Earnhardt: For One Fan, the Teacher Appears
LIANE HANSEN, host:
It's race day at Florida's famous Daytona Speedway. Six years ago today, Dale Earnhardt died in a crash on the final turn of the final lap of the Daytona 500. For commentator Arlynda Boyer, Earnhardt was more than just a sports legend; he inspired her as a Buddhist.
ARLYNDA BOYER: I may be the only Buddhist who loves stockcar racing. Roaring engines and silent meditation have little in common, but truth and wisdom know no boundaries, and when Dale Earnhardt died, I mourned him both as a race fan and as a Buddhist. Earnhardt ruled the quicksilver kingdom of NASCAR. Seven times champion, he was called The Intimidator for his aggressive style. But I think The Intimidator achieved the Buddhist ideals of presence, compassion and joy.
On the track there is nothing but the car and its driver; the fans are invisible, the environment a mere blur. The driver is alone with his desire, his fear, and his courage, and he must be fully present. Dale carried that presence off the track as well, able to give his full attention to a single person in a room jammed with people waiting to meet him, to let each person feel they've made a friend. Until his death, The Intimidator image kept his compassion hidden, but our authentic self emerges in moments of crisis and more than once he leapt out of a wrecked car to make sure a competitor was all right. For me it was proof of his Buddha chida(ph), the awakened heart of compassion.
In one of his last interviews, Dale said, At the end of the day I just want everyone to be happy. Though he didn't know it, that heartfelt wish for joy, opened and limitless, is the definition of Buddha chida.
When he won the Dayton 500 after 20 years of trying, every team that competed against him lined up to shake his hand. It had never happened before in motor sports and it has never happened since. He said, I hope everyone gets the chance to feel this way just once in their lives. Again, in moments that cannot be rehearsed, we see a person's true nature, and this generosity of spirit was Dale's.
More than anything, Dale Earnhardt taught me joy. Because he risked death every weekend, he loved life all the more, and he lived it fully, fearlessly, with a wide-open spirit. One teaching says Buddha does not always appear as a Buddha, he can appear in a brothel or a gambling house. My Buddha appeared not in robes, but in wranglers with twinkling blue eyes and a passion for fast cars. My Buddha died on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001.
Goodbye, Dale, and thank you.
HANSEN: Arlynda Boyer is a grant writer for the American Shakespeare Center in Stanton, Virginia.
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