Connecting to Goodness

“Security is mostly a superstition,” said Helen Keller.  “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing.”  –Helen Keller

In the middle of the day on a Tuesday just after Thanksgiving, on Park Avenue in Manhattan, I was assaulted and robbed. Of all places. As if any place is right. But still, it wasn’t a dark and deserted side street. It was lunchtime, on a crowded avenue.

I was meeting a friend from my meditation sangha for lunch. He was shaken by the death of a friend, and I wanted to sit with him and hear about her. But the subway from Brooklyn was delayed.

“Life,” I texted my friend, after he texted saying that the subway he was on was just sitting in a tunnel. I meant that things never go exactly as planned. “Meditate,” I texted, meaning just sit there and notice  what is really happening. “Yes,” he texted. “Thank you.” 

I thought I found just the place for lunch. The cafe in Scandinavia House is quiet and cozy, decorated with twinkling lights, nestled behind a shop that is full of Scandinavian sweaters and scarves and little carved reindeer.  A refuge.

“I’m out out of Grand Central Station, on Park,” he texted. “I will walk up and meet you,” I answered. I was in the middle of texting “west side,” meaning that the cafe and I were on the west side of Park Avenue, when I was tackled to the ground and robbed of my purse. 

I saw and heard my assailant briefly before it happened: big, rough, American, no accent, straight dark hair, dark complexion. He rushed towards me, too close, muttering “donations, at least $5.” Instinct made me veer away and step it up, leaving him behind me. But he must have turned and followed me. I was pushed hard and hit the sidewalk. I held onto the strap of my cross-body bag for dear life, but he pulled on it until the strap snapped. He was in a fury. I yelled for help and three men took off. He knocked down one man who stepped in his path. A line backer on meth. On something. And he was gone. 

My dear friend found me standing on a street corner talking to two English women who witnessed the robbery. My thumb was bleeding from holding on and my knees were scraped and bloodied. Just like the men who instantly responding, running towards danger, he responded, holding my hand, applying bandaids and antiseptic and caring attention. This, too, is important to note.

I’m sharing this story because I am freshly reminded of certain crucial truths: all kinds of things happen to us in this world, including hard things. One way of understanding impermanence is that anything can happen at any time. We can be attacked, even sometimes by people who are supposed to be our protectors. We can be robbed, and maybe not just of our purses but of our trust and faith in love. And here comes the important truth: It’s Not Our Fault! 

There is a tendency in us to blame ourselves when bad things happen. This can be subtle–we split ourselves off from others, or we split off that long-ago part that was abused or abandoned. We make it part of our story. Did I attract this? Did I deserve this because I wasn’t looking or leading him on? Am I cursed? No!

In my case, I was wearing that little cross-body bag in front of my body because about seven years ago my wallet was stolen at JFK and I blamed myself–I wasn’t paying attention, I was leaning over the luggage carousel, etc. And I’ve been robbed and mugged before.

Was I assaulted on Park Avenue because I looked weak? I read that predators like to go after the cow that is apart from the heard, the spacey or sickly little cow. Was this me? Did I project some message that invited this. No! I was a brave and upright dharma teacher, striding up Park Avenue to meet her friend. I was mindful and happily looking forward to seeing my friend. I was tackled from behind.

 “It’s true that you have suffered an unusual number of these incidents,” said my sister. She happens to be the widow of a Navy pilot. “But then again, I know a young woman who was married to three pilots, and all of them died. She was widowed three times. Statistically improbable but true.”

There is an even deeper truth. We have within us an enormous capacity to heal and open our lives. There is no time limit. The radical promise of the practice of presence is that we can be loving awareness. As we bring loving awareness to this body, extending gently, patient compassionate attention to our feelings as they appear–we slowly settle down and open up like flowers. 

“How are you feeling?” my friend asked.

“My body hurts. But mostly my feelings are really hurt. There is also sadness and fury.” 

He listened, putting little bits of hummus and pita bread on my plate, which I couldn’t eat, pouring water. Sometimes, often, the best thing we can do for a friend is listen and offer glasses of water.

Life is unpredictable. Hard things happen to good people. The gift of presence is not the guarantee of safe passage, but the knowledge that what happens to us is not personal–not a commentary on our value. We are subject to forces larger and small. I was in the path of my of my attacker–in the way of his aggression, his violent, probably trauma-driven need. Spiritual practice doesn’t always prevent such things from happening anymore than it can always prevent pain and heartache. Some very great teachers, including Buddha, Jesus, and Moses, suffered injury, betrayal, or abandonment. But presence clears a way inside. It reminds us in that we are more than what happened to us. It reminds us that we are connected to an essential energy–a force of wisdom and compassion–that is constantly being renewed. Look for the helpers, as Mister Rogers said. Notice them inside and outside.

“Although the world is full of suffering,” wrote Helen Keller. “It is also full of the overcoming of it.”

10 thoughts on “Connecting to Goodness

  1. Tracy:
    Thank you for sharing this terrible story and glad to hear you are on the mend. Our City is hurting and many people in it are behaving badly. I always appreciate your positive outlook and healing mindset. I look forward to every meditation session of yours, whether in person or virtual. I will keep you in my mind when meditating over the coming days. Be well and take care.
    Lowell Chase (Brooklyn, NY)

  2. Tracy, I found your wallet! The man threw it in front of us as he pulled out a knife to scare off the three men chasing him. I am in midtown (37th st.) M-F if you are in the area to pick it up.

  3. Tracy, thank you so much for sharing this. It means so much to read the way you’ve brought loving kindness to yourself in the midst of this experience.

  4. I also assumed this was the retelling of an event from years ago—Not that that should matter! I liked how you put it tonight about being in the way of someone’s aggression (rooted in trauma, no doubt)—I think I spent my childhood that way, and I know I’m not alone. I hope you’re ok—in any case it’s a shock to the nervous system….

    You mentioned friends being willing to retrieve your wallet. If that hasn’t worked out, count me in—I’m here! Or if I can help in any other way.

    Warmly,

    Beej

    >

  5. Dear Tracy,

    I know it is now almost 2 mos since your attack, but I have wanted, as one among those who follow you, listen to your meditations and read your works, and who have been so grateful to you for your role as a teacher and spiritual friend, to let you know how sorry I am that you had to experience this. ( I get pretty behind in emails when I leave them because I want to respond to them.) I hope this finds you continuing to heal and feeling the love that has been sent your way, including by me. I so appreciate your initial reflections.

    By the way, I started my meditation journey after I retired 6 yrs ago, and wanted to thank you and send a donation. However, I do not do Paypal. I tried to send a letter and check to Hudson River Sangha before the pandemic, I think, and it was returned to me. So I am at least glad there is a way to reach you. I have not joined the online meditations- I have just not found that comfortable, but I do listen to recorded meditations. Anyway, thank you for all of it.

    Again, I “hold your heart in my heart” and wish you much peace and comfort.

    Namaste,

    Betsy Kyger

    1. Dear Betsy, Thank you for this beautiful message. One of the unexpected gifts of this experience is to experience kindness and care from friends old and new–now including you. I’m healing deeply and well. Thank you. And I’m so glad to learn that you have been helped by my podcasts and writings. Perhaps you will feel like joining the Zoom meditation with camera turned off sometime–or not. I completely understand. Also, thank you for your kind generosity. My mailing address is: PO Box 232, Lincolndale, NY 10540

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