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Even when it's a sad world, it's a small one. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Even when it's a sad world, it's a small one.

Last week, I briefly mentioned two things that happened on Sunday: Eleanor had friends over from the Buddhist Center for the enshrinement of her scroll (Gohonzon) in the box (Butsudan) that she custom-built for it; and the world came to grips with the sadness about the death, the night before, of a Miami Marlins pitcher named Jose Fernandez in a boating accident.  These two events- one intensely personal, the other worldwide in scope- intertwined in a near miraculous way later in the week.  I wanted to talk more about each anyway, but this gives a point of reference to begin the story from.

Take much of this first part with grains of salt (or beads if you gottem), since I am not an adherent of this practice and have picked up most of this information second-to-fifth-hand.  Just as Methodists are direct descendants of Anglicans who were in turn 16th century divorcees from Roman Catholicism, Eleanor's brand of Buddhism is descended from him, into the words and works of Nichiren and, much more recently, divorced from the main line of that branch into a priest-free international practice called Soka Gakkai International (SGI).  Much of the "worship" (for lack of a better word, because the practice does not worship Buddha, or Nichiren, or the scroll itself) focuses on the six-syllable chant that encapsulates the practice's adoption of Nichiren's 13th century writings known as the Lotus Sutra.  The chant itself- consisting of one Sanskrit syllable followed by five derived from Chinese- is calligraphed in scroll form and given to each new member as a focal point of their practice.  It's considered tacky to photograph the gohnozon itself, but since I'm looking right at a photo of such a thing on the Wiki article about this, you can, too if you want.

The scroll is not worshiped or venerated, but there are Ruulz.  No photos, for one.  The wall it is enshrined on should not have other decorations to distract.  And it should be enclosed in a box, the butsudan, which is what Eleanor literally built from scratch over close to a month.  As it rests, closed:

And here, open, with the lighting installed but before the scroll was:

The first try at the enshrinement was a week after she received her gohonzon.  She'd been given a temporary box, which would not stay affixed to the wall, so it was decided by all to wait until the real thing was up. That was a week ago.  These folks have little formality of service whether at their center or "on the road," so the enshrinement included several minutes of chanting, a very moving moment where the scroll was unrolled and affixed for the first time, and then people just shared stories about things like karma and how it can be harnessed for good.  I threw in our tales from the previous weekend about finding the perfect parking space at UB because we'd chosen to take the electric car last-minute, and about getting Rent tickets sooner than expected.  Eleanor went with something more profound- recalling from memory a story from a longlost book by a once-local author. We didn't know at the time it would have anything to do with the death of a young baseball pitcher, but a day or so later, it did.


John Barth is an American writer who taught English at UB in the brief powerhouse days when it was regarded as the Berkeley of the east.  His writings have been compared to literary messages-in-a-bottle, but in 1994, he wrote a piece called "A Floating Aria" in which he spoke about those who literally send them out- and the miracles that come to the unknown recipient who finds one.  He speaks of a summer in which he found one himself- but first, and as transcribed in Eleanor's paper journal on a September Sunday in (I think) 1997, he refers to the journey he imagined of receiving one from a faroff shore, reading from it the words that Eleanor spoke to her group on this past September Sunday:

It is all right. We understand. Things will not always be as they may seem to you now. A quite wonderful life lies ahead for you, comprising not only the best of what you've seen around you thus far but many things of which you can as yet be aware no more than dimly, if at all.

Wow. So many echoes in that.  To the Corinthians passage referencing "in a mirror dimly," used in our wedding service which we observed in anniversary form the next day.  To the looking-ahead aspects of Eleanor's newfound faith and my own yearnings.  It's all good.

Even when it's bad.


Here's where we get back to the death of a ballplayer.  An hour before the enshriners arrived, Eleanor and I began watching the first moments of the Mets final regular season home game. It was not against the Marlins- they would travel to Miami the next night, lose to the Marlins and hear not a single fan complaint under the circumstances- but the loss of Fernandez was palpable in the dugout, on the field and in the broadcast booth.  Gary Cohen, the total professional play-by-play guy, and Keith Hernandez, the wisecracking former player, had to deal with explaining this tragedy to the fans at home- and it was Keith who burst into tears before they finished, mentioning another former Met who had endured something similar.

I'd forgotten the story.  Bobby Ojeda, a pitcher on Keith's 1986 championship team, almost died in a boating accident before the 1993 season after trying to resume his career with Cleveland.  The other two players on that boat- Steve Olin and Tim Crews - did perish in the accident. Ojeda survived, but his career was never the same, and understandably so.  "Always tell those around you that you love them," Keith said through tears, "because you never know when you might not get the chance."

Yet some chances come in the strangest of ways.  For a day later, while sports fans were still processing the loss of this player, word came out about the final messages sent out by Jose Fernandez:

Hours after Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two friends were killed in a boating accident, a beachgoer approached a lifeguard in Miami Beach with a mysterious object that had washed ashore on Sunday.

It was a bag containing four baseballs that apparently had been autographed by Fernandez, a law enforcement official told the local television station WSVN....

WSVN reported that the baseballs had numbers on them — presumably dates. The bag was found about a mile from the crash site about 1 p.m., Chief Canosa told the station. He did not immediately return a telephone call to his office seeking comment on Tuesday.

Those balls, for now, are evidence. My hope is they will eventually be returned to his family or his teammates, where they can become enshrined in their own way (at least one, certainly, in Cooperstown) and become a new kind of evidence- of life going on and legacies being strong even after the body ceases to.

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