unexpected broken heart

16 11 2009

I baked 9 apples this weekend. I carried them home from the farmers market, cored them, and stuffed them with currants, brown sugar, almonds, a little butter, and then baked them for about an hour. They were delicious. Like an apple pie without the crust.

my next door neighbor and I have been in a feud of varying degrees of heat for the past 4 years. last month he had a heart attack in his apartment and went online to find out what was wrong with him and while typing in his symptoms into the computer, he discovered he was having a heart attack. he called 911 and went to the hospital where he had stints or shunts (you know– the things that open up the passageways) put in. He was there, alone, in the hospital for a week, and then took a taxi home.

To say this guy is a loner would be to under serve the word. he is one of those people who is totally and utterly alone in the world. it kinda gives me chills when i really think about it.

he has been so uncooperative about walking around in his cowboy boots on a hardwood floor, and vacuuming (he’s a vacuuming fanatic), at all hours of the dark, that i haven’t cared much for his situation.

I have made him into that “other” kind of thing that feels so good to do when we are hurt or wronged by someone or we find someone to be just a plain old asshole. When I asked him if he would mind taking off the rodeo shoes at 6 a.m. or 1.30 a.m. he said he didn’t want to have to consider me in everything he did, and slammed the door. What an asshole, I thought.

I saw him about a month after he had his heart attack and his normally robust figure was slimmed way down. He was trying to get his wheelie cart in the front door, and I happened to be going out of the building. seeing him shocked me, and thinking everyone loves to be complimented on weight loss, I said, “wow, B__ you look great.” “I had a heart attack”, he replied. The asshole thing was feeling more like mine at that moment, so I held the door open for him and carried his cart up the stairs. we stood in the cruddy flourescent-lit hallway chatting.

He lost his job a year ago, is behind in the rent, the landlords have taken him to court three times, he has no health insurance, and his heart medicine is $200 a month.

He had just missed a deadline that the court gave him to pay $200 to the landlords, but it was a choice between the heart medicine and the landlords so he chose the medicine. His unemployment is going to run out in two months.

he told me he hopes they don’t evict him because, he said, “i have literally nowhere to go.”

i walked away from that little chat shaken.

since then we’ve been saying hello, so yesterday when i baked the apples i decided to give up a little of my part of being an asshole and give him one. He was vacuuming in his boots with his front door open, and so i asked him if he wanted one. He jumped at the offer, and when i went back into my apartment i was trembling a bit.

when i handed the apple to him in a plastic dish he said,”i like it much better when we get along as neighbors”

“yes,” i said, and stepped toward him and hugged him. we hugged for kind of a long time and because I couldn’t quite bear the intimacy of the moment, I made a joke.

later, there was a small knock on my door, and it was B__. he was holding out a can of custard powder. “I thought maybe this would be yummy over your baked apples.” he said.

after i shut the door thanking him, i looked at the can which seemed to be maybe an inherited can from world war II rations. the lid was dented and the expiration date was august 4, 2002.

the fact that i personally would never make custard from a can, or that it was expired, didn’t matter. what mattered was that this man, this odd man, tried to give back what he could.  he gave back in his way thinking i would like custard for my apples–a delicious treat for anyone.

i stood there in my kitchen silently looking at the can and thinking how tender we all are underneath. i pictured him buying a can of custard off the shelf of the supermarket 7 years ago. maybe he thought he would make himself something sweet, and not being a cook (he gets food delivered every night), maybe a can of powered custard was a way in.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (one of my teachers) talks about how at any moment, we can wake up from the dream of our own aggression and separateness, and glimpse the fundamental vulnerability of all beings, and that direct experience is a moment or a glimpse of genuine wakefulness.

that at any moment we can glimpse the soft spot in people, or in ourselves, and how by seeing the vulnerability of the human condition, it could arouse in you an awakened heart that already exists in us, but that we cover over and harden against.

enlightenment, Rinpoche says, is not separate from ordinary life. the circumstances of our lives are the very things that cause us to wake up.

this morning when i got up to let the dog out, there was my plastic dish on the floor outside my front door with a note. it said; “delish. thanks. a sweet sunday treat.”

i stood there in my pajamas holding the note, my mind still, with quiet appreciation.




