My best friend Rick was killed last month in a road accident. He was not the only person to die accidentally in this city the day I identified his body, and there was a queue at the coroner’s – but equanimity is not a bland thing and he was my friend.
“Doesn’t mean you cannot have your friends. Close friend, personal thing. You unhappy, he give you cheesecake,” said Lama Yeshe to the CPMT in 1980, while instructing center directors to treat people at their centers equally. Rick brought me cheesecake.
Raised in the bosom of privilege, his fall from grace was far and hard and he laughed all the way. He was a wild man, small and longhaired with beautiful eyes and a wonderful speaking voice, 55 years old when he got knocked off his bicycle at night on the way home to his one-room gardener’s cottage where he lived alone amongst what most would call a small collection of junk. His job was caring for 20 chickens and a small bad-tempered elderly horse.
The rest of the time he bicycled around the city (his driving license had been taken away for all the usual reasons), visiting friends, drinking coffee, smoking, helping anyone do any job they needed help with – from tearing off the roof to cleaning the bath and turning the compost. More than anyone he taught me to honor the simple task. If Rick cleaned a pot it was perfect. His greatest skill, to my mind, was as a gardener, and my favorite memories are of hours spent bent over in silence working in the garden. He shoveled dirt like a Zen monk, and did a lot of work at Tara Institute.
“There’s only two kinds of people,” he’d say, “those who make a mess and those who clean it up.” He was often employed as a clean-up man on building sites where he pushed the bosses to the limit with long lunches at the pub and a general disrespect for captains of industry. “They can’t sack me Jack, it’s too hard to get a bloke who knows how to keep the place tidy.” He stacked steel like it was fine bone china, knew all the workers, their families, dogs and gardens.
His greatest skill, to his mind, was his love for classic Lancia cars and his favorite thing to do was head off through the Australian bush for days at a time, chasing a rumor of a rusted chassis out in a paddock, a steering wheel in an old shed. He traveled on foot or bicycle or pinched a car off the street – any old car. I’d say, “You can’t do that!” “Listen Jack,” he’d say, “you have absolutely no idea how many stolen and unregistered cars there are, you also have absolutely no idea how many unregistered drivers there are. You know nothing about it. These things are just rubbish Jack. I don’t want it, I’ll leave it in a nice safe place when I’m finished with it – safer than the place the owner chose – and maybe he’ll learn something. No harm done, Jack.” He called everyone Jack: male, female, child. Saved a lot of trouble, he said.
He made me laugh more than anyone I’ve known. We had a big funeral and got roaring drunk, a hundred of his friends. Did he know he was loved so much? Everyone had a dozen crazy stories about the guy the others hadn’t heard. We were all his best friends – how did he find so much time for us! And we were a mixed bunch. Rick would bring home the loneliest guy in the pub last thing at night, spending his last dollar on beer and sit up and talk all night if it helped. Sometimes I would go around and there would be this dreadful drunk person raving away. I’d take it for a bit, then roll my eyes or something and Rick would say to me: “What makes you think your life is more important than this guy’s, that your big story is worth listening to more than his!” He got a lot of guys back on their feet, if not out of the pub.
Now I’m rearranging the last of his flowers, wearing his old T-shirt and jeans, crying sometimes. Don’t tell me how to grieve, I’m an expert. Going through my photos looking for pics of Rick I saw that just about everybody there is dead already. My goodness me, that was fast. Yeah, I know how to grieve, I could write a book on it. The main thing is to do your own thing, not someone else’s thing. “I don’t do anything I don’t want to!” said Lama Yeshe. Rick was the same.
When I cry it’s hot like fire and over very quickly, a spasm. Next minute I’m laughing at some outrageous memory. I don’t know what use I was to Rick in his life – we did do a Chenrezig retreat together once for two weeks and juice-fasted throughout: it had to be nuts or he wouldn’t do it. But he sure filled up a lot of cracks in my life with fun and laughter and love. He was wild but he wasn’t crazy, and if I could develop half the generosity he showed to anyone who needed him, I’d be twice as kind as I am now. Ten hours after death, when his face had assumed the smooth wrinkle-free waxiness of the freshly dead, all that remained were deep laughter lines around his eyes. He had natural Dharma.