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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Loved ones celebrate 51st birthday of David Henry Breaux, ‘The Compassion Guy’

Breaux’s friends and family celebrated his life and legacy 

 

By CHRIS PONCE — city@theaggie.org

 

On Monday, Feb. 26, nearly 20 people shared Boston cream pie as they celebrated the 51st birthday of David Henry Breaux, also known as “The Compassion Guy.” The event, which was hosted by Maria Breaux, David’s older sister, was meant to celebrate his life and his vision of compassion for Davis. 

“Today’s event, to me, just means honoring, not only David’s birthday he would have been 51 today but also his message of compassion,” Maria said. “Knowing that he would have wanted us to be joyful today and not despair because of everything going on. He actually, after a while, wasn’t big on celebrating his birthday, but he was big on anything that reminded people of compassion, so that’s what this event is about.”

David was one of three victims of last year’s serial stabbings. He dedicated his life to finding an answer to one question: What is compassion? At the event, birthday balloons were placed behind the “Compassion Bench” where David would sit every day as he asked people for their definition of compassion.

Maria shared that Boston cream pie was her brother’s favorite dessert and that whenever she has it, she is reminded of him “instantly.” Growing up, the two of them didn’t eat healthy food often due to their environment. They discovered their love for the pie once they both were students at Stanford University.

“We both went to Stanford University and for us dorm food was actually a step up, like a huge step up from what we were having growing up,” Maria said. “When he was at Stanford, I visited him and his dorm, and we shared that love of [the] pie. When I think of it, I think of him. I think of coming together and doing something joyful together. I think of expressing love through giving away things to each other or sharing things with each other.”

Aly Tikka, a friend of David, woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Monday to drive four hours from Los Angeles to attend the birthday celebration. She’s currently staying with people she’s never met before who are other friends of David. These friends also hosted David in the past, as he was unhoused in Davis. 

“All of these people that knew David but didn’t know each other had now come together and now we all know and love each other,” Tikka said. “We support each other like a family.”

As an example, Tikka noted that someone she hadn’t known before offered to host her for an entire week “just because” she knew David.

Tikka described David as her “teacher.” She was a philosophy student in college and said that most of what she’s learned outside of the classroom was from him. 

Tikka’s best friend who went to UC Davis worked for a homeless shelter and was then introduced to David. According to Tikka, David was voluntarily unhoused and he had been offered housing many times before. 

 “[David’s friends] did offer him their spare room in Sacramento and David said ‘no,’ Tikka said. “David had many opportunities for free housing and he said no.”

Tikka said that this was because it brought him more peace to be outdoors in nature than indoors. She said that she didn’t understand this until recently when she lived in a Zen monastery for three months. 

Tikka has a background in Tibetan Buddhism. She said that compassion is the most important thing in this branch of Buddhism and is what caught her attention about David. 

“When I walked by, I saw a Stanford grad who gave up all of his possessions to be homeless and to ask about compassion all day, every day. It really reminded me of the holiest Tibetan monks I’ve ever met,” Tikka said. “That made me stop and start to ask him questions and then I realized that he was his own deal, but he was as profound as the wisest people I’ve ever met.”

Once Tikka moved to Los Angeles, she and David would call on Facebook Messenger every Thursday. She said David was a man of his word and that he was “on time with everything.” 

“One day he just didn’t show up and obviously I knew that he was unhoused and it’s really rough being on the streets,” Tikka said. “So my mind jumped to his phone dying […] it was just highly unusual for David to not show up. Then the next day, I was scrolling through Facebook, and then I saw the news that he was slain in Central Park.” 

Vice Mayor Bapu Vaitla attended the event and discussed the responsibility he felt for what happened last spring. 

“In David’s case, perhaps if we’d been able to provide the kind of housing that he wanted, [it] wouldn’t have happened,” Vaitla said. “Perhaps if we [hadn’t] failed [in] mental health gaps, this wouldn’t have happened”

When asked, Maria said that it wasn’t until her brother passed that she fully understood the extent of the people he impacted.

“He never indicated,” she said. ”He didn’t keep it a secret, but he did not brag. He was not self-serving. […] So, since his passing, I’ve again been blown away by the impact that he had on tens of thousands of people.”

Maria continued about the grieving process she’s been through over the last year. 

“Now I understand the words ‘I never thought this would happen to me,’” she said. “Just kind of sitting with that, and letting whatever motions happen, happen and not feeling ashamed of them and knowing that it’s going to be a process and it’s going to take some time.”

Tikka does not remember what she told David when he asked her “What is compassion?” However, she said that his definition of compassion changed her life. David’s definition of compassion was, “recognizing unconditional love,” according to Tikka. Maria also shared her definition of compassion.

“Compassion, to me, means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding their story, and not having snap judgments that don’t do justice to who they are at their core,” Maria said.

She shared how people can honor her brother’s legacy of compassion.

“We can honor David’s legacy by trying to live as compassionately as possible,” Maria said. “You know, we have days [where] that’s harder to do and we have our blinders on. We have our own pain [and] our own experiences that we’re contending with, but that would be my message. Try to live as compassionately as you can.”

 

Written by: Chris Ponce — city@theaggie.org

 

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