They adored Siddhartha. But when I pick up the chalk & scratch on the board, Dukka: the First Noble Truth. Suffering permeates life, no one looks pleased. After a moment of general grumbling Marie Elena mumbles aloud, I’m not sure that’s true. Then Deegan pipes in, Bullshit deluxe — & that breaks the ice & everyone laughs. But a laugh with an uneasy edge, buzzing the way wires back in the walls sizzle before they’re ready to blow. Then Carlos Padilla leaps to his feet & says, Suffering — no way! That’s just the tiniest dot! Life is joy to the max! Just walking around in bare feet, or drinking an icy Fanta, or sprawling out on the grass doing lunch with a couple of homies, or sweating it out on the basketball court on a hot afternoon . . . Feisty, full of exuberant health & good looks & charm, Carlos, defending our common lot with such good- natured, passionate faith even I can’t help but grin, cheering him on. When he’s done with that funny harangue, half a dozen start clapping. But others remain unconvinced: It’s there on their faces. Some of the older ones in the back of the room, & Sean & Ty — & Ahmad for sure. While the ones filled with the pleased, undauntable juices of life are clapping & laughing, these others smile uneasily, discomforted, silent. . . . One stares at the back of his hand. Another listens politely, stroking her long, gray, beautiful hair. To my left, the clock on the wall is much too insistently ticking away: time to stop all this chatter; time to release the slew of them back into this piercingly rapturous, inexplicable world. This very life — exquisite beyond measure, & everywhere freighted with sorrow. Dukka: the First Noble Truth.