The saying goes something like “little changes can make a big difference.” When facing big problems in our lives, we often forget that advice and look to big, grand solutions to those problems.
When one man was fed up with the dilapidated condition of the street corner across his street, he made a small change, not imagining the kind of big difference it would lead to…
Dan Stevenson lived in the Eastlake neighborhood of Oakland, California. It wasn’t the most desirable neighborhood, especially because of one persistent problem. For all the years that Dan had been living there, people had used the corner across the street from his house as a dumping site…
Appealing For Help
Dan had tried a number of things to get the dumping to stop, including talking to city officials. They put up a sign reminding people about the fines for dumping but because no one was around to catch people in the act, nothing changed. Old mattresses, couches, and other garbage kept showing up on the corner…
Worse Than Just Messy
But more than just making a mess, the dumping brought with it an element of danger. “The corner was constantly being filled up with mattress and couches and junk and there was some drug usage, a lot of graffiti, people just standing around doing nothing—just depressing,” said Dan.
What To Do?
Dan and his wife Lu had had enough. They knew that in order to change the way people treated the corner, they would have to change the way people thought about it. The only question was how. As they wracked their minds for what to do, Dan suddenly had an idea…
While Dan and Lu are not religious at all, they do believe in the power of positive and negative energy. They wanted to put a symbol of positivity on the corner that would begin to make a change.
“If I’d have thought Christ would’ve pulled it off—” Dan said jokingly, before interrupting himself. “Except Christ is so controversial with people. Buddha is a neutral dude. When Ace Hardware is carrying Buddha, it’s pretty neutral.” So he picked up a small concrete Buddha statue and put it on the corner…
Dan didn’t expect there to be some miraculous change. In fact, he had “little faith in humanity” and expected nothing much at all to happen. He half expected that someone would steal the statue or cover it in graffiti.
Instead, something positive did start to happen. One morning, when he walked out of his door, Dan noticed an apple sitting by the statue. He didn’t think anything of it until he saw an orange by the statue a few days later. It seemed that someone in his neighborhood was leaving offerings…
Over time, the offerings became more and more regular. Then one day, Dan was visited by one of his neighbors, a Vietnamese woman named Vina Vo, and her son Cuc Vina who spoke no English but through her son’s translation, she made a request of Dan.
Easy to Say Yes
Vina wanted Dan’s permission to care for the Buddha statue. Dan, of course, had no problem with that. If they wanted to do something to improve the Buddha and, by extension, the corner, that would be perfect…
Make It Nice
“In our religion, Buddha is not supposed to be on the ground,” said Cuc, so the first thing his family did was build a platform for him to sit on. They cleaned up the area around him and began to sweep up daily. From there, they devoted even more effort into making the statue look nice.
Vina and her family took the white concrete statue of Buddha and painted it. They gave him a hue to his skin, black hair, red lips and a golden robe. After that was done, they turned their attention to creating a proper shrine for the statue…
A Proper Home
Vina’s husband built a small house, just a bit bigger than a child’s playhouse, around the statue. They built an even taller platform for the Buddha so he was a few feet off of the ground. They installed a tiny set of speakers behind the statue from which chants are projected. They even installed a surveillance camera.
But Vina and the other Vietnamese people of the neighborhood are mindful not to tread on any toes with their improvements. Each time they make a change to the Buddha or his surroundings, Vina or another neighbor comes to Dan and asks for the permission of the man who is still technically its owner…
“It’s your Buddha, I’m out of this now,” Dan always tells them. Regardless, someone always brings him a plate of fruit or a Vietnamese delicacy as a thank you after the work is done. “It’s delicious. I mean, I eat it,” Dan said, sheepishly. “But it’s a bit embarrassing.”
Different Crowd on the Corner
Each day, Vina and other Vietnamese Buddhist women from the neighborhood started meeting at the shrine at 7 am. They dressed in pale blue prayer clothes and chanted, prayed, and gave offerings. At any given time, piles of apples and oranges could be found at the Buddha’s feet next to burning incense…
The tiny shrine even had a name plaque reading “Phap Duyen Tu,” which means “tranquility.” Vina and her family acted as the shrine’s primary caretakers, sweeping up each day, minding the offerings of fruit, flowers, bowls of black-eyed peas, and choco-pies. They shooed away stray cats and, occasionally had to ask homeless people not to sleep inside the tiny home built for Buddha.
Everyone in the neighborhood loved the shrine. “There’s been a lot of people who come by and maybe they aren’t Buddhist,” Cuc said, “but they stop and talk… Everyone is welcome.” “It’s become this icon for the whole neighborhood,” said Dan. “There’s a lot of people that are not Buddhist that really come and just talk in front of him, they walk their dogs, they stand there—it’s a place where people meet and talk. It’s just cool.”…
World of Difference
If one was to look at the extravagantly cared for street corner now, it would be difficult to imagine it as the dumping site it used to be. “Since the Vietnamese have adopted the space, every morning they come and they clean it, and they sweep it,” said Dan. “It just kind of turned the whole thing around to zero. No more mattresses and no more garbage and no more graffiti and no more hanging out.”
For her part, Vino is immensely thankful to Dan and believes his decision to place the Buddha statue on the corner was divine intervention. Dan is just pleasantly surprised that his idea of placing a positive symbol amidst the negativity worked, saying “It’s like tossing the stone in the pond, you know. It just ripples out.”