There’s a line in some of our chanting that goes, “Like a blind man, fumbling in garbage, may happen to find a priceless jewel, so too have I obtained this precious human rebirth.” It illustrates the Buddha’s teaching about how extraordinarily rare it is to be born as a human with all of the environmental conditions and personal qualities necessary to meet with, pursue, and gain the fruit of a path to enlightenment. But I’ve been thinking about this line in terms of other long-odds events and seeming coincidences.
Take, for example, the case of our man Dennis Detmers.
As you may recall, he’s the guy from Sioux Falls, SD whose lung cancer metastasis into his thigh bones was so severe, he snapped one getting into bed one day. It wasn’t so long ago that his local doctors uttered the dread suggestion among cancer patients, to “go home and get your affairs in order.”
Well, Dennis is not a “go gently” kinda guy and he didn’t accept this. He got one hip replaced and came to CTCA for aggressive treatment of the rest. Last Friday came the happy news that the obstacles had cleared and he had been approved for a second hip replacement (the running joke has been “Dennis, you’re hip enough – what needs replacing?”) after which the cancerous bone may be chucked in the trash and Dennis can learn to walk again on cancer-proof titanium.
Now comes the astounding part. In a consultation with one of his oncologists yesterday, the doctor said, “Why are you still getting radiation on that bone? They’ve ordered too much. Let’s stop it – you’re just going to get arthritic. And in fact – are you sitting down? (ha ha) – I’m not really seeing any cancer activity on your lung.” Followed by the pronouncement everyone here dearly wishes for: “After your hip surgery, we’ll do another PET scan, but you may be cancer-free.”
Cancer-free. Dennis could barely contain his giddiness, after all the pain and anguish he’s been through. If he could have done back flips down the hall, he would have. But curiously, he also admitted to an uneasy current in that flood of joy: guilt. Why him when his friends deserved it as much as he did? For him, a devoted Christian, this sense was pointing him in the direction of ministry to others with cancer.
I hope he pursues this path. Dennis is an infectiously positive individual, but free of the bigotry, fearful self-righteousness, or Pollyanna qualities that crop up much too often among the more literal-minded evangelical Christians. Our bonds have gotten tighter as we’ve gotten to know one another. This morning over breakfast we had a wonderfully deep conversation about the true nature of God, during which he revealed he had been getting some static from a few folks here about hanging out with the Buddhists too much. He said his reply was, “If we’re called to love our enemies, surely we’re free to love our friends.”
We joke that his ministry would be called giving “Dennis Lessons,” and I think if he begins, many will benefit; sure beats his previous life of corporate photography and mortgage finance.
Among the many qualities I dig about Dennis is that his Christian faith has not stripped him of his bawdy sense of humor. There’s been much hilarity in the dining hall, but one story stands out above the rest. I’ve debated sharing it, but what the hey.
Seems on a couple of occasions Dennis’ health care required a colonoscopy. Well, one evening, his mother came over to enjoy a movie with Dennis and his wife. They had rented Kindergarten Cop.
Before starting the movie, Dennis’ mom asked about photographs she knew he had been given from his previous colonoscopy. Yeah, he said, he got those, but this time they had given him a video. He hadn’t seen it yet – would they like him to, um, pop it in? Might be the one thing that could make Arnold’s comedic performance seem sophisticated by comparison (“I wasn’t crazy about Arnold’s acting, but it sure was better than the polyps!”)
As unlikely as it seems, Dennis’ mother and wife said sure, put it on.
Well, Dennis expected that the video, like his photographs, would just be of his insides. He wasn’t watching as the video began, so imagine his surprise when he heard his mother’s prim, Lutheran, South Dakota voice exclaim, “Dennis! Those are your balls!” He wheeled to look at the screen and sure enough, the video began with the alarming approach and entry of the scope. Dennis suggested that if they ever added credits to the video, it would read, “Starring: Harry Scrotum.” (He said it, not me!) I suggested they should also accompany that approach with the shark music from Jaws.
Anyway, that’s not even the funniest part. Three days later, the phone rings.
“Um, Mr. Detmers? This is Blockbuster Video. Did you rent Kindergarten Cop a couple of days ago…?”
Yes, that’s right. The videos got mixed up somehow (Dennis swears it wasn’t deliberate), and the next lucky family that rented Kindergarten Cop for their kiddies got to know one of their neighbors, well, from the inside out, the kids now having a legitimate basis for future trauma therapy. I simply couldn’t finish my dinner I was wracked with such uncontrollable laughter.
The second unlikely scenario was my attending last Friday’s meeting of Bodhicharya Oklahoma, the one local Tibetan Buddhist group. Part of their Fridays involves doing a Guru Yoga practice that includes a tsog food offering ceremony. Well, of all the bazillion possible practices, it turns out that this Tulsa group does Mipham Rinpoche’s Shower of Blessings, the same practice we do every day.
For my legion of readers in the greater Tulsa area, I’ll be the group’s guest this Friday at All Souls Church, giving a PowerPoint presentation on the Mongolian Buddhist Revival.
For those who might live in the greater Washington, DC area, I encourage you to come out to KPC MD this Sunday at 11. Lama Baasansuren, the young Mongolian abbot of the monastery at Erdene Zuu, is on his first American tour and will be giving our public teaching that day.
Finally, this from Glenn Mullin, a picture of him with Mongolian president Enkhbayar, after a meeting to discuss how to improve Mongolia’s museums and about how to foster Mongolia’s Buddhist revival generally. Step One, Glenn rightly said, was to abolish the Communist-era law that taxes churches at the same rate as corporations.