Mustard seed story helps comfort the grieving


May 22, 2000|By William Lowe | William Lowe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Today, a little more than a month after the accidental shooting death of 13-year-old Tanun "Byrd" Wichainaraphong, Byrd and his family no doubt remain in the thoughts and prayers of many Howard County residents.

Byrd's mother and brothers were among the participants from Ellicott City in the Million Mom March promoting gun safety on Mother's Day.

For the Wichainaraphong family, like so many families who have lost loved ones to gun violence and accidental shootings, the march presented an opportunity to channel personal loss into public action. Such action also is part of a long-term personal struggle to make sense of a senseless incident.

Across cultures, religion provides a great source of comfort for people in bereavement. This is certainly true for the Wichainaraphong family - part of the Thai Buddhist community, which has about 100 members in Howard County.

Byrd's funeral service extended over three consecutive nights, in accordance with Thai Buddhist tradition. At the invitation of Bundhit Limpawuchara, a friend of the Wichainaraphong family, I was privileged to attend the first evening of the funeral service, April 24.

The service included a ritual lighting of candles and burning of incense at a shrine to Buddha. Byrd's family and friends placed candles wrapped in carnations on a table beside the boy's open casket.

Among those visibly grieving during the ceremony were Byrd's schoolmates and friends, many of whom were confronting death intimately for the first time.

Four Buddhist monks chanted in Sanskrit at intervals during the service. Afterward, family friend D.P. Malayamanexplained to me the meaning of the chants, which entailed extending to Byrd merit toward either becoming free of the cycle of birth and rebirth or gaining a better rebirth.

In the weeks after the service, I have spent some time researching Buddhist views on death. In my readings, I discovered "The Parable of the Mustard Seed," a Buddhist story that offers consolation to the bereaved.

The story had a consoling effect on me, both in coming to terms with the tragic death of a 13-year-old boy and in accepting the loss of my mother, who died of cancer in December. I offer a brief retelling of the story here in the hope that it might have a similar effect on some of my readers.

A woman who is grieving inconsolably over the death of her son carries the boy's corpse to Buddha. She has heard of Buddha's healing powers and hopes he might cure her son of death. Buddha tells the woman that a few grains of mustard seed will serve as a remedy. Buddha stipulates that the remedy will be effective only if the seeds come from a household in which no member has ever died.

The grieving mother travels from house to house only to discover that every household has been touched by death. Gradually, she recognizes that Buddha's remedy is the acceptance of the connection between life and death. She perceives that her desire for herself and those she loves to escape death is the underlying source of her suffering. Once death is accepted in these terms, it loses its power to inflict pain, and the grieving mother began to heal from the loss of her son.

Eagle Scout

Gregory Rizzoof Boy Scout Troop 944 recently became the troop's 55th Eagle Scout. Gregory, whose Eagle Service Project involved landscaping the Patapsco Middle School grounds, was recognized May 19 at an Eagle Court of Honor at Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City.

Hollifield Pride

A group of fourth-grade pupils at Hollifield Station Elementary School recently had an unusual learning experience.

As a reward for their participation in "Maryland Pursuit," they earned a trip aboard the Pride of Baltimore II while the ship was docked in the Inner Harbor. Maryland Pursuit is a Trivial Pursuit-based game in which all questions focus on Maryland history.

The visit included a demonstration of the raising and lowering of sails by the Pride crew and instruction in the basics of navigation.

Thursday will be a busy evening at Hollifield Station Elementary School. The PTA meeting at 6 p.m. will include the election of next year's board and a presentation on food allergies by Alyson Coffey.

From 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Hollifield Station will hold its third annual Enrichment Fair. The fair will feature schoolchildren presenting findings from their yearlong investigations of real-life problems. The school's science fair will run concurrently with the Enrichment Fair.

Information: 410-313-2550.

Scholarship winner

Mayfield Woods Middle School sixth-grader Anni Wheatley-Heckmanis among the recipients of the 2000 Ben Carson Scholarship awards.

Anni, who has a grade point average of 3.75, received an award for academic excellence, citizenship and service to the community. The award includes $1,000 invested toward Anni's college education.

She is one of 50 winners out of 300 nominees in the Washington, Maryland and Delaware areas.

Enrichment fair

Centennial Lane Elementary School's annual Enrichment Fair will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow in the school cafeteria. The fair showcases the projects of students enrolled in enrichment programs at Centennial Lane.

Information: 410-313-2800.

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