The story goes that the young prince, Siddhartha Gautama, was kept within the palace walls by his father, the king. One day, satiated by his comfortable life and with the youthful spirit of curiosity and risk, the prince slipped out to see the world beyond. Barely along the road, he saw one very different from the bubble in which he lived, with a shock probably not dissimilar from what most of us would encounter in the places from which so many flee or survive in fear and want.
The prince passed a man so strange looking that he barely seemed human. “That is an old man,” his charioteer explained. “All men age.” So shocked was the prince he had to return to his grounds to recover, but his appetite was whetted for later excursions. On different occasions he saw a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic, barely clothed, without possessions. He recognized his destiny, and mine, and yours.
The pain he felt knowing that despite his youth, power, and wealth, his life–now appearing so brief–would end with a withered diseased body decaying in a shroud forced him on a search to end his suffering. And one day he realized that his fear of his fear of the inevitable was the source of his restlessness. And so, it seems, for Siddartha, as can be true for us, illness, aging, and disability are supports for our practice to be here, now, living rather the actual facts life.