Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One World, One Love

Venus, the Morning Star, shines into my apartment window before dawn in Bangkok, Thailand, just as it did from above the garden hermitage where I was living in Santa Cruz, California just a few days ago. One world!  One love!

So far, morning is the best time when the fog of jet lag lifts from my brain enough that I can enjoy the thrill of being a global citizen, leaping the world at a single bound, defying the restrictions of geography.  Never mind that it took 21 travel hours (I lost Sunday) to fly 13,000 miles (with a short pit stop in Tokyo) to get here, into the arms of my wife Nan, back where I started from three months ago.  Pieces of my heart are spread all over.  Despite my initial resistance to the trip, the end result was wonderful: emotional and heart-warming reunions with my two sons and daughter, my former wife, and with dozens of friends who were able to look past my missteps to accept me as I am -- and who can ever ask for more than that? 

Kwan Yin (or Guanyin and other spellings), the female Bodhisattva of compassion, was my companion for the sometimes arduous journey, from the tiny golden amulet that Nan wore around her neck, to the collection of figurines in Annie's house, the hermitage where I stayed and in her garden, and finally to the large statue I gave to Ziggy in thanks for all her efforts on my behalf during my visit.  I presented it to her during lunch at the Thai Noodle Cafe (a modest but superior counterpart to the plethora of Thai eateries in the city) and the owner bowed and paid his respects as he passed our table, and pointed to the large portrait of Kwan Yin on his wall.  In her letters, Nan promised that"God, Buddha and Kwan yin" would protect me.   I bought two used books on her history at Logos before I left town.  Kwan Yin comes out of the Taoist and Buddhist traditions of China but has been also embraced in Thailand where a large statue for her veneration was recently erected at Wat Yannawa in Bangkok, a Chinese flavored temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.  We are going there on Saturday to make tamboon and give thanks for my safe return.

Chris, my eldest, came down from Sonoma to see me.  We ate fish at Riva on the wharf and watched a strange mating (?) ritual by sea lions who gathered in large pods on both sides of the pier, floating blissfully together with fins raised in the air.  I suspected it had something to do with a seaweed psychedelic.  An e-commerce VP now at Pottery Barn, Chris is my technology guru and gave me lots of reasons to get an iPad when the new improved models debut in April.  We're now playing a distance-defying Scrabble look-alike app on our hand-held devices, and he's whooping my butt.  Daughter Molly will be in the neighborhood next month when she comes to Bali to develop a clothes-designing business.  She's still driving the blue truck I gave her three and a half years ago and using it as a home away from home.  Nicky, my youngest, is now ensconced in LA where a career in music is poised to take off.  He came to see me with his lady Steff, and we dined on veggie burgers at the retro Saturn Cafe.

Nicky and Molly's mother and I met first by accident at the Octagon where I was communing with the computer one morning and she was delivering cookies.  We got together again a few days later for the first real conversation we've had in at least five years and probably ten when our 24-year marriage ended.  Any reluctance to talk was solely on my part as I nursed grievances for way too long.  I'm now able to see that the years together were perfect for us, as is even our separation which has enabled us to flourish in very different ways.  My trip was worth the price for that epiphany. 

