He leans against the wall outside the Prêt à Manger witting with his dog on the old Mexican blankets that look uniquely out of place on a cool London morning. He sips the now fetid coffee in its Styrofoam cup, its Burger King logo and temperature warning. His hair is long, mostly gray with streaks of white, his beard white with swaths of blond, he looks as though he just stepped down the plank of the great sailing ship, returned from a voyage save for his tattered, stained Manchester United sweatpants. I put 50p in his metal box against my better judgment and stroke behind the ears of the placid dog. “May you be many times praised” he sputters, through teeth stained tobacco brown, “for with more like you, Rufus here, and I shall later enjoy a fine repast. May Saint Dymphna be praised.” In the taxi to Paddington Station I wonder who my patron might be, if Jews only had Saints.
When I was a child . . . God, how many times have you heard something prefaced by those ever frightening words, not scary themselves but what painful story they promised.
When I was a child we had a milkman who brought the glass bottles twice a week, took the empties and envelope with his payment from the shelf built in the wall just for deliveries.
We also had an egg man who’d leave a dozen eggs in a little metal basket on the same shelf. He had a great mustache, almost walrus-like, and he may have been an eggman but he was defnitely not a walrus, goo goo gajoob.
From the moment it began, we knew, it was obvious that peace and freedom were under assault, Russia had thrown societal norms to the wind.
Under gunmetal gray skies they attacked by air, killing women, children, destroying hospitals, homes raining hell on the innocents with nowhere to turn. All we could do was watch, pray and offer paltry aid in the hope that this proud nation could hold out, negotiate some peace, maintain their freedom, emerge like the phoenix slowly rising from the rubble.
At the left click of the mouse my granddaughter appears barely a week old and with a right-click she is frozen into the hard drive. I remember sitting outside the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple in the mid-morning August sun the smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller for her mother to bow to the giant golden Buddha. I recall the soft touch of the young monk on my shoulder, his gentle smile, and in halting English, his saying “all babies have the face of the old man Buddha.” In the photos, the smile of my son is the smile on the face of Thay, the suppressed giggle that always lies below the surface of the face of Tenzin Gyatso. There is much I want to ask her, my little Leila, there is much she could offer, but I know that like all Buddhas she will respond with a smiling silence and set me back on my path.
You are still there. You have a patience that I will not know in this lifetime. I know I can always find you, even though you never reach out to me except in my dreams. There I tell you my life story and you listen intently. You have no need to ask questions, knowing I will tell the whole story in due time, And time is one thing you have that I, increasingly, lack. So I’ll be back for another visit soon and you will be waiting for me, mother.