On February 5th, 2013 I made the coffee too weak. With both hands around the mug, I look into a steaming chestnut broth and watch my tiny face play on the surface tension. White reflections, painted glass. My tiny eyes in my tiny face. Sip. Weak. This mug is just something to hold. This mug is just something that keeps my hands from shaking - nerves. But I cannot drink this. Sip. Bath-water.
I made the coffee too weak. I say this: “I used too much water. This coffee is weak.”
This was the first time I’d made coffee for myself. French press. This was Day Two living alone, a Tuesday. It is somewhere around 5am.
Cross-legged on the bedspread. Shaking. Fresh from the shower. Wet-puppy hair hanging around my cheekbones. New dress. Useless hot mug. And the shaking. Shaking, shaking hands with the shaking voice as my tiny eyes in my tiny face look up from the chestnut bath-water and find the other eyes in another face looking right back at me on my laptop. Ten million moving pixels. 2,000 miles away. 3 hours behind. But I can see that his eyes are still alien hazel-green. And enormous. Search-lights.
“I haven’t talked to you in forever, girl.”
Sip. Weak. Still so weak.
I'm about to leave for my first ever Press Corp Trip. This is going to be a very weird day.
On February 5th, 2013 I woke up at 4:34am and talked screen-to-screen with someone I loved stupidly and perfectly for a month last summer. He left. I did not. I still miss him. I did not ever expect to see him again. On this same day the Dalai Lama’s family cooked me lunch and ate with me. I did not expect this either.
On February 5th, 2013 I caught a #4 bus to the Seelbach. I arrived precisely at 8am. I will have another cup of coffee, brewed smooth and round and rich and lumberjack strong. This will make the shaking worse. I will ride in a van to Bloomington. With a half-dozen other journalists – older, wiser, seasoned – and they will all be very nice to me. I will have my own room at a B&B. The bed is a marshmallow. I will crave coffee again that night sitting in the spun-sugar comforter, and I will drink decaf for the first time in my life. My cheeks hurt. My cheeks hurt because I’ve smiled all day because my heart hurts. Everywhere. In all ways. Gorgeous. And it’s the sleep of peaceful death I make at the end of Day Two alone-in-the-world.
On February 5th, 2013 I ate a Werther’s caramel from the candy dish next to Dalai Lama’s bed. I did yoga with a Tibetan monk. I cried when this monk chanted for us – the journalists – sitting cross-legged again on a little velvet pillow. There was a fountain in my chest. And a warm bubble that felt gold. And the bubble swelled and burned under the hot-jelly fountain, and I just sobbed. And couldn’t stop smiling at the same time, and the salt water taste was in my mouth.
This monk wrapped a prayer scarf around each of our necks after the sun went down. Pictures were taken. We don’t have shoes on in any of these pictures because Buddhists remove their shoes before entering temples.
I was aware of every single tiny hair on my body because all my pores became conduits for electricity. The scarf is blue – “cerulean”. I tied it to my bedpost at home in the afternoon on Day Three, February 6th, 2013.
All this because - now finally - this Sunday, May 19th, 2013 His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama will give a public talk at the KFC Yum! Center, furthering his global campaign of “Engaging Compassion”.
Recognized globally as an icon for world peace – and amongst Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhists as the incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion – His Holiness will focus this weekend’s presentation on, quite simply, just that: how a compassionate worldview towards all can change the world.
Yes. Yes, it can.
In Bloomington, Indiana the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu, founded the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center – the only center in the country he would dedicate in his lifetime. Jigme, the first Tibetan exile to settle in the United States, opened the Center in 1979 and dedicated his efforts there towards reestablished freedom for all Tibetans as he worked as a writer, civil rights activist and a professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University. Although founded by Jigme, the Center has been visited and blessed by His Holiness on several occasions – most notably for Louisvillians in 2003 with Muhammad Ali as part of an interfaith ceremony.
I have cried sitting on a velvet pillow in this Center. I’ve walked bare-footed around 600-year-old relics. I saw the framed picture of the Dalai Lama’s mother in his private quarters. I didn’t know what to say when a Buddhist member took me to see “the butter sculptures” (which are incredible) and mentioned to me that the Center was constructed with the cooperative physical efforts, donations and supplies from local Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Mennonite communities. It was humbling. It was all humbling.
It was humbling when Thubten Jigme Norbu’s widow, Kunyang, reached out and took hold of the carved bone gauges in my ears and told me they were beautiful. After I ate the lunch that she cooked and ate with us – with me. She says of compassion: “You have to feel other people’s pain, their joy, their love…if one person sees that, it’s making a difference.”
Kunyang is very tiny. Tinier than me. And when she spoke to me she put her tiny hands on both my tiny arms and squeezed them at the end of each sentence. She smiles a lot. She told me we were like family. Humbling.
This Sunday and the following Monday, Kunyang’s brother-in-law, the Dalai Lama, will speak to inspire us all here in Louisville towards compassion, towards using compassion to encourage interfaith understanding, respect and love – towards world peace. World peace. That is a phrase that has grown sadly tired to our ears. But you find yourself believing how tangible it could actually be when millions of people can be moved by the quiet love of one man. When you find yourself standing arm-in-arm with a tiny gentle woman – the “Tibetan Princess” – who has lost her youngest son in activism of Tibetan freedom, who owes you absolutely nothing and yet says over and over into your shoulder: “It’s for peace”. She made me eat three plates at lunch. I’ve now learned how to make my own coffee strong and round and rich and dark. The cerulean prayer scarf is still tied to my bedpost.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the event website.
Image: Courtesy of Dalai Lama Louisville Facebook page www.facebook.com