A Buddha In My Junior High School
You probably have heard the story of Prince Siddhartha who grew up to become the Buddha. He was raised in a royal mansion in India. As he grew and experienced life, he gained great wisdom and followed a path toward enlightenment. But I was wondering what his life would have been like if he grew up here in Berkeley. What would his life have been like if he was just “Michael Johnson” or maybe “He” was a “She” named “Mika Suzuki” in my 8th grade class. (Get ready… I have a vivid imagination).
Just the other day, Mika was chatting with a group of her friends on Zoom. She and her friends also chat by group-texting and they sometimes meet on Netflix-party sites where they can watch movies together. Since the shelter-in-place restrictions started many months ago, they have not seen each other in person so these online-chat programs have become their primary form of social interaction. They all seem to agree that this is not as much fun as meeting at the ice-cream parlor after school but it is still fun and enjoyable to talk to friends. They even note that the video program allows them to see smiles and facial expressions that they cannot see if they were forced to wear masks like they do when they go to the store with their parents.
This chat session seemed to start like all the ones that preceded it…. Complaining about the lack of activities and travels caused by this awful virus. Perhaps “complaining” is not the right word because they all seemed to understand that voicing their displeasure and laying blame on some other country or the government of our country or any other person was not going to make it get better any faster. Still, they clearly felt the situation was beyond their control and they expressed their unhappiness with the situation.
Vivianna was the first to talk about a semi-positive experience. “Last weekend,” she said, “my whole family got into the car and we just went for a long drive around the park. We just got in the car and drove even though we had nowhere to go but it felt good to be out of the house. I mean, we weren’t exactly outside…we were still four people inside a car with the doors closed but we enjoyed the change of scenery.”
Michelle said “That would have made me get car-sick.”
“Great, Michelle. Thanks for the bright and cheerful review,” laughed Parker…and others laughed with him. Someone said “at least we can still laugh together.”
“Right,” said Mika. “Being together…even just together on Zoom, feels good to me.”
“Yeah, said Vivianna. “And it was interesting because when we are at home, everything is so routine and boring that we really don’t talk much but riding in the car seemed to change our focus and we talked about all the stuff that is happening now…stuff outside of our home…kind of outside of our little bubble.”
“Like what?” Someone asked.
“Well, like all the stuff in the news about police shooting Black people.”
“Yeah, that sucks” said Miguel. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that. I mean, my family is Mexican and I have friends who are Chinese and Vietnamese and Japanese and they all say that the police sometimes look at them like they did something wrong when they were just walking down the street doing nothing… but when was the last time you saw a bunch of Vietnamese people organizing a protest march?”
Michelle spoke next. “There is really a lot to talk about now that we have all day to sit and think about what is going on. I mean the stuff you’re talking about includes White Privilege and how about Money Privilege? How about those people that bribed their kids into fancy colleges even though their kids don’t get grades as good as mine?”
“That’s sort of funny” laughed Debbie. “I mean they made big-money illegal payments and then got fined lot’s more money and now their kids can’t even go to college because all the colleges are closed just like our high-school.”
“Maybe ironic would be a better word than funny” Leslie quipped. “Like now all those rich kids are sitting at home doing their school work on their computers just like us. There’s not much difference between being rich-and-bored than being just-us-and-bored.”
“That’s an important observation” said Mika. “The pandemic has made us all a little more aware that we are all just humans with a lot more qualities in common than different.”
“Wishful thinking” shouted Armanmdo. “All the BLM protests are about how extremely different some of us feel.”
“Wow! Thanks for the insightful critique” Mika replied. “I was focused on how the COVID Virus treats us all as equals but I guess I overlooked how the current political situation is making some differences worse instead of better. And the pandemic and the political stress are definitely connected. Armando, your comment is really thought provoking. You made me think more broadly and now I am more aware of the world around me.”
“Thanks…didn’t mean to be a downer. Let’s get this conversation back on a happy path.” Armando almost sounded apologetic. He really wanted a more cheerful and fun sort of Zoom-group. “Hey. What do you guys think about online school, anyway?”
“I thought you wanted to talk about something that is fun” came the group-response.
“Well, we do some small-group discussions in some of our classes and I really enjoy working with my friends” said Denise.
“OK… online school has some good points but overall, I find it’s a little bit like a prison cell inside my computer. I’m still sitting here alone listening to a teacher who doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself or himself much either.”
“Michelle here” said Michelle.. using the proper Zoom rules for announcing herself before speaking. “I guess the online school system is OK for teaching subject matter but we all seem to agree that the human contact part is totally lost.”
“Fun Loving Human Being here” Armando announced using the proper Zoom-intro and still trying to get the conversation back onto a positive track. “Has anybody here seen the new Disney remake of Mulan?”
There was a chorus of replies with everyone talking at the same time. Though a little chaotic, it seemed like everyone enjoyed talking about the movie.
Mika interjected “It seems like everyone enjoyed the movie but we seem to enjoy talking to each other about the movie even more than watching it.”
“That’s kind of what I was trying to say” said Armando. “We can make ourselves feel depressed if we talk about some of the problems with the COVID restrictions and the world problems or we can make ourselves feel happy if we talk about fun topics.”
“Yeah.. sort of,” agreed Mika. “I mean, we really don’t need to feel depressed about the world situation. We just need to observe it and understand it and talk to each other about it. We need to be self-aware. Then we can do the same with happy subjects like the movie and we can all share the happiness with each other. Being human, as Armando calls it, and being self-aware and connecting with each other is what really matters.”
“I think that is what was so nice about riding in the car with my family,” said Vivianna. “We don’t talk that much at home but I really enjoyed talking with my parents in the car.”
“And that’s why I like the group discussions in our online class-time” said Denise. “It’s not that the subject matter is so much better in group discussions. It’s that I like talking to my friends about the subject matter better than I like just listening to the teacher lecture about it.”
“So human contact and sharing ideas is a theme here,” said Mika. “That’s why these video chats are so fun.”
“Parker here,” said Parker. “Just want to thank Mika for turning our fun-session into a therapy-session.” Parker laughed at his own witticism and others laughed too.
“Well, Parker,” replied Michelle, “maybe we all need a little therapy. I mean we have been talking about the BLM protests, the lack of person to person contact, the frustration with online school, White privilege, and our sense of boredom due to the pandemic. Honestly, I am feeling a little depressed.”
“Mika here… I think it’s actually good that we are all a little upset but I wouldn’t exactly call it depressed. There are a lot of troubling things going on around us and it is good that we are in touch with our world and our surroundings and our feelings. But that is actually an appropriate and healthy reaction to the situation and not a symptom of depression. If we were all happy about these things I would say we were out-of-touch-with-reality. The trick is to understand what is real without losing control of our own emotions. We can still find things, like talking to each other, that bring joy and a sense of security to all of us. That is what this conversation is supposed to do for everyone.
“Parker here. OK Mika. This time it is my turn to thank you for the positive critique like you thanked Armando earlier for his comments. This time, you made me think about my silly remark about your therapy session but now I see that you really do see the world through clear eyes. Thanks for your reply and please forgive my light-hearted but shallow remark about therapy.
“Apology accepted” she replied.
“Hey guys it’s getting late, said Armando. I gotta zoom… I mean I gotta leave this chat.”
“OK” said Mika. “Next time we will talk about music, movies, sports, and learning how to cook.
“Michelle here saying bye for now and thanks for chatting.”
“Mika here saying bye for now and thanks for listening and thinking.”
Shannon Davidson: Author
Tomoko Davidson, Co-Author and Editor