I drove around Interstate 285 to Interstate 85 and proceeded east to the Sugarloaf Parkway exit. As I exited I entered a slow moving traffic jam, two lanes of cars inching by each other. My friend Gus inched by me and we rolled down our windows and said hello but his lane was moving faster and his car disappeared. Almost an hour later I parked and walked down to the end of the line of pilgrims who were moving slowly through the security check point. The line snaked up and down a hill and as I moved to the back of the line I saw my friend Linda and gave her a quick hug. Two guys in kilts behind her remarked to each other that this is how people broke in line so I didn’t give them the satisfaction of being right. Later I saw Gus as the line moved forward and he was across from me. He invited me to stand with him but I declined saying that my karma had put me in the spot I was in. To alleviate boredom and to try to prepare for the Dalai Lama’s teachings I had been practicing patience with getting up before the crack of dawn, patience with the traffic jam and now patience with the creeping line moving towards security. I imagined with the people ahead of me and the people behind me and that each of us was in just the right place vis a vis our destiny. But just as security was in sight people behind me were directed to another security portal and our destinies changed so I no longer knew who was in front of who.
The suburban convention hall was an arena that could cater to concerts, sports, trade fairs and today the Dalai Lama. The sponsoring institution had branded the event so it was unmistakably known who was putting this on. There was a cultural program that was just ending as I took my seat on the floor towards the back of the hall. Then there was a fairly long infomercial about the connection of this institution to the Dalai Lama and why we should donate money. Then the president of the institution came on and gave an elaborate introduction of the university official who was to introduce the Dalai Lama. Finally the Dalai Lama appeared and we all stood up and applauded. He bowed and then went to greet a friend in the front row and then came back up on stage and began his talk. There were two huge video screens on either side of him projecting his image. Above him, obscured by a sound speaker was a screen where his words were being transcribed. The Dalai Lama laughed a lot. His message, as best as I could discern, was that the world population was growing, resources were diminishing and so we humans need to use our intelligence to behave more kindly to one another.
The Dalai Lama ended his talk. We all stood up and applauded and then I made a beeline to the restroom passing the station where lunches were being handed out as I did. We had to buy a lunch since we were not allowed to leave the arena and re-enter due to security precautions. I had already convinced myself that I would leave before the afternoon panels. Seeing hundreds of people in the lunch line I decided to bail on my turkey sandwich and head out. I was not alone. Half the crowd left with me. It took almost an hour to exit the parking lot. All I could scrounge to eat in the car were a couple of stale fortune cookies (“You have an active mind and a keen imagination” and “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.”) and they were not enough to stave off hunger and irritation. The good me who had weathered getting up early, a traffic jam at the Interstate exit, a long snaking line to get into the event was now not so compassionate in my thoughts as I wedged my way into the long line of cars trying to exit. Finally I got back on the Interstate and headed to Atlanta. I thought of food of course and decided on an Indian buffet near my gym. I told myself I would eat and then go work out. I ate. A lot. And then I wanted to go home despite the knowledge that going home would tack another hour onto my commute to my office. I got home, took off my clothes and fell into a sound sleep.
Imbued with supernatural powerAnd wise in using skilful meansIn every corner of the worldShe manifests her countless forms.
I was still feeling the wave inside me as I got up and dressed and drove back to my office. And it was making a little more “sense.”
My wavy translation of this is that there is an energy that is the source of all forms. As humans one of the ways we experience that energy is compassion. Compassion brings us into a knowing that we are all one. Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion stands at the edge of Enlightenment until everyone one in line catches up with her/him. The Dalai Lama had re-minded me of this.
I had been in conversation with Stephen Silha throughout the making of the film. It was a tough climb funding wise and it was Stephen’s first film. He created a spectacular testament to James and his work, retelling his story, showing his contemporary relevance, bringing his imagery to life and all without pretending James was a saint. James was a broken man who through poetry and film grew wings and learned to fly.
I have also been working on ways to celebrate James’ centennial. I edited interviews with James’ partner and collaborator Joel Singer and with Stephen Silha for the current Broughton themed issue of RFD I donated his letters to me and his books to the Georgia State University Special Collections Archive. I worked with archivists Stephen Zeitz and Morna Gerrard to get the letters online add to the narrative. I worked with them and other interested people in my community to put together a symposium which turned out to be more of a big pain in the ass than big joy. James always counseled, “adventure not predicament” and we turned our predicament into an online symposium that will launch on November 10th, James 100th birthday with a celebration of poetry, song and dance to be streamed live onto the Internet. Atlanta’s Out On Film Festival and its director Jim Farmer facilitated the debut of the film last Wednesday evening. Even though I had seen the film on my lap top I anticipated something more seeing it on the big screen in a room with lots of other people and I was right.
I am part mystic and part cynic. The two parts like each other and generally take turns informing my world view. The cynic is the part of me that is experience. The mystic is my innocence. Mostly they operate in alternating rhythms but sometimes they dance. James was a master of the coming together of opposites, the mingling of essences. It was this resolution, this spiritual androgyny that drew me to him. His muse was the androgynous trickster Hermes and perhaps it was the same Hermes that came to me in a dream that night naked with freckles on his back. I rarely have sexual dreams, at least ones that I remember, and I don’t remember much of this one either, I just know I was visited. James said Hermes came to him as a tiny child and never left him. He proclaimed him a poet and gave him the gift of merriment or joy. Joy is different from happiness in that it has no opposite. Joy just is, as James wrote:
This is It.This is really It.This is all there is.And It’s is perfect as It is.
It is now the end of the week where I spent a morning with the Dalai Lama and an evening with Big Joy. I know they are different and I know they are the same. I know they both channeled an ocean of understanding that is beyond logic and known only by heart. I know I am different for passing through these portals. And I am the same, I have never really been separate.