"Since I've been here, I attend these different meetings and I get the feeling they're selling me bullshit," he confided in words approximating those. "So why are you the only one here I hear questioning all of this?"
It was one of several encounters yesterday that made me think twice and gave me some hope.
This sanctuary of mine is in fact a public place -- something that generally makes it all the more enjoyable. If I'm not walking the two-mile path around the lake, I'm sitting on a bench with my mandolin, playing and watching the people passing by. Often it's my decompression stop between the office and home, ensuring I leave the former behind.
Now school is out and all of the kids are out to have some fun. I see younger ones with mom or dad at the tot lot; I see some fishing; I see some tossing a baseball; I see some riding bicycles; and just parked beside me, I see three young teens with Subway sandwiches and the most foul, racist, homophobic mouths I could imagine--mostly because of their ages. They went through the catalogue of the people they had in common and gave loud commentary about the passers-by. The gays, the blacks and the KKK, the Jews and Auschwitz, the disabled, the deaf, the blind, the obese, ... on and on and on.
The benches beside the tot lot were within earshot, but I was the only adult in the immediate vicinity. Quite honestly, my immediate want was to beat them senseless since the people otherwise assigned to that task were obviously not doing their jobs. Instead, I put my recorder visibly on the table and started to quietly play my mandolin...
Two of the three went on, oblivious or unfazed I do not know. One kid was clearly concerned and embarrassed. When the first two spotted openings on the swingset, they bolted and left their belongings behind, leaving the third to figure out what to do.
"Son, you seem a little smarter than your friends there..." He smiled sheepishly, "Yes, sir." "Son, do you know who I am?" "No, sir." "Do you know who I know?" "No, sir." "When your friend joked, 'What is the worst that they'll do to me, throw me in jail?' did you really think that's the worst that could happen?" "No, sir..." "You know your friends are headed for trouble, right?" "... Yes, sir." "Don't let them take you down with them." "I won't, sir." "Son, one more thing..." "Yes, sir?" "Why don't you deliver your friends' belongings to them over there and make sure that they do not come back to this table." "Yes, sir." "Son?" "Yes, sir?" "Take care of yourself." "Thank you, sir."
The open table next hosted picnic with extended family including grandmother and some little children who danced around fascinated by the mandolin.
A box labelled "Give What You Can." A bin labelled "Take What You Need." What's inside them?
You may think they're silly questions and dismiss them out-of-hand, but there's a reason I'm asking, a lesson to be learned--and not necessarily the obvious one.
In my beginner's aikido class, we begin with a few techniques from katatekosadori, the "cross-arm grab." Everybody in the aikido world is familiar with the invitation to cross-arm grab: an extended arm, palm open, inviting the attack as a beginning to a finishing technique. To a stranger in a western culture, it's an invitation to shake hands, an invitation to friendship.
To a more experienced practitioner, extending the hand this way is an invitation to show your intention. Does the other smile and shake hands, or grab and proceed to attack? It's very clever, but it's problematic: The experienced practitioner operating this way transmits doubt and suspicion in offering the choice, perhaps inviting attack--perhaps suspecting attack. Little does she know that this is an attack in itself.
The polished practitioner realizes there's only one reason to extend the hand this way...