits and habits instilled in us by the unfathomable causes and conditions of our singular life. Those of us who have partners or any kind of roommates are blessed with the valuable Dharma lesson every day of being forced to see our ego and its attachments in offensive and defense modes of action. If you’re the hermit on the mountaintop or the political leader (e.g. Dalai Lama) surrounded by yes-men, your “peace of mind” is just a bubble of delusion if there is no experience of daily conflict with others.

But isn’t Buddhism about awakening to the Oneness of life and living in harmony? As teachers in the Pure Land tradition, such as Shinran, Akegarasu Haya and Maida Shuichi remind me, one has to be aware of their own “lonesomeness” and recognize the continual friction of our ego-attachment bumping up against the lives of other beings. Only people who know they are truly “lonesome” and there is nothing their limited human actions can to do create a seamless union with any other being – only those persons who have awakened to ki no jinshin (deep awareness of the limited self) can experience ho no jinshin (deep awareness of the Dharma), the working of the Others-Power, that dynamically undulating web of lives that supports and influences us, embracing and transforming even our craziest ego-driven destructive thoughts, words and actions. Beyond and encompassing “everything from A to Z” is the call of Namu Amida Butsu.

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