Many of the friends who took care of me on this journey are members of Sangha Shantivanam, the small faith community I helped start over five years ago with Cyprian Consiglio, an inspired monk from the Hermitage in Big Sur who has opened the doors of perception for many with his inter-religious teachings based on the writings of Bede Griffiths in India (whose ashram we visited as a group in January of 2007).  I was able to attend their Sunday gathering, which featured meditation and a discussion of Aldous Huxley's book, The Perennial Philosophy, and I also meditated one noon in the the sangha room of Everyday Dharma where I had been an active participant for a number of years.  I was invited to a meeting of the men's group which once counted me as a member, held at the Santa Cruz Mountains home of Phil who was recovering from a nasty chainsaw accident.  Jim and I explored familiar places in the hills around Boulder Creek, including property where we had once lived which now resembles an unsuccessful meth lab.  Lyle loaned me a bike and I rode all over town on it (though unfortunately the helmet was stolen and I had to borrow Annie's).  I was reunited with the Troxell/Byrd/Wright clan at a party for Virginia's 52nd birthday where Shirlee's great-grandchildren blew out the candles.  One morning, Ernie, a friend from high school, drove up from Salinas in his wheelchair-accommodated van to give Nan and I an extremely generous wedding gift from he and Mark, my oldest friend and roommate at Berkeley  in 1960.  The sole unpleasantness was when I left my passport (including money and credit cards) on the counter in a bank, but it was discovered and kept in the vault until my return the next morning.  Each day in the final two weeks was filled with lunches and dinners and an occasional movie ("The King's Speech" was terrific).  And finally, on my day of departure, I ate breakfast at the Santa Cruz Diner with Gerry and Jim, friends for over 50 years, before driving over the hill on a glorious warm and sunny morning, and up the scenic 280 to the San Francisco International Airport. 

It really is one world, despite the distances which seem to divide us, and it really is one love that I feel in all its many permutations for these people who have meant so much to me in my long and irregular life.  One morning Jim and I walked through the ancient redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park (which is severely challenged by the state's draconian budget cuts along with many other crucial agencies and services).  I spent nearly ten years researching the history of the redwoods for my Ph.d. dissertation, and walking among them was akin to greeting old acquaintances.  At the entrance to the park is a rare Dawn Redwood from China which drops its leaves in winter, unlike its California cousin.  My good friends Jim and Mel are technophobic when it comes to internet communication so I may have to use oceanic snail mail to maintain our connection.  But others are more comfortable with email, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, and it took little convincing from me to persuade them that long distances are a pre-21st century delusion.  We will stay in touch easily, as if I've just moved down the block.

Thomas Wolfe was wrong: you CAN go home again.  And return home.  If the world is one, and love is one, there is no contradiction.  For my farewell dinner, I took Annie to Laili, a new restaurant on Cooper Street in downtown Santa Cruz that features a delicious Afghan cuisine with sauces that turn the pedestrian (chicken, lamb, dumplings) into the marvelous.  It was No. 2 in the recent New York Times story of what to do in Santa Cruz over a 36-hour visit.  There were a couple of earthquakes in the vicinity during my last week but none that caused damage and I didn't feel a thing.  The old building that houses Laili was once the location of a bank that was partially destroyed in the 1989 earthquake.  The insides were gutted and the lovely facade retained.  There's a metaphor there, but I'm not ready to spell it out.

Nan went off to work today in the new uniform which her company requires employees to wear ("mai suai," she says, "not beautiful").  I walked her to the bus stop where a large crowd of commuters, many in school uniforms, waited in the early morning haze.  So much has changed, so much stays the same.  Since this Wednesday is Wan Phra (Monk's Day), my first class teaching English to monks has been moved to Friday.  The baht is down and the dollar is up which means more value for me. I've been greeted as a prodigal son by the laundry lady, the woman who sells me the Bangkok Post in the mornings, a couple of baristas at Starbucks, a clerk at the 24-hour minimart downstairs and several of our building's cleaning ladies.  I've got to catch up on lots of movies: "The Kids Are All Right" this morning followed by "Black Swan" this afternoon.  The internet news is full of the Tunisian revolution which may change the politics of North Africa and the Middle East forever, and also the aftermath of the shooting in Arizona (was mental illness or "a climate of rhetorical violence" to blame?).  Here in Thailand, members of an ultra-right organization are in a Cambodian jail for trespassing across the border they dispute, and their supporters are threatening street demonstrations.  The left-wing red shirts promise another gathering on Jan. 23 (50,000 came out several weeks ago to call for a democracy in Thailand).  It's great to be home.


Sylvia Deck said...

A lovely way to recapture the last couple of months. It all makes sense, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Home is where the heart is, and where Love resides.

Welcome Home Will. : )

Ed Ward said...

Lovely post. Welcome back.