20 responses

17 11 2009

Arrived here via Tim on Twitter. Awesome read. I always feel bad for the old people who are alone. You wonder what led them here, why they are alone. It could be any of us really. The idea of ever living in a world where there is nobody who is family, nobody who is bound to give you a helping hand is so frightening. I’m glad you guys are getting along now. He’s probably been alone and had the world against him for so long that it was hard for him not to be cranky at first. But that was so kind of you, and it probably brightened up an otherwise tough Sunday. Since I’m guessing with all his problems, every day is a tough one. How wonderful.

17 11 2009
Constance Casey

Thanks for this. There are unpredictable aspects of aloneness and togetherness. I feel touched that you were open to the changing nature of the situation, and could see him and let him into your heart.

17 11 2009

ONS! My heart is quivering, this is the best yet! I did not know you could get ‘Birds’ custard powder over here?! Used to make it as a wee one.

This writing needs to be posted in NY everywhere, the world!

Maybe make the cute tin into a pennie tin, $200 in no time.

This is what it is all about.


17 11 2009

the custard tin into a penny tin (piggy bank) is the best idea yet!!!! leave it to the British to come up with these things! 😉 thanks for the comment and thanks for reading pippa.

18 11 2009
Danielle LaPorte

my eyes,
awake with tears.
makes me want to
more out.


20 11 2009

This is so sweet.

3 12 2009
Zoey @ Good Goog

What a beautiful post. It is so easy to build up walls but takes so little to bring them down. My mother always said that love was being willing to show someone your asshole. And I’m sure your neighbour appreciates your gesture far more than you could possibly imagine.

3 12 2009
Mahala Mazerov

This is breathtaking, heart-taking. I live a fairly quiet life, *mostly* by choice and I must admit I’m afraid of becoming like this man who has built up such walls and forgotten the human courtesies. Oh but not quite. Through your kindness a little bit of his has been revealed. I want to imagine you two be happily ever after neighbors. But it doesn’t always look like that. Whether it does or not doesn’t change the gift of this exchange for him, for you, and for those of us who read it. Thank you.

4 12 2009
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[…] article of 2009? Bindu Wiles' Unexpected Broken Heart. A Buddhist in Brooklyn on opening your heart and minding your […]

4 12 2009

Lovely lovely lovely. Thank you for the best heart medicine today.

4 12 2009

What a lovely story. I cried at the willingness of your heart to move forward with your impulse of compassion rather than hanging on to the hardness of from being treated badly by another. Your story is a gift to me. Thank you.

4 12 2009
sarah seidelmann

Thank you for this post- brave and confessional in nature (nobody wants to be the guy who is mean to old guy) and a powerful reminder that compassion and love makes everything right again.

4 12 2009
Karin K

a beautiful teaching and a story to cherish.
thank you

4 12 2009

A beautiful view through the window to the soul. Thank you for recirculating love in the world.

4 12 2009
Anita Senior

That was a real sweet story and so sad at the same time.

9 12 2009

Beautiful post.

Ummm this made me get all teary eyed in my little cubicle. It’s a good reminder of how fragile life is and that being kind to others is so important.

Thank you. 🙂

9 12 2009

i also arrived here via twitter and i very much enjoyed the article. it touched my soul. thank you for a wonderful read. it definitely made me stop and think for a while at all the loneliness surrounding us in this world and how a simple gesture can help on so many levels.

10 12 2009

Hi, I just popped in from The Dream Life. The post was heart wrenching for me. I could feel my frustration build up just reading about this little man. I have to say that it’s so hard letting go of our “assholiness” or at least it is for me. I feel really sad now, but a good sad. The kind of sadness I feel when I realize I have been really stupid or unfeeling… (the list goes on). The kind of sadness that demands change. Thanks for this beautiful post, I really appreciate it so much… I will be back, but right now I need to go bake some apples.

29 01 2010
Janice Cartier

Thank you for this. ( via amy palko posterous)

26 02 2010
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