Here's how it went: on returning from my usual Sunday morning sit at the Laguna Sangha yesterday, I found a message on my Facebook page from a regular Buddha Diaries reader, to say that she was spending a few days in Laguna Beach on a visit from Europe, where she lives. She had been hoping, she said, to run into Ellie and George and me on one of her walks, sure that she would recognize us from our pictures on the blog. So far, though, no luck. I wrote back to her Facebook page to say I'd be delighted to meet her, and to suggest the best way to contact me.
Meanwhile... Ellie, who had chosen this particular morning to take a long walk instead of joining the sit, returned with George to say, You'll never guess... But of course I already had: this woman had approached her up on the cliff in Heisler Park with a tentative, "Ellie...?" She had recognized George first--George being the most recognizable of the three of us...
... and Ellie next. So a little later she called and we invited her round for afternoon tea at the cottage--very English!--and she came, with her brother, bearing gifts of fruit cake and coffee cake, and we sat and spent a delightful while chatting and getting to know each other.
And I realized of course that The Buddha Diaries is one of those lifeboats I have been writing about. Some of my readers are family, some friends, but the vast majority are people I don't know and who don't know me, spread throughout the world in an invisible network of mysterious online connection. Sometimes I hear from one or other of you--some from a great distance--and that's always an added pleasure, and added sense of connection. Some of you I almost feel I get to know, through your reaching out and reading what you have to say in your own writing. So to actually get to know someone from a very distant part, someone to whom the words I sit here writing every day do mean something, was to experience the transformation of the virtual into the real, and to realize that the gap between the two is no greater than that between Alice and her Wonderland.
When I check the Clustrmap or the Sitemeter, as I do from time to time, I can get a surprisingly accurate image of the network that connects the readers of The Buddha Diaries, a kind of snapshot of the lifeboat that has only a virtual existence. In a curious way, I feel it more than I can think it. And I take immense pleasure in being one of millions of other, similar lifeboats that offer refuge to countless millions of human beings, each one of us looking for the right connection, the sense that we belong somewhere. In no way does it replace those other lifeboats I have mentioned, the live ones--the sangha, the community of artists Ellie and I have built, the worldwide organization of men of which I am a member. But it feels good and satisfying to me to have built this one, too.
So I thank my visitor from Europe. It was a fine reminder, and a special treat at this season of (hoped-for) connection. It gives me, too, the opportunity to reach out and thank all the rest of you for stopping by, however occasionally, to visit in these virtual pages. I wish every one of you the peace and freedom you would wish for, and all the joy in the world. And I know that Ellie and George would want me to add their wishes to mine. May all who join me here find true happiness in their lives! May all of us know peace, and practice compassion in the coming year! May all of us continue to share with others the best of what it means to be a human being!