Julia was no one’s beloved friend. Imagine that. Her family was in Oregon and they didn’t know that she had already spent most of her short life trying to kick drugs. And she didn’t want them to know. I first met her at an NA meeting [Narcotics Anonymous]. I had been clean for about two years. But Julia kept slipping. Kicking and slipping.

Meditation was part of our NA meeting. Even before that, in rehab, they taught meditation. I started going to a Buddhist center close to the church where we had the meetings. When Julia was clean, she liked to come to the meditations. When she was using, she’d never come. I once asked her why. She told me that meditation was “too naked.” But she had a little coral Buddha around her neck and she never took it off.

Over time, there were three of us—not counting Julia—who went to the meetings and then to the meditation. We all knew Julia. We had lent her money, brought her to rehab, listened to her stories, her lies, excuses, denials. None of us really liked her. Even if she had cleaned up her act, I don’t think I would have liked her. I certainly never wanted to date her.

When she got really sick there was no one to take care of her. Me and another guy, Daryl, had actually taken bodhisattva vows by that time. We vowed to put other sentient beings before ourselves. We had made commitments to the path of compassion. Did I know what I was saying? How could I? I could hardly take care of myself. It was Debbie, who came to the meditation with us, but who hadn’t taken any vows, who said, in this very matter-of-fact way, “We have to take care of Julia.” And Daryl and I just kind of fell into line and said, “Okay.”

It was Debbie’s idea to talk to the meditation teacher. And he was so happy for us! He said we were blessed to have this golden opportunity. He told us that we would never get Buddha’s teaching until we truly understood impermanence. Of course, none of us had to be reminded that AIDS could just have easily picked us.

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