“Do all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are …”
This is a quote from a boy named Nkosi Johnson. Nkosi was born with HIV. He died at age 12 of AIDS. He is the subject of a new book, We Are All the Same, by veteran ABC News correspondent Jim Wooten. It isn’t a story of Nkosi’s death so much as a tale of an extraordinary life. He refused to be a victim of his circumstances and chose to live the life he had to the fullest. He was thankful for the life he had.
The holidays are a special time of year. I heard it said on the radio recently that the holidays are “the time of year when everything that you don’t have is not as important as the things that you do have.” Sadly it doesn’t take long for us to fall back into our everyday normal routines and with it our mundane everyday normal attitudes. The optimism of the New Year, the Christmas cheer, and the gratitude of Thanksgiving slowly fade away as we trudge through our days one at a time. It is all too easy for us to get so caught up in our egos that we don’t take the time to appreciate the day, to smell the roses, if you would.
A recent article in Inside Dharma gave me one of those moments. Leighton Bates wrote about an orange. Just a simple piece of fruit and his mindfulness while eating it had made it a special event. A few days after the issue came out I received a letter from my mom. She had read Leighton’s article and was touched by it. She said that reading his words had made her stop and take stock of the things that she was grateful for and realize the wonderful gifts that she had been given.
Sometimes it is so easy for me to become caught up in my own situation, to become depressed or bitter, or to feel sorry for myself. All it ever takes for me to snap out of it is to look around; I quickly realize that there are so many other people who are experiencing suffering at a level I cannot begin to comprehend. It makes me feel petty to snivel about my own perceived injustices when there are so many other sentient beings that live in constant grief, those who live in poverty, those who are homeless and hungry, and maybe the most terrifying to me, those who are alone.
Twice a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they give us an orange. This year as I peeled mine, I thought of Leighton and of my mom. I imagined that to Nkosi an orange contained a whole world of delight as he broke it open a slice at a time—its texture, its smell, its sweet acidity on the tongue. To Nkosi Johnson at that moment there was no AIDS, no fear of dying—only gratitude and the wonderful experience of mindfulness.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.