Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Great expectations

Guest opinion by Betty Bell


Betty Bell

My Dalai Lama ticket's on the table next to the second-floor deck doors, on the table where I eat so the backyard birds can watch me. It's hemmed in by a bunch of reminder notes that I'd better remember to take with me if I'm to have a 50-50 chance of successfully navigating the stretch of the day. I should put the ticket away. Its presence nudges an inner probe that jumps between wondering why I have such high expectations for this visit, and why 10,000 fellow fledgling pilgrims feel the same way.

I'm not a Buddhist. I bet not many of us are, and I bet not many of us tithe to the Church of the Buddha either. And for me there's the crowd thing. I don't do crowds, a crowd being a long line for the 7 o'clock flicks at the Magic Lantern. And yet the idea of this crowd, the crowd I'll help swell, doesn't phase me.

Perhaps something extraordinary is afoot, and if that's the case I should do some preparation. But I don't know what to do. Once upon a time, when I was a secure Catholic, I could count on established rituals and procedures for everything: how to get ready for Communion ... Confirmation ... Marriage ... even for Major Graduation. Back then I could have gone to St. Peter's Square to see the Pope and established my own little bond simply by doing a ring-around-the-rosary. But I'm adrift now; for sure, I haven't found the one true path that so many luckier souls firmly believe they're on. The fact is, the very idea of the one true path seems, well, ungodly. I can't imagine that God would swing wide the heavenly gates for only the lucky few born within walking distance of the only way in and exclude all the poor souls born half a world and several cultures away.

It'd be a powerful feeling, though, to be an Evangelical these days, an Evangelical waiting in a line soon to be enfolded into Jerry Falwell's or Pat Robertson's or some other TV Holy Man's flock. What a snug feeling it must be to believe that every elbow in that line that rubs against yours is attached to a fellow Born-Again, a snug feeling to know with certainty that you're among the "us" and not the clueless "them."

Boundless faith—it'd be so comforting.

So what's the common denominator we Dalai Lama pilgrims share? Or do we even have one? I don't think we can be pegged as reds or blues. We're mostly shades of pink and purple is my guess—neither of the colors that must disturb Betsy Ross' rest in peace over what the flag's red and blue have come to represent.

And you know what? I blame our great national rift, our sorry red and blue mess, a big chunk of it anyway, on Karl Rogue. Yep. Sorry. That's the truth.

And you know what else? I know that by giving Karl Rogue so much frontal lobe time it probably means I've developed a serious aural blockage, maybe such a bad aural blockage I won't be able to hear the hopeful things I long to hear when the Dalai Lama speaks. The least you'd expect of a worthy pilgrim, it seems to me, is that said pilgrim would enter Wood River's Temporary International Stadium not only with a wide-open heart but with a politically uncluttered mind.

I'm trying, I'm trying.

I don't think there's even a slim chance that the Dalai Lama will be confrontational. And it'd be a great and disappointing surprise if he were to speak about abortion or gay rights or the runaway judicial system. So I figure that even if I don't arrive at the stadium with a wholly politically uncluttered mind, after a few words from the Dalai Lama it'll start to shake out the clutter.

We're to hear about compassion, I understand, and I'm as sure as I can be that all of us are for compassion even if we haven't yet incorporated it into our everyday lives. And consider this: It's possible, don't you think, that compassion might turn out to be a belief system? A belief system a soul wandering in the boonies can embrace. Maybe compassion means there's no them out there, it's all us.

From a book about the Dalai Lama I read, I got the impression that if we hope to find the answers to the big questions we must, in his words, devote ourselves to "continuous work on inner maturity."

There's a zinger for you: "Continuous work on inner maturity." Doesn't it come across as a global positioning system? A sure-fire guide to a successful life?

Extravagant hope—it's so comforting.

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