Trey's Days No. 12
I went to see the Dalai Lama. And I did, along with several thousand other folks. What I wasn't expecting was to be blown away by a Catholic nun. Sitting there between the leader of the Tibetans and a great American civil rights leader was a woman who taught me a lesson I've been needing for a while. She taught me how to not be overwhelmed in a world full of unimaginable suffering. She said you do it by reaching out to one person in pain.
Sister Helen Prejean sat between the civil rights leader and the Tibetan god king, an ordinary nun in plain clothes. She spoke plainly. She wore a red scarf and pants. She told of befriending one who had committed an unspeakable crime and another who was the father of one killed in an unspeakable crime. She told with great authority how they both wanted healing and how that healing cannot come from more violence. She told of a killing chamber with a window. Three are invited to watch the killing. There's the state's witness, there's one who is the representative of the victims family, and there's the mother of the one to be killed, her hand pressed against the glass as she watches her son the killer be killed. Nothing gets solved there and the cycle of violence continues.
Not overwhelmed in such a world where the cycle of violence continues unabated she loves each of them one at a time. She listens to them one at a time. She is Jesus for each one of them, one at a time, and walks away strong, sad but strong onto the stage of the Razorback arena before thousands.
As we waited in the afternoon to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet again, coming to receive his honorary degree of humane letters from the University of Arkansas, the audience are in their own thoughts. A mother and daughter behind us check their stocks and talk excitedly about Pepsi's recent split. Another wears lama colors, yellow and maroon. The superstitious and the irreverent together waiting to see if the sound system can be fixed so the monologue on a non-violent response to Chinese oppression can be understood better than the morning talk which presumably was on non-violence, although it was anybody's guess since very little of what he said in the morning could be understood; his English fast and bubbly runs together in the giant re-verb of too much amplification, soft fast speaking and a giant echo in a huge domed room. All that way and a year of preparation, to present a god king and scarcely a word he spoke could be understood. Finally some brave anonymous one of the thousands yells “louder!”. But louder was not the answer, maybe slower, clearer, with less reverberation.
The message which could not be heard was that a baby learns love and compassion at her mother's breast. We carry that mother child connection into the world and we can't let it get beat out of us. In a jail cell in a Chinese prison, a monk has the snot beat out of him over and over by a guard whose job it is to be cruel as a matter of course. “My enemy my best teacher” he can almost be understood to say. Can't learn patience from a loving mother, from a Buddha, from your best friend. No. But from a guard who beats the snot out of you on a daily basis as a matter of course because he's just doing his job, you can learn patience. His culture irreparably altered forever, his childhood home raised to the ground, his people systematically oppressed on a daily basis in the country where he was once the god king, he smiles, even laughs. “My enemy my best teacher.”
It was the re-verb that taught me patience on this fateful day. Arising at 4, driving up in the morning, sitting through unintelligible speech all morning, returning hoping for another chance to hear the god king before he goes back to his place of exile, perhaps never to come this close to us again, it was agonizing to see him and hear sound coming out of his mouth and to be able to catch only about every third word. But what we did hear loud and clear is that unimaginable cruelty and suffering on a global scale cannot take away our hope. An ocean of suffering cannot overwhelm us. They taught us with their unintelligible words to love each other one at a time, to reach out to one in pain today, and to bring our love and hope with us, even into a great reverberating stadium full of chatty people checking their stocks, and superstitious groupies wearing the right colors with “spiritual” jewelry. From the god king and the simple sister came a love that cannot be killed, even by all that.