Friday, December 18, 2009

that's your problem

i swear i'm not slacking off. okay, i took a little break and had a little nap watching the planes take off and land, and my mommy and daddy stopped by to feed me, but mostly i've just been written off my feet.

after five years as a journalist and a year as an author, i can tell you: everyone likes to talk. you've just got to figure out what they want to talk about. throw out a few vague questions, listen carefully to the replies, and away you go.

Will was easy - he just walked up, read the sign that says 'tell me your stories,' and told me a cracker involving a buddhist monastery, suffering, and a mid-night epiphany. i gave the story to dave as he sat napping, watching the planes take off and land.

ps - will didn't say effing, but this is a family blog.

By midafternoon, the ever-bright airport was starting to wear on Dave. More coffee did not seem a good idea and his flight was still due to take off Saturday afternoon. It was still Friday.
He walked through the lobby to the ground floor of the observation deck. It looked cold outside, with a fresh coating of snow blown across the tarmac.
It was strange to think this might be the last Christmas he spent at the airport. He was feeling good. He’d done a couple of test runs at the check-in desk and felt only mild upset from his stomach.
The writing was soothing his spirit. The swirling world was settling down. The vastness of the cosmos didn’t seem such a problem from his cozy airport home on Terrarium Earth.
A tired, unshaven, middle-age man sat beside him. Dave glanced at him – jeans, Montreal Canadiens sweatshirt, Montreal Canadiens baseball cap. He looked like he’d just got off a long flight.
“Hard trip?” Dave asked.
The Canadiens fan – Will – looked at him blankly, then set the record straight. He lived near the airport and was there to pick up his wife. She was working in Ottawa and travelling back and forth until they sold their Halifax home.
“What time’s her flight due in?”
“3 pm.”
That was hours away.
“I like to come here early,” the Habs fan explained. He enjoyed browsing the bookstore, eating a burger and watching the world swirl by.
Will suddenly launched into a story about Japan, meditations on suffering and a brewery epiphany.
Years ago, he said, he’d been working in the Japanese “water business” – those curious places where Western women make lots of money talking to Japanese men. Will played the guitar to fill in the silences.
“All they wanted to hear was John Denver, which was pretty horrifying,” he griped.
One day, the bar owner asked him if he’d done meditation. He hadn’t. He took Will to a Shinto Buddhist monastery and started him on a 15-hour meditation. Sitting in a box. Cross-legged.
“I thought, what the hell, I’ll try it,” Will told Dave. “I asked the abbot: ‘As a Westerner with no experience with meditation, is there anything I can expect to gain from this practice?’
“He said: ‘That’s your problem.’”
Undaunted, Will – not an athletic man, not even all those years ago – folded himself into a lotus position in the box.
Four minutes later, he was silently screaming in agony.
56 minutes later, the monks rang a bell, giving Will much-needed relief.
“The first two hours were pretty good. I liked this whole idea of just trying to shut down and relax, especially as I was evaluating a lot of what was going on in my life and my music career.”
He turned to face Dave.
“You don’t go to Japan because you’re doing well in the US market. You go there because you get work.”
He returned to the meditation story. It took three hours just to get into the lotus position. By hour four, he was going crazy. His legs felt like they were being pushed through a garburator.
“I ended up just sitting there meditating on, ‘Ring the bell. Ring the effing bell. I was getting so sore from being trapped in that box.”
Hours five, six, seven … ring that effing bell was his mantra. It was all he thought about. He had Zen clarity on that point.
“I couldn’t believe I made it. I was completely exhausted – it was very late at night,” he said of the bell ringing for the 15th effing time.
They had a terrible meal for the meditators, a soup that tasted like squash spiked with red radish. Will stared at it.
“Do you not like your soup?” the abbot asked him.
“No, the soup is fine. I’m just contemplating the fact that I asked you if I’d get anything out of this. I really do feel that I got something out of it,” Will said earnestly.
“That’s your problem,” the abbot replied curtly.
Will was offended, but opted for a respectful silence.
30 years later, Will was awake in the middle of the night watching TV when a ‘help this starving child’ ad came on.
Later, on his backshift at the brewery, he was overwhelmed.
“I never did well on the back shift. Around 4 in the morning, I used to get pretty emotionally weird. Not that I’m not weird on my own. It just got worse,” he explained.
A terrible sadness crushed him and the haunting eyes of the child pressed into him.
And suddenly he understood what the abbot meant:
“That’s your problem.”
“I know what it’s like to sit in that box, with your legs just screaming, just burning, and thinking: ring the effing bell, ring that effing bell, ring that effing bell.”
So Will picked up the phone and rang that effing bell to help the kid.
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