Today I had the pleasure of escorting the pre-eminent Calligrapher, Writer, Poet, Artist, Peace Activist, Translator and Zen Sensei Kaz to the airport in Brussels. Last weekend I participated in one of Kaz’s “signature” calligraphy workshops and last evening I was able to attend a truly special event in which for the first time (as far as anyone knows), the poetry of the Japanese Zen Master Ryokan was set to music and performed live. Kaz had translated the poetry, Luc De Winter composed the score, and the duo of Els Modelaers (mezzo) and Veerle Peeters (piano) brought the poetry to life at Antwerp’s Kunst Humanorium (Performing Arts School).
Within a mere week’s time, via Kaz, both directly and indirectly, I was exposed to an entirely new aspect of a city I have lived in for the past five years. As I have written before, there are two ways to see the world: to travel as much as possible to as many places as you are able to; or, to sit still and the world will sooner or later pass by. I have tried to balance both of these approaches, and this past week, the latter proved to be quite effective as I discovered many things “in my own backyard,” so to speak.
I picked up Kaz quite early this morning, and the brilliant autumn full moon was still quite high and bright in the sky, and the air was crisp and clear. It was a beautiful morning.
We made it to Zaventem with no problems as it is Sunday, and the infamous Belgian traffic jams were not to pose a threat today.
However, when Kaz tried to check in, there was a bit of a security snafu as he had previously lost his Green Card and is waiting for his new one. As such, we were told he was not going to be able to fly and that he would have to go to the American Embassy and procure papers, etc.
Two things could have happened. The first, which unfortunately is more common, is that he could have made a scene, complained, be rude to the woman helping him, or a myriad of other ways to cause ill will. We had just experienced that as the woman in front of us had been told she had to shuffle her luggage a bit to make the weight limit. She loudly protested, became highly agitated and in the end left both herself and the woman helping her in a huff. That was the woman who was helping Kaz next, and she began in a rather defensive tone from the beginning.
Yet, the other way to deal with such situations is the way that Kaz did. There was no huffing and puffing. There was no anger. There was no anxiety (at least not outwardly as far as I could tell), and Kaz remained calm, which is what one would expect of one in his station of zen practice. After various people coming to help out, calls to INS in New York, re-booking of tickets, and so forth, the end result was that we got Kaz on a later flight, which ended up having a better connection as well, and each person that we dealt with, in the end was smiling, and everyone wished him a fine journey.
Once, many years ago, I was traveling with my ex-wife and we were on a flight that was canceled from the US to Europe. It was about midnight when the flight was finally canceled after a couple hours of delays. As a result, the entire flight had to be re-booked, one by one. Tempers flared immediately. People were loudly protesting and generally making the women’s lives behind the desk quite miserable. We were the last to be re-booked, by then it was nearly 2am. The people in front of us had been particularly rude, and the woman that helped us was at wit’s end.
Instead of following suit, I tried to be as understanding as possible, and lighten the mood for us. A slow wave of change came over the woman’s face, and she said, “just a minute.” She went into the computer, began ticking away, and ultimately handed us new tickets for the next day. She said, more or less, “I ‘accidentally’ booked you in these new seats, I think you will like them.” She slid the tickets across the counter with a knowing smile. That was the only time I have flown first-class on a transatlantic flight…
After Kaz had his tickets sorted out, we still had a couple of hours before he had to board on his new flight, so he suggested we have breakfast together. As there is not much in the Zaventem airport for departures before you go through security, we were limited to a couple of places, one of them being a “themed” American-style dinner, which we chose.
We both decided upon a small stack of pancakes, which neither of us had had in some time as it turned out. Complete with a jug of Maple Syrup, we had a very nice breakfast, and I was able to learn more about Kaz and his family as well as being able to tell him about my wonderful daughter as I had given him my book that I made for her, so he was “familiar” with her vicariously.
Last Sunday I learned of the inspiring art of the enso/enzo zen circles, and today I enjoyed a very pleasant conversation over a stack of American pancakes with an elderly (only in years…), kind Japanese man in the Brussels airport, served by a Turkish waiter. Again, the world does indeed sometimes come to us in our own backyard, and the more receptive we are to it, and the more we meet it with kindness and understanding, the richer our experience can be.