Grace settles into the chair, less an act of sitting than of floating down onto the seat. She has borrowed my grandmother’s smile, kind, gentle, inviting. She pulls a book from her bag, its pages or most of them dog eared, and I glimpse some annotations in the margins. We sit around her like children awaiting presents on a holiday, as acolytes seeking knowledge from a font of poetic and prosaic wisdom, or so we think. She reads in a voice that is at once soft and loud enough to reach the back of the room, opening the book to a random page and diving in, then after what seems like a minute and an hour, she stops and asks for questions. We sit dumbstruck for a moment then fire at her like machine gunners on the range. She answers each, claims she is a simple grandmother who writes but we know better, know we are in the presence of a true master.
By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”
They were not optional in our family, once a week, half an hour, that and at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest got the choice of times.
He quit after a year, his sister was three years in and went on another and I was eight years staring at the 88 keys, so many of which would never get used, useless as were the pedals I couldn’t reach at first and rarely needed later.
It was upright, as I was supposed to be, but only was in sight of my teacher, and I thought Bill Evans had it right, leaning over the keys insuring that they wouldn’t make an escape.
I stopped when my parents realized how much they had spent on what they would never enjoy and I would as soon forget.
My first inclination, in fact my strong desire, when he asks me what time it is, is not to consult my watch, but to say that we live in an age of unprecedented uncertainty, an era of division and incivility, and days fraught with risk that each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour and the minute, but if he is late, the moment wasted in knowing just how much so merely adds marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks that import to him, then time is no more than a human construct, malleable despite our demand of rigidity, and subject to the whims of Popes and politicians, and all the rest of nature can only marvel at our absurdity.
It is that magical hour of the day when the sun sets the pond’s surface ablaze. The fountain in the middle shoots drops of liquid fire into to sky, only to watch them return to their now fiery home. This magic only lasts a few moments before the water returns to its natural state, and for yet another day, extinguishes the sun.
In a bit less
than an hour
a new exhibit
empty space will
bodies of artist
universes will form
a thousand children
will be born
an old man in
a distant city
will slip away
a contented look
will ask why
but all of that
is not now,
but in a bit
On the radio this morning the DJ played the classic “In the Midnight Hour,” and I pause to reflect on the fact that midnight is a moment and cannot be an hour, by definition, since the halfway is only a point, not a range, and you cannot put a home on an hour, for time waits for no man, and waiting is what a home is all about, and around.