[Author's Note: "Our son Evan is about to graduate from college in May, and we are very excited for him. We are rather discouraged by the recent news of violence and hate making the headlines. In response, this is a personal account of an event that took place when Evan was 10 years old."]
Evan leaned over his mother's shoulder, intent on seeing the newspaper photo.
"I want to see that," he said.
"Tibetan Monks perform a dance?" his mother asked, somewhat in disbelief. Ten-year-old boys usually were not interested in such esoteric matters.
"Yes," he answered. "Can we go?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? If you do your homework, I guess we can go."
The homework miraculously was finished on a Saturday afternoon. Evan's Dad was always ready for something different, so they headed off for the theatre. It was at the Ogden, in a rough part of town. The performance was sponsored by the local Buddhist society, who explained that in order to prepare the space for the dance, the monks needed to chant and blow the long galing horns. There would be an intermission, then the dance would commence.
The monks sat on the floor of the stage, chanting and intermittently blowing on the horns, as well as playing percussion instruments. This went on for forty-five minutes. The parents always had an interest in ethnic music, so they were fine, but Evan's mother thought to herself, "If Evan wants to leave at intermission, we will." Instead, Evan said, "That was interesting. I can't wait to see the dance!"
They stepped outside to the sidewalk for some fresh air. The mother spotted a public telephone. "I need to call Clif at home. I can’t remember whether or not I turned off the toaster oven." She dialed the number and summoned Clif to check the little oven. It was off, of course, and as usual everything was fine. While she was on the phone, she had had difficulty hearing Clif’s voice, due to some disturbance down the street.
“What was going on?,” she demanded.
Her husband looked at her with wide eyes. "This car stopped and the driver got out and screamed at someone in another car. She was flashing gang signs."
The mother wanted to ask how he knew what gang signs were, but she realized that he could pick up the energy and just know.
They returned to their seats and were soon rewarded with an unusual sight onstage. Eight monks sat in chairs set up in a straight line across the stage. Each wore an orange cloak that extended to the floor. The cloak draped over the left side, exposing the right shoulder. The most unusual part of the costume was the headpieces. Exaggerated, comical, papier mache heads, double the standard size of someone’s head, balanced on their shoulders. Perpendicular to the row of monks was the musical accompaniment, a set of monks with percussion instruments.
As the droning music began, one of the seated monks rose and walked to center stage. He performed a slow, methodical dance, with lots of turning and spinning, all the while never losing balance of the oversized head. This went on for about ten minutes. He sat down and the second monk performed the exact same dance. The mother thought to herself, "We have six more of these to go!" She also thought, “I am ready to leave any time Evan requests to go." But he never did. He sat there patiently and watched spellbound. After the eighth monk finished his dance, there was a sense that something special had just been created, something holy that did not exist before. The little family walked out with a feeling of awe. Finally, Evan expressed his ten-year-old self by saying, "Let’s not come to this again." The mother felt relieved. Proud that her son had shown extraordinary interest, but still showed signs of being an ordinary kid.
The next day, the newspaper ran a review of the event. The mother pointed out the review to the father. Apparently, the monks usually spend ten to twenty minutes warming up the space with their chanting and the galing horns.
"Why do you think they spent forty-five minutes last night?," she asked.
He shook his head. "Because of the neighborhood. They needed extra time because there was so much negative energy last night. It’s like the lotus flower in the jungle. Dangerous snakes and reptiles, poison everywhere you turn around. Yet the lotus is this crown of beauty. That’s what happened last night. The monks created spiritual beauty in the center of lawlessness."
Indeed, a few more minutes with the paper turned up an article reporting that there had been a party at the hotel across the street from the Ogden. There had been a shoot-out and someone had died at the scene.
Twelve years later, Evan is a senior in college. His empty nester parents attended the symphony. A new composition, "Tibetan Swing," written by Bright Sheng, was well received. Bright says, "Based on a typical Tibetan dance rhythm, this work tries to evoke both the beauty and the savagery of a particular mountain dance, an expressive dance well-known for swinging the long sleeves of its traditional costumes and for its rhythmic foot stomps." The music was familiar stringed symphony at first, then became distinctively Chinese. Percussion was dominant throughout the piece, which required four percussionists.
We were drawn back to memories of the concert we attended with Evan. Our country is at war, we read in the papers everyday of unimaginable violence as a way of life in Iraq. Headlines of violence and examples of hatred abound. But we will continue to live our lives committing random acts of kindness, walking through life, amid the poison and the danger, with the image of the lotus flower in our heads and in our hearts.
Copyright © 2007 Christine (Minerd) Smith. Published with permission.