Know any random people? Neither do I.

You’ll find me in my car—a lot. I listen to NPR—a lot. So, I heard one particular fundraising ad. Yep—a lot.

Certainly the woman must’ve meant well when she said she wanted her old car to go to the local public radio station and not to some random person. But it really struck my heart. Some random person? I’ve never met one, not once in my life. Everyone we pass in the supermarket, on the highway, everywhere we go has triumphs and tragedies, faults and foibles, hidden talents and notable skills.

Of course I know “random” is a thing, a big, popular word for a number of years now. But I’d say it to my kids and besties. I don’t want to hear it on public radio and definitely not about another human being. Words and their usage are so important. 

Do you have any random people hanging around? No one is just some random person. I understand the woman’s point, that she wanted her car to do something good for the community. But I hear her ad over and over and over again, and it really bugs me. If none of us thought of anybody as some random person, oh, what a different world this would be.

As part of my volunteer work with Amnesty International, I used to visit an inmate on San Quentin’s Death Row. The meeting area was kind of like a tiny bus station’s waiting room. I saw mass murderers tenderly hugging and kissing their wives and playing and laughing with their children. Heinous acts? Yes. Heinous damage to other beings? Yes.

I’m not excusing anyone’s behavior, even given the horrific backgrounds that we hear so many inmates have. Other people have faced far worse and did far better with their deeds. But still, even here, I didn’t see any random people.

I went to India to interview the Dalai Lama for a film. Did I end up meeting the him privately? No, but I came back a changed person.

In Bodhgaya, the home of the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha gained his enlightenment, monks circumnavigate the tree because they believe the more they do that, the closer they get to Nirvana. Every time they push someone out of the way, though, does that set them back a few laps or so? LOL. Yes, I kept that thought to myself as I rubbed my sore arms.

One of the tenets of Buddhism is to give alms to the poor. All around the Bodhi Tree’s courtyard were beggars with their seemingly detached arms thrust through the slats in the wall/fence, palms open and reaching. Looking down the wall at just the arms was like something out of a nightmare. But I walked down the wall and looked into the eyes of each being belonging to each extended hand. When they saw me, they actually gasped and backed up. They weren’t used to being looked at. Or seen. I locked eyes with one little girl. I had gone to meet the Dalai Lama, and I met eternity in the eyes of a beggar, and in the eyes of her comrades. I also saw the light of the cosmos in the eyes of a leper after a very moving moment with him in Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

Everyone shines the light of eternity and the cosmos, of course. Sometimes we have to look for it more, though, and sometimes it’s been dimmed…….I was going to say beyond repair, but no one is beyond repair. 

We all have our gifts to give, although some get lost on that journey. And it’s not just inmates…I’m looking at some of you, squabbling politicians and massively rich and brilliant tech bros.

We are all special. Yet no one is better than anyone else, no one is worse than anyone else. Someone’s deeds may be better than another’s, but the value of a human soul is the same for all of us. There’s nothing random about that.