Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Caught sight of three Tibetan lamas on the street today

-- all saffron-robed and humbly sandalled. They were standing in front of the BART station, looking lost. It brought to mind a time when Bill -- a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism and involved in studies at the Padma Ling Center on the borders of the campus. He'd learned that two refugee lamas were visiting from Dharmsala and asked Tarthang Tulku, Rinpoche, if it would be possible for us to take them sight-seeing that weekend. They'd been at the center for several weeks, but had never been outside the ivied walls. Bill had learned that they would be returning to India within 24 hours.

In a rare act of trust Rinpoche agreed and we started to make plans. It was September, and the Rennaisance Faire was in full bloom across the bay in Marin. That would be a wonderful event to share with them. It was colorful and nicely-peopled, and the weather was warm and heavy with approaching autumn.

We drove to Padma Ling at around ten, and picked up our guests (who spoke no English and we spoke no Tibetan). It would be an interesting day.

Before we could take off for the countryside, Bill needed to cash a check at the local supermarket -- a huge bustling Consumer's Co-op in the center of Berkeley. I sat in the car with the two quiet and wide-eyed lamas to wait for him to return.

When I saw how excited they were at the sight of people with heavily-laden shopping carts with all kinds of wonders therein, I decided that we should not wait in the car, but take the opportunity to go inside so that they could experience this thoroughly western Saturday afternoon ritual. We did so, and the first sight my two guests encountered was just inside the doorway -- a display featuring those huge white plastic eggs that held Leggs! They pointed, and I laughed! How on earth could I ever explain what kind of bird produced these strange products, and what on earth did all that have to do with the pictures of women that shown on the cardboard display?

Thought about those dear men today, and wondered where on the planet they are now? I'm sure that they're teaching somewhere in Canada or in Switzerland where many of their brothers are now living.

As I drove on today, I was reminded of just what it as that I missed about not living in Berkeley -- those few short miles away. It's the cosmopolitan character of the city. It really HAS managed to retain that tossed salad kind of lifestyle. There's little self-conscious "pot-melting." Instead, there is a strong value placed on the recognition of differences, and that those differences are presumed to add to the whole. The differences are celebrated! I'd forgotten that, and of how easily my own "differences" slipped into the background until evoked by some cultural trigger.

I met this full-blown later in life, when I became aware of the Hip Hop generation through an exposure to those exciting young people through the Upper Room in Oakland. Rarely did I hear words like "diversity" or "multi-culturalism" during those years. These young internationalists simply assumed those goals of the generations before them had been achieved, and rather than being a hope -- they were by then simply their state of being. I have great hope for the world to be. All one has to do to see it fully formed is to spend an extended period with those now in their 20s and 30s and in the performing arts, especially among the poets.

This weekend I'll attend the Choreographers Festival in San Francisco. I'll see Robert Moses and his dance company and Robert Henry Johnson, and hear the jazz harpist, Destiny, and be reminded that the world may have already been saved -- and that the nightmare of the Middle East is just that, a nightmare from which they will rouse me if only for a few hours.

Photo: Lama Wangdor of Rewalser, India, shown here in front of the cave in which he lived and taught. He escaped from Lhasa when the Dalai Lama left the country. He brought out his mother's ceremonial garments with dzi stones sewn into the hemlines. He sent them to me as a gift years ago; gifts I treasure dearly. He came to this country years later and spent Bill's last days at bedside, then returned to Rewalser. He had a contact telephone from India some time after Bill's death -- to tell me that -- according the the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- Bill had "made it over." Such a dear friend ... .

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