Features

The Dalai Lama vs. the Painted Penis

The following story might not, at first glance, seem to describe a hero. However, I think that the lessons I learned from the Dalai Lama – a true hero, to be sure – kept me from performing a very non-heroic act. Namely, killing someone. You be the judge.

• •

The weather was wonderful, the sky clear, air cool. The rains that had plagued us were gone, exiting the night before, leaving damp grass to stick to the fine nylons and expensive wingtips of the graduates’ parents. We got there early, my mother and I, this day after Mother’s Day, to watch the commencement exercises. Well, she was there because she worked there, had done so for most of her life, and she wanted to see the children she had helped advance get their hoods and be honored and coddled for possibly the last time in their lives. I was there to hear the 14th Dalai Lama, who was giving the commencement address. I had seen him before, which was amazing since I had never gone to church willingly in my life before that.

We sat on plastic chairs, reading the program again, while the seats around us were filled. Parents clutching camcorders and high-profile coffee waited in the dew to catch a glimpse of the back of their child’s head as they passed, making sure, for some, that the 100 thousand dollars they had spent actually bought a diploma. Soon, the litany of “Is this seat taken?” began. Still we waited.

Soon the bagpipes started, and everyone stood, trying to see the pipers. So did I, although I don’t know why I felt the need to see a man blow on a stick with a bladder under his arm. They passed, and with a blare of trumpets from somewhere behind my head, the processional of honored guests climbed the steps to the stage, our esteemed governor, as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I doubt they had much to chat about.

It was about this time that someone behind me started smoking. I turned and gazed at a black and orange-haired 20-year-old female inhaling a Marlboro. Now perhaps I’m too sensitive to it, having recently quit smoking, but I don’t think being crammed knee to back in folding chairs counts as “outside.” In retrospect, I should have accepted the smell of the cigarette as a blessing, for as it turned out, she didn’t talk as much when she was smoking.

She was there to see her sister, Lisa, graduate. I know this because my ears were only about a foot away from her mouth, and from the moment the service started, she was never silent. I learned, as the President of the University welcomed us, that she was annoyed at having to wear long sleeves and a skirt “because mom says no one wants to look at my tats.” (Actually, her mother most likely phrased it more like “cover up those hideous scribblings – you’re not going to embarrass us today.”) As the pastor led us in a prayer, we stood, and she continued her discourse, now about her boyfriend (imagine!) and his pierced eyelid. She had him beat, however, with her pierced breasts. The prayer ended, and we sat down.

As the Dalai was introduced, and through his translator thanked everyone for inviting him, pumpkin-head was deep into a discussion of the drug Ecstasy, which I found ironic. I turned and glared at her, hoping I looked old enough to chastise her into silence. Of course, I wasn’t able, any more than someone would have been able to hush me up at that age. All I got for my efforts was the hissed rebuke of “wish that dude would get over himself.” I felt somehow wrong for attempting to hear the speaker, embarrassed at actually giving a damn about something other than the sound of my own voice. I redoubled my efforts at concentrating, and almost succeeded until, as the Dalai Lama made a quip about the honorary degree to be given to him later that day, she began to describe her boyfriend’s tattoo. His flame tattoo. The flame tattoo on his penis.

At that point all hope was lost. There was not enough room in my head for both the message of compassion from the stage and details of modern art from behind me. What little Buddha nature I had left the area, as I mentally heaped vile torments on this creature behind me. I wished – nay almost prayed – for instant karma to lift her up by those little gold rings poked through her flesh, and spirit her over the trees and out of earshot.

Many years ago my mother took me to see a performance of Hello, Dolly . I acted poorly, resulting in us leaving early because she wouldn’t let me disrupt the world around us. Now, again with my mother, seeing quite a different Dalai, I noticed how well, in some way, at some level, her message had sunken in. I wished and hoped that someday, if John Lennon was wrong and karma isn’t instant, that it does land with two large feet on an older woman with stretched, faded art on her legs and holes in her chest, and ruins a small moment of her life as efficiently as she did a part of mine.

All, however, may not be lost. As we were leaving, I caught a glimmer of maturity from her. I heard her discussing her upcoming wedding plans. Her boyfriend wants to go to Las Vegas and elope. She wouldn’t, she said, tossing her bright orange mane away from her face. It would be tacky. ◼


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