Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director, Sanctuary Institute
I was a little harried, as I always am when boarding a plane toting a shoulder bag, dragging a roller bag and balancing a cup of coffee. As I made my way to my aisle seat, I noticed the young man who would be sharing the trip in the center seat next to mine. I took one look at his face, and snapped from “harried business traveler” mode to “worried mom/assessing social worker” mode. This young, Black man looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, traveling alone, with two puffy black eyes, a scar on his cheek, a gash on one eyebrow and a matching one on his chin. I took my seat and tried to figure out how to open a conversation with him while scrolling through my mental rolodex of referrals and resources I could offer him once I figured out who had hurt him and what he would need.
When the pilot told us we were 12th in line for takeoff, and that we would be on the runway for some time, he sighed loudly. I saw my chance. “Is Tampa home or are you visiting?” I asked. He told me that he was from Clearwater and headed home. I asked what had brought him to NY, and he pointed to his two swollen eyes and said “work.” I asked what on Earth he did that resulted in his face looking like tenderized steak. He smiled and told me that he had been on HBO the night before and had won his welterweight boxing match after going 12 rounds. Turns out he is 24, and his name is Keith Thurman.
We spent the rest of the flight talking about our respective careers, his plans for expanding his role as a performer to promoter, the finances of boxing, my work with Sanctuary, ANDRUS and kids in residential care, my kids, his girlfriend’s pursuit of a career as a poet, his efforts to support her dreams, his mom’s concerns (and mine) about head injuries from sports like football and boxing, gay marriage, school bullying, the importance of mentors and of course, religion. Toward the end of the flight, he shared that although he is Christian, he also practices meditation through Tibetan Buddhism. We drifted into a conversation about our knowledge of Buddhism and its resonance with our lives. He reached under the seat, and pulled out his worn copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “Can I read you my favorite chapter?” he asked. “I’d love that,” I said. He read softly but powerfully these words that were familiar, as I had read them years ago and still connect with their strength. We sat silently after he read and as the plane passed from clouds to Earth. I laughed at the absurdity of my assumptions. When my feet touched pavement in Tampa, I had gone from “harried business traveler” past “worried mom/assessing social worker” to “head lined up with heart, fully connected to soul and world” mode. It was exactly what I needed, but least expected when I sat down. Thanks, Keith.