I flew to Providence, Rhode Island last December to hear some rock and roll. I had never been there before. I stayed for one night. On the morning of the second day, I took a train from Providence to Boston to follow the band to their next gig. I arrived on New Year’s Eve, and the whole city was full of happy people awaiting midnight. It was there I met, befriended and roomed with a Zen monk/Harvard doctoral student named Jon.
I intended to spend very little time at my hostel (which was Jon’s humble studio apartment), but my host was so erudite, so genuinely interesting, and so luminous and amazing that I ended up listening to him talk for two and a half hours. That was bad news for Tom Wolff, a friend I hadn’t yet met, who was waiting around so we could meet up at the Downtown Crossing station. But Jon’s eloquent and irreverent way of dissecting philosophy and religion and death and money and women and so on was so captivating that I completely forgot about everything else I was supposed to be doing.
For the next two nights, I would get in late and immediately take a hot shower to bring feeling back to my body. When I got out, Jon would take his headphones off, put down his pen, and talk with me into the early hours of the morning while our third roommate, a quiet, studious guy from Germany, slept soundly on the other side of the tiny room.
On my last day there, I left for the airport at 4 am. It was chillier than any morning I could remember. Jon woke when I did and walked me through the darkness so he could lock the deadbolt behind me. I had told him, the night before, about the cat-related errand I had in Baltimore that afternoon, and as I turned to leave he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “I really do think it’s all going to work out for you.” I thanked him, hugged him as though we’d known each other for a decade, and stepped out into the winter gloom where a taxi was waiting to take me away.
And then, a few weeks ago while I was in California, two sociopaths with homemade bombs savagely murdered and maimed hundreds of perfectly innocent people in the great city of Boston. When I heard the news, I thought of Jon. I got in touch with him as soon as I could, and he told me he had been three blocks away when the first blast went off. People were screaming in the distance, he said, and no one around him really knew what to do or where to go. I guess when you have front row seats to pure evil, it’s hard to immediately process how something so senseless and nihilistic could possibly happen.
Jon told me he was safe, but a little rattled. He was mostly staying inside, waiting for the chaos to die down a little. He concluded his message to me with a quote by Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi mystic, and I don’t think he could have picked a better line:
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
You’re a cool dude, Jon. You’re one of the few people I know who can find the good side in everything—even when it seems completely impossible. Please stay alive for a long time.