A fifteen year old boy sits in his Rabbi’s office. They are discussing his someday entering the Reform Rabbinate. The Rabbi supports the idea and tells him that he would be perfect for the role. The Rabbi reaches over to his overburdened bookshelves and pulls out two volumes. Read these first, the Rabbi says, they are important. The boy takes hold of Alan Watt’s This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen.
The boy is a young man of 17 at the University. He is doing poorly while the war in Vietnam rages and the draft is ramping up. He risks being asked to leave school. He risks winning the draft lottery and being taken into the Army. He is scared.
The young man walks to the Campus Chapel for nothing better to do on a Wednesday evening. The Abbot of the Zen Center is speaking. He is enthralled. He meets with the Abbot after the speech. He bares his fear of the Army, says he does not want to kill, and is afraid he won’t be given conscientious objector status. The Abbot asks him what he really fears, not what he doesn’t want to do. The young man hems and haws. Finally he tells the Abbot that he fears dying in the war. The Abbot smiles, and asks him if he fears dying only in the war or generally. The young man admits the fear is general, enhanced by the war. The Abbot asks the young man why he fears dying. The young man has no answer. They part.
A week later, the Abbot and the young man meet again. The Abbot asks the young man why he fears death, why he will eventually die. The young man is perplexed, but finally says he knows he will die because he was born and birth and death go together. The Abbot smiles and asks the young man if he feared being born. Both smile and step out into the warm autumn evening, bowing one to the other as they part.
P.S.: The young man, still worried about the draft and war, enlists in the Air Force. He never leaves the U.S., and much later in life, writes a blog.