Saturday, January 27, 2018

Perky Eyebrows

The day after the evening with the four emergency pages I sprang out of bed after just six hours' sleep (an extreme rarity) with a burning desire to work on this very blog, which is when I saw the acceptance letter from school. This launched a frenzy of activities: sending back my acceptance letter, reviewing all the info they'd sent, paying my tuition, learning many details pertaining to my first trip there, and, after a break for a trip to the dentist, choosing my electives for the rest of this year.

Besides the two core training periods that everyone must attend, I picked out a five-day sesshin (Zen-style silent meditation retreat)—everyone has to do one of these each of the two years—and two electives. One is a three-day workshop on death with two experts on same. The other is a street retreat, where you go out into an urban environment with a single dollar bill in your pocket, no change of clothes, no toothbrush, and a plastic trash bag in case it rains. The idea is to find out what it's like to be dependent on the kindness of others—some slight idea of what it's like to be homeless.

When I first read about these street retreats a few years ago, I was like, "I am never doing that," but when I was choosing my electives for school, I saw they offer two of these, one in San Francisco and one in New York City, and decided on the spot to do the one in New York. Oh, I skipped a step. My very first thought was that I don't wish to be raped and murdered on the streets of New York City, and therefore I would not do this, but then I learned that you're either with the whole group or with a subgroup at all times, and that the group includes a teacher, so I decided to sign up, though those very facts made me wonder how realistic it is. Does anyone really confuse a whole bunch of clean, well-fed and mostly white people with an actual homeless person? Anyway, it seemed that this would be an interesting experience, and I felt like weeping after I decided to do it, which seemed like a good sign.

I later talked to someone who has done this, and she said it is not about pretending to be homeless, but more just about finding out what it's like to have nothing to do but hang out all day, and it is also an exercise in asking for stuff: food, toothbrushes, and all the money we have to raise beforehand, which we will donate to social service agencies afterward. That is kind of brilliant: forcing people who may rarely have to ask anyone for anything to ask for a lot of stuff, as mendicant monks did in the time of the Buddha and still do. Probably at least one of those kinds of asking was going to be uncomfortable.

I called my mother to tell her all the good news of the day: On my walk home from the dentist, I acquired a King James version of the Bible, a nice hardcover for less than $20! I felt disappointed when I recently realized that the Gideon Bible I brought home during my first unit of CPE doesn't say in it, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," which is my favorite line. For that, you need King James.

I also got good news from my dentist, and of course there was the good news about going on a street retreat in New York City. My mother said, "No. No. I do not give my permission for this. Isn't there a place where your mother has to sign to give her approval? You're a minor, right?"

At the end of the conversation, I asked her to pass all my good news on to Dad. I listed them again, ending with the retreat. "Yes, good," said Mom. Then, "I'm frowning. I just realized my words are not matching my facial expression." Pause. "I'm trying to perk my eyebrows up."
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