Dinner With Rando



First, a poem I wrote recently!



I committed myself to the light

Through vows

And prayers

And a thousand


Yet you always bring

The night


My room.

Like the wind

You move so quietly.

But under me

You are cool water,

And I am the sun

That warms only

Your surface

While your depths



And cold,


As the autumn


You pass along

To me,


To the click

Of the



–15 June 2024



I’ve been reading a lot about male loneliness, and I guess it’s real.  Interestingly, our Guru, Sri Chinmoy, says that loneliness is just either conscious or unconscious aloofness. I’d have to agree.  With six billion people on the planet to talk to, how can I feel lonely?

I like what the Master says in his book Obedience or Oneness:


“Even if you don’t have two friends, inside me is a friend who is more than enough for you.”

In medieval Christian monasteries, close friendships between the monks were forbidden, the friendship must be with the entire community, and with God.  I respect that position, to treat all people as manifestations of God, and to eschew attachment.  Again, even in my work life, I see I have had coworkers that I was very fond of, we had a bond of affection that had nothing to do with attachment.  Between these few people and me there was a resonance, a deep understanding, and a similarity in outlook.

Since I belong to a sangha, a spiritual family, I have to put up with irritating people.  Sometimes, I find the best thing is just to say “I’m sorry, my fault” until people leave me alone.  They have to feel that they are right, and that I’m totally in the wrong.  Fine!  Just let me have a few seconds of peace.

Again, I live in Chicago, which has a small Centre, and we’re all basically loners so I don’t really have anyone in my community to talk to.  I do call disciples around the world quite often, but I still feel a little isolated.

One of the ways of relieving that isolation is to go to my local gym, which is part of a college.  A lot of the students are academically brilliant, but they don’t really know anything about life.  I remember one boy in the sauna asked me for some life advice and I told him what my great aunt told me: “Don’t get married, don’t have children.”  His face lit up!  He said, “Wow!  That’s what my great-great grandfather said in 1920- ‘Don’t have kids, stay single and live in a hotel.’  It’s been passed down from generation to generation!”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, and I thought it would be cruel to point out the irony, so I just nodded sagely.

I’ve started a program called “Dinner with Rando”.  I often meet young men at the gym or on the subway, the dangerous and infamous Chicago Red Line.  But the Red Line services some of the local colleges.  So I’ll get to strike up conversations with college kids and grad students and we’ll discuss many things and I’ll often share poems with them.  I usually get their contact info and I’ll invite them to dinner at one of several ethnic restaurants: Korean, Thai, Ethiopian or Turkish.

I’ve never met them before- hence they are randos.  “Rando” is a slightly derogatory term coined by Gen Z influencers.  It means people who show up uninvited to parties; parties are often called “bangers” in young persons’ vernacular.

“Hey I saw this total rando at the banger!”  is a phrase I’ve heard more than once.

A rando can also be someone who is out of context.  For example, some guys in the gym were talking about Kendrick Lamar, a gifted rapper whose music tends to be reflective and moody.  I interrupted them to ask if any of them liked Haydn.  They all looked at me as if I was some kind of rando- which I was.

I assuage my loneliness by inviting these college randos out to dinner.  It’s a fun way to get to know them and I also get to share a little bit of Guru’s light with these guys.  On subsequent outings I take them to the Chicago Art Institute or to classical music concerts.  Some of them have even been inspired enough to meditate with me at the Centre!

Often these young men will thank me for listening to them, they don’t really have a lot of people to talk to.  They like the fact that I can just spontaneously make friends with total strangers, and they’re flattered I chose them.

Male loneliness is real, but it’s not unconquerable.

I was eating Ethiopian food with my new friend Aaron, and I asked him if he minded the fact that I call this program “Dinner With Rando”.  And he said he thought it was funny.  Aaron is in a combined med school/PhD program with a grueling study and project schedule: seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, for the duration of the quarter.  On rare occasions he’ll take a day off.  I just have to admire that kind of dedication to reach a goal.  I’ve been spending around eight hours a day trying to find a new job, just knocking on doors and making phone calls and visiting trucking companies and furniture stores and warehouses.  I get discouraged by all the interviews that go nowhere, all the rejection form letters.  But it’s nothing compared to Aaron’s workload.

