Thursday, April 08, 2004

There was a strange but exciting phenomenon ...

happening in the Greater Bay Area during those years of the late Sixties, Seventies, and early Eighties. Like a giant magnet, or vortex of some powerful force -- we were caught up in unpredictable times of great social change, and most of it was being born right here in the eye of the hurricane. This great liberal-progressive social climate came into being -- not because this was our reality, 'til that time we in the Bay Area were a pretty ordinary polyglot of human beings living a fairly ordinary lifestyle with all of the limitations of middle America. But because liberal-progressives from around the world perceived it as the Progressive Capital of the World they brought it into being as a self-fulfilling prophecy simply by settling here.

Tuptin and Sang Sang - gifts fom Tarthang Tulku
In a few short years, that heady world of the Academy was impacted by that in-migration of intellectuals from every field of study. We were the home of the development of the A-Bomb at UCB and its sister facility, Los Alamos, the original birthplace of the United Nations, the Stanford Accelerator, more Nobelists than any other area on the planet, the original site of the school desegration experiment (Berkeley's busing program), the Free Speech Movement and the point of origin for the Mississippi Freedom Summer. It was the birthplace of Werner Erhardt's EST, and much of the Human Potential Movement grew out of the work at Esalan under Fritz Perls et al, the Zen Center in Green Gulch, and Tassajara. Living on the edge of the continent, an emerging and fragile peace movement, at the cutting edge of a social revolution that would change the world, the excitement was almost palpable. There was electricity in the air -- and positive change on everybody's agenda.

Since all of this was happening in my very own backyard so-to-speak, there was a circus-like atmosphere to it. It was all larger than life, and it wouldn't have surprised me one bit if I'd awakened one morning to find all of the circus tents gone! Bill and his world were a large part of that. I loved it all with a passion and fully participated but with a healthy skepticism that kept me aware that -- like the Flower Children in the Haight -- this was only partly real and partly pageantry of a kind I'd never experienced. There's a lot of that left in me. The full test came later, and despite the phantasmagorical(!) addition of the Tibetan Buddhism siddhis into my vocabulary -- I never did become a convert.

Bill was one of the more liberal contributors to the Tibetan Refugee Project, for instance. He sent funds freqently to Dharmsala in India and visited that settlement twice during our marriage. On one such visit he chose for me as a penpal Lama Wangdor who had escaped the Chinese invasion in 1987, bringing with him only his mother's colorful "apron garment," two silk brocade shirts, several "Z" stones sewn into his garments, and a scroll. When he reached Rewalser in the Himalayas, he climbed a mountain and lived out the rest of his life in meditation in a barren cave. He lived there, alone, for 14 years. Over time, pilgrims made their way to his cave for religious instructions, and eventually built a temple at the bottom of the mountain as they became converts for his teachings. Lama Wangdor was a gift from Bill. I resisted, however, becoming his student.

I knew no Tibetan, Lama Wangdor, no english. I wrote him nonsensical letters about everyday events in Berkeley -- and occasionally would send a gift package of some sort. Recall at one time that I sent six copies of Arizona Highways(!) just because the photographs were so beautiful. Through an interpreter, Lena Ford (from New York via San Francisco), he wrote wonderful letters to me, some containing unbelievable accounts of events that required the need to either suspend judgement or censor them out entirely. Life changes were coming so fast, that there were no ways to deal with them short of developing some new "pegs" to hang things on (in my head).

One day I received a package from Rewalser. In it were the "apron garment," two silk brocade shirts (exquisitely soft from years of wear), and six "z" stones sewn into the garments. In addition there was a beautiful prayer rug featuring a tiger on a yellow background, and two pairs of brightly knitted vari-colored socks of yak's wool -- in precisely my size. Since there is very little give to yak's wool, the size would have to be perfect. We'd never met. How on earth did anyone know? Yet someone obviously did.

Bill and I enjoyed the company of a longhaired yellow adult cat named Peanut Butter. She'd come with the house. We loved her. After a long time of living together, one day she was killed in traffic and we were devastated! That evening I wrote a letter to Lama Wangdor. By this time it mattered little that he knew no English, he had quite magically become a friend. I was seeking no great Tibetan truths nor great religious instructions. Ours was a friendship that wasn't dependent upon any of that. I spilled out my sense of loss, and felt better.

A few months later there was a call from New Delhi from Lena Ford. She had just taken a bus (two day trip) from Rewalser to New Delhi with a 6 month-old Lhasa Apso and placed him on a jet for San Francisco. Lama had presented me with Peanut Butter's replacement, a puppy from a recent litter from the pack that guarded his temple at the bottom of the moutain. They work with the giant mastiffs that guard the exterior. Lhasas are bred to tell friend from foe, and work on the inside of the temple.

On schedule, I drove to S.F. International airport and right to the baggage depot to retrieve my small white closely-clipped new friend who was housed in a homemade wooden travel crate with Tibetan flags attached. It was love at first sight! His Tibetan name translated to "Lion's Child." Sang Sang was the name we used. We spent 15 years together, he and I, day and night, at home, work, and at play.

It was clear that this little friend had come to the US with very special instructions to take care of me, and that he did.

An example: Some time later I left the university to take over our store due to a changing circumstances. I hired a man to work for me who seemed perfectly normal. My little canine friend hated my new employee and went into a frenzy of barking and growling whenever Sam entered the store. I had to close him up in a back room each day in order to keep him from attacking Sam. Everyone else -- including the occasional customer who wandered in -- could come and go at will. Not so with Sam. It was hard to understand. Sam lasted about a month. It took me that long to discover that he was stealing from the cash register and making off with merchandise. Sang Sang knew. I learned.

Sang Sang would ride everywhere with me. As long as I was in the car, he would be alert and active. In returning to the car at the end of some errand, I could not see him, always lying down -- as if asleep -- on the floor of the front seat. It was as if he would come alive only when I was present, unless some threat was sensed. Not even Bill could approach me unless I was obviously welcoming of his attention. I was told that -- when I left the house on those rare occasions when I couldn't take him along -- he would climb into my closet and sleep on my shoes until I returned, no matter how late the hour.

We shared life for 15 years, until his death. I bought a female Lhasa as Sang Sang grew older and more feeble, so that I could have a puppy to survive him. It proved to be impossible to breed. Sang Sang was one of a kind. He'd entered this country on a mission, and fulfilled it faithfully, but he was not to be cloned.

In the years before Bill's leaving for his extended period of study, Lama Wangdor visited us here in Berkeley. After 15 years, Sang Sang knew him, though he was a very young puppy when sent to the States.

There was much that I never understood in those years, but always believed that my truths would unfold in time. Sang Sang was a part of that. Lama was another. When I apologized to him when we met, "...I just don't understand why I'm so resistant to following these practices as Bill and everyone else does ...," he told me not to fret. "You'll know." "You'll know." It's been many years now, but I'm still questioning. I clearly do not yet know... .