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Apr 15
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The Buddy System

Where the peacock lives

Where the peacock lives

by Cynthia MacKay, Los Angeles

It is often lamented that we are less likely to know our neighbors in a big city like Los Angeles. Yet sometimes we feel profoundly connected to these almost-strangers. Cynthia MacKay writes here about the loss of her neighbor to gang violence earlier this week in her neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.

The peacock is back, I heard it’s high pitched whine last week. It means spring has arrived in my neighborhood.

There was this young guy in my neighborhood who I would always see riding his bike. Up and down my alley, around the block, over to the Korean Grocer on the corner, back to the alley. For years I’ve seen him. Sometimes alone and sometimes with other kids. I never talked to him, we would just say hello when we saw each other. My alley’s pretty rough, there’s all kinds of sketchy business going on down there. My garage is in the alley and I park my motorcycle in my garage, often late at night after work, so I was always happy when I saw this guy on his bike in the alley.

Cynthia's alley

Cynthia’s alley

I was also always happy when I saw him around the neighborhood because he became a reference point for my sanity. What I mean is, often I wonder if things are real or not. Things, places, me, you, it, us, them. I have such vivid dreams that sometimes I wonder if they are real and this isn’t. Sometimes I just can’t quite distinguish what’s what and I’m ok with that.

So I always thought, this odd kid on the bicycle all the time, is he real?

I decided that if I ever saw him on his bicycle in any other part of my world, the world, I would know that I was making him up. Like if I saw him riding his bike in San Francisco or Paris, I would know that he didn’t really exist and that I should get a check up. We single people need these “buddy systems”. He was my buddy.

I never wanted to talk to him for that reason, I didn’t want to make him real. I wanted to keep him in that gray place, secretly hoping he did show up in India or Pasadena, that would mean anyone could show up anywhere at anytime, like my dead father or my beautiful teacher. Waking magic.

A week ago Monday there were rapid fire gun shots in the alley, eight shots it sounded like, brief pause, three more shots. Screaming, sirens, choppers, more sirens, the peacock, the many heavy footsteps of running, flashlights, screaming and more screaming. The choppers seemed to be peering into my windows, so close.

My buddy had been shot. From about 10 feet away. 11 times. He was sitting on his front porch texting, his sister was inside making milkshakes for the family, the mother was doing a sewing job, the father and two other brothers were watching television.

His sister, Alejandra, was sure when she ran out that she saw Hugo’s heart beating. She insisted to the paramedics that he was alive, they told her he wasn’t but she kept insisting. They put their stethoscope on her ears and let her listen, his heart wasn’t beating, it was her heart she was hearing. He was dead after the first shot hit his head.

the memorial

the memorial

A memorial was quickly erected and I took flowers and money and a card and very few words in the wrong language, not enough of anything. I stayed with the family for a little while talking about Hugo and the sister translated for the parents as other neighbors pooled around and offered more flowers. There were people coming and going for days, bringing flowers and words and money and tall candles. The memorial has grown into an extraordinary display of colors and richness set against a rough alley with the chalk circles from the gun casings still in front of their little house.

Hugo was only 23-years-old. Not a gang member. I called the police to find out what the f%&* is going on in the alley and they told me Hugo was a tagger but not a gang member. From what I could understand an artsy kind of tagger. They told me that he was killed by a gang member but that it was a case of mistaken identity, the Clover Gang had killed the wrong guy.

Yesterday was the Mass, a Catholic Mass at our local Catholic Church that I didn’t know existed. There must have been over 200 people there. Families with their children, people I recognize from the neighborhood, Korean Grocer Guy, Lady With Two Boxers, Ice Cream Truck Guy, the only one missing from my daily neighborhood portrait was Guy On His Bike.

The Mass was all in Spanish so I understood very little but we sang songs and put our hands in the air with our palms up and knelt, stood, sat, stood, knelt. It was my first Catholic Mass and toward the end the Priest said something and everyone turned to one another and shook hands, one neighbor to the next we all shook hands with each other. I found out later that we were making an aspiration of peace for all, it was beautiful. There were many tears and smiles and the whole thing felt like one big open beating heart, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what was being said, it spoke in all the other senses.

I still love my neighborhood. Every single thing about it. The Peacock who sings in spring, the sounds of the kids playing at the elementary school next door, the corn guy who honks an old horn like a clown at a party… even the choppers and sirens remind me I’m home.

I don’t love that the media didn’t tell the story of Hugo Torres. I don’t love that this happens more than we ever hear about in my neighborhood on the east side. I don’t love the guns. There is definitely work to be done in my neighborhood. We have all become tragically aware of the urgency of that work.

It turns out that I am the Lady Who Runs. Lady Who Runs hopes to see Guy On His Bike again sometime.

Hugo Torres, 23-years-old, may he rest in peace.

MacKay_CynthiaCynthia MacKay has been a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche for over 20 years. She has traveled extensively through Asia receiving teachings from many other renowned Buddhist teachers, including the 17th Karmapa. Cynthia is now following in her teacher’s footsteps by running marathons. She is also actively involved in teaching meditation in the LA Men’s County Jail and at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Malibu.

Read more on the LA Shambhala Times Blog here.

Interested in how Shambhala is engaging in this dialogue further? Click here for more information about the upcoming event in Chicago called Imagining Peace.

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3 responses to “ The Buddy System ”
  1. Kristine McCutcheon
    Apr 17, 2013

    So real – thank you Lady who runs.

  2. Gabrielle E
    Apr 15, 2013

    Cynthia … How vividly you bring to life the unfolding color and humanity of one street (or alley), in one city, on this tilting spinning planet. Thank you for your poignant tribute to Hugo, for giving us a window into your neighborhood, and your own heart. Would that many many more of us would just look and see others as members of this human family, and much less often as rivals, targets, strangers.

  3. Thank you. I apresheate the way you wrote this it is very real and personal without putting a particular spritual or shambhala spin on it. thank you I am reminded of the vastness of sadness and goodness exciting in this world.

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