His dad’ s a medical researcher, and a workaholic, so Aaron follows in his footsteps.  Born in Canada, Aaron relocated to Florida when he was a sophomore in high school.  In Canada, the high school kids were allowed to roam the city during the lunch break, go to a café, and then return after the hour.  But Florida was different!  Due to the prevalence of school shootings, the school was surrounded by a high wall.  There were armed guards at all the exits.  Everyone had to go through a security checkpoint, including an airport security style x-ray.  You could not leave the school until the end of the day, at any time, for any reason.  And the coup de grace?  Every student was gifted with six bathroom passes per class for the entire year!  I wonder if the six coveted bathroom passes were traded about on the black market for cigarettes a la Shawshank Redemption.

“But,” I asked, incredulously, “What if you really have to go and you’ve run out of bathroom vouchers?”

“Just tough it out,” he said.

“They should have at least given you a can, or at the very least let you go relieve yourself by the electrified razor wire fence!” I said.

“No such luck.”


Farm animals have it better than this!

Welcome to America.


After he had told me about how he got into the University’s combined no-sleep PhD/Med School cohort, he asked me about my life.  I told him how I had searched for a teacher for many years, and when I saw Sri Chinmoy at the Philadelphia Peace Concert, long twenty-eight years ago now, my entire being was absolutely flooded with unfathomable joy.  I knew right away I had found my teacher.  I also told Aaron about some of the dreams I had, years before I saw Sri Chinmoy in the physical.  This was when I had just graduated high school, and I was very sad because I had not gotten into the college of my choice.  I felt so empty and barren.  But I had strangely imagistic dreams that seemed to suggest a brighter destiny for me.

I related one dream to Aaron, that I haven’t thought about in years.  In my dream, I lived in a secret compartment in a shopping mall, and the little secret room was separated from the rest of the mall by a pane of one-way glass: I could see all the people shopping, but they couldn’t see me.  My companion was just a simple doll, a plastic baby doll.  I held it to my chest and I loved it.

But one day, I left the compartment, and I left my plastic “baby” and I went out into the wider world.  I explored forests and I sailed on oceans and wandered through endless fields of wildflowers. And then I remembered I had a child, that I had totally forgotten!  And I rushed halfway across the world, through parks and forests and urban jungles, and I ran into the mall and found my way into my secret hideaway, and the baby was lying face-down on the ground, and it was green.  It was dead.  I picked it up and held it, and I cried and cried.  I woke up weeping.

What I did not tell Aaron, but is clear to me now, is that people might not be able to understand my life or my experiences.  I was born with physical disabilities, with a different temperament, and also with an innate longing for something beyond the satisfaction of the senses.  That’s why the window was made of one-way glass.  I can see the world, but I can never fully participate in it.  I have to derive my values from some other source than the market or the mall.  And I can wander the whole world, see all of its wonders, but the only treasure that matters is my baby, my cheap plastic baby, my soul.

In one sense, I am concerned about getting a new job.  My unemployment benefits will run out in the beginning of August.  All I’m getting are rejections.  But in another sense, I don’t care in the slightest.  As long as I’m doing everything I can to get a new assignment, I don’t care what happens to me.  I found Guru in this life!  I have had firsthand experiences of God!  Yes, the outer world is essential, but I don’t have to worry.  I already have what I need.

I explained to Aaron what I felt the dream meant, in a way that was rational and appropriate to a new seeker.  He nodded his head and his face seemed to shine.

As I write this, I realise that these meals with strangers give me the chance to talk about my spiritual life in a way that other people can understand.  And by sharing my journey in this direct way, I remind myself why I came to the spiritual life in the first place.  It restores something in me that maybe I’ve lost touch with over the years- that original sincerity I started with.

I also recited twenty of Guru’s poems for him, including Guru’s great poem on Nirvana: “The Absolute.”

Towards the end of our meal, told him about Guru’s lengthy, extemporaneous comments about Beethoven and Bach, which Aaron especially enjoyed.  He was intrigued that someone like Sri Chinmoy, who never studied their music, could speak on them in such exhaustive detail just from his inner, meditative knowledge.

Anyway, when I take randos out for meals, I pay- at least the first time.  Aaron told me he’ll definitely reciprocate by taking me out in July.  I hope it’s not someplace too fancy, as the ethnic restaurants I love usually only have one light bulb.  But the food’s delicious.  On the way out, I gave him a copy of Beyond Within, and he told me he’ll read it.  I don’t know if he will, but I like Beyond Within to be distributed everywhere.

Next week: Adventures With Rando

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