An Excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland

We Are the World Blogfest

There is good news out there–YES, REALLY! I just didn’t have time to find it this month. TOO much going on but I won’t bother you with that.

Instead, something I’ve been meaning to do for some time now–post an occasional excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland.  This is from the 2017 Tenth Anniversary Edition. This post does have its good news perspective–about an unorthodox introduction to the faith that has led me to create value over the years.

It’s condensed; two parts from the same chapter, closely related. Emphasis has been added that’s not in the text of the book.

FROM DEATH COMES LIFE. Two weeks after returning from Doug’s funeral, I attended a party. It was like most parties. People were standing around with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, holding forth inanely on topics of little or no consequence. The more intoxicated they got, the more animated (but no more meaningful) the conversation became. Borrrrrinnng. It was Lorna’s party. She was a legal secretary, at the law firm where I clerked. I wasn’t obliged to go, from the self-interest perspective, as would have been the case if the invitation had come from one of the law firm’s partners. I went anyway. How could I turn down free food and booze? It was fortunate that I did. I met Lisa there, a member of Lorna’s carpool. They all commuted from Virginia to the K Street business district in DC.

Amidst the dull peoplescape of the party, Lisa sparkled like a mirrored ball above a dance floor. Who is that person? Why is she so alive, so different from the rest? I had to talk to her. I asked what it was about her that accounted for her obviously higher state of being than the rest of the partygoers. She explained that she was a Buddhist and she chanted.

“Oh, what do you chant—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?” I asked.

“Yes! How did you know that?”

“Somebody told me about it two years ago at Springfield Mall. They invited me to a meeting but I didn’t go. When you said you were a Buddhist and chanted, it just popped into my head.”

“Do you remember who it was?”


“Well, they planted a seed. Once you hear it, you never forget it.”

A seed may have been planted, but in 1975, the ground surrounding and supporting my life was compacted too hard for it to sprout. That was before I had pursued another year and a half of law school without realizing I still didn’t know where I was going. That was before Liz split. Now, with less than a semester to go until the end of law school, Lisa would bring sun and rain to fertile soil. Widening cracks in my self-confidence ran in all directions after Liz left. Until then, I had reassured myself that once I learned enough, my path in life would become obvious. I would know what to do to make the world a better place. But it hadn’t worked out that way. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He might have added that the over-examined life could be very frustrating in its complications and unresolved questions.

. . . .

Lisa and I hit it off right from the start in my soon-to-be-well-lubricated state. Although I didn’t know it at the time, what I perceived was the life-condition of a Buddha. I had no interest in talking further with any of the other partygoers. Compared to Lisa, they were semi-somnambulant. She wound up in my lap, where we blissfully exchanged kisses, heedless of the party continuing around but apart from us. The experience was nothing like what I supposed an orthodox introduction to Buddhism should be, but it was an effective one nonetheless. At the conclusion of the evening, in my intoxicated state, I couldn’t find a pen and paper to write down her phone number.

“I’ll remember your number,” I said, repeating it several times to ensure success.

“I’ll remember your kisses,” she replied, with a happy smile promising more.

It could only have been through a concerted act of will that I did remember the number. I called her the next day. I had to know why she had such a self-confident zest for life. More importantly, I had to know how I could get one. Recognizing my intellectual bent, Lisa gave me a thick book to read the very next time we were together, The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue. The book was a compilation of an extensive discussion between the noted historian Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, the leader of an international Buddhist lay organization (the Soka Gakkai). I read it quickly, ravenously. Three things running through the dialogue impressed me:  pragmatism, humanism and hope.

The romance with Lisa was short-lived. The continuing one came two years later and has lasted for 40 years. You can read more about the start of that relationship in the link to the brief intro to Waiting for Westmoreland here on this site. The book’s hook, if you will.

6 thoughts on “An Excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland

  1. “The more intoxicated they got, the more animated (but no more meaningful) the conversation became.” 😎 Sounds like a few parties I’ve attended.

  2. This is such a wonderful #WATWB post John thank you! Your last words, pragmatism, humanism and hope bring a softening in one of the ventricles of my heart. I’ve just pulled out from my books “The Monk & the Philosopher”, conversations between father and son .. i.e Jean-Francois Revel & Matthiue Ricard. Buddhist thought has much to commend it ..

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