Sunday, June 6, 2010


It was thick and hot in the auditorium where my older son was graduated from high school yesterday. No air conditioning. No fans. The heat of hundreds of people was only vaguely mitigated by open windows and open exit doors. It was the kind of oppressiveness that might have done Louisiana proud.

In preparation for the ritual that was already filling the house with vague uncertainties and confusions, I went out to the zendo and dug out a fan that had been given to me a lot of years ago. I love fans -- they are incredibly efficient in a world that promises efficiency and seldom delivers.

This fan is adorned with a reproduction of a Torei Enji (1721-1792) enso and calligraphy.
The calligraphy, I was told, quotes the words of Gautama Buddha when, as a newborn, he took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and then, raising his right index finger to the heavens and pointing his left index finger to the earth, proclaimed, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one."

Leaving aside the miraculous or miraculously-annoying sentiment expressed, the fan worked well in an auditorium filled with over-heated people who wanted to take part in a ritual that marked end's and beginning's and all the other stuff that speakers at graduations can drone on about. Even though those speeches always contain and element of truth, still they never contain the truth that you could see fleetingly etched on one parental face or another ... mine too. What's-going-on-here, those faces seem to ask with a kind of incredulity. I knew this was coming, but now that it has arrived, how the hell did it get here ... it's so... it's so ... it's so uncertain. What happens next? I was so accustomed to my son's shambling presence and now, like any other parent accustomed to the quirks and wonders of a child who has grown tall ... well ... hunh?????

There was some nice a cappella singing and several sprightly talks and then the diplomas were passed out and at last we could go outside where, if it was not exactly cooler, at least there was more room in which to be hot.

Everyone smiled.

One of the nice things about Buddhism, I sometimes think, is not that it is better or more profound or wiser than other takes on life, but that it is there to catch you and point you in the right direction when things get serious ... when the smiles and gossip and memories seem to run up against a brick wall like change or sorrow or something that is somehow more compelling and important. It's like a good mom ... someone who will catch you and put you on your feet and kiss things better and then send you on your way ... until the next, inevitable, time, the next inevitable graduation. It doesn't work to ignore a mom like Buddhism and it doesn't work to cling ... but it's nice to have something or someone with some common sense and caring to point out how your sails might be re-set.

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