We started out working through each name on the list individually, until Emily realized that this process would take us three weeks to complete, and suggested instead sending out a brief note to everyone asking if they would want to be included on the list. Still a big job, but a whole lot more time-efficient. We started out with the A's and B's, the early letters in the alphabet, and immediately began to amass a long line of responses--mostly from the "postmaster," announcing non-delivery; then it was a matter of checking through the names of non-recipients, to be sure that we were not losing real friends to a change in email address or a duplication. A number proved to be untraceable and, indeed, forgotten. My memory does not serve me as it used to, and I think there were names on the list of people I had genuinely never known in the first place.
Then there were the other responses, the personal ones. A few, unsurprisingly, had no idea who I was, but wrote back nicely to affirm that fact. A few others simply wanted their names removed. But mostly, I'm happy to report, the responses came from those who were pleased to be included, some from old friends from whom I had not heard for years. It was a heartening feeling, to know that I was remembered fondly. In many cases, to my great pleasure, the responses included nice words about my writing, or about The Buddha Diaries.
All of which left me with a feeling of rather surprised gratitude. I may not have a thousand friends in the world: the list will undoubtedly be much shorter when we are done. But an amazing number of those names, in those few early letters of the alphabet, turned out to be real "contacts," not simply names on a list. Reflecting on the results of our afternoon's work, I found myself thinking about the practice of metta, as we are led in it by Ajahn Geoff on a Sunday afternoon, in sangha, and as I try to follow in my daily sit--sending out thoughts of goodwill to first, those closest to me, good friends and family; then, in ever widening circles, to those I know and like; to those I know less well, and those I scarcely know at all; to those I know and dislike or distrust; and eventually to all those fellow-travelers in life I do not know at all, to all living beings.
It's a healthy practice. A humbling one, too, reminding me of the small place I myself occupy in the great chain of being. And reminding me to be truly grateful for the privilege of all my relationships--and indeed all my associations, be they ever so slight. And of the extraordinary capacity of friendship to survive any separation of time or geographical space. Those distances may change; the feelings, once recalled, remain remarkably constant.