In preparation for interviewing the Dalai Lama on my trip to South Asia (an interview that I wasn't able to get), I read everything that I could that His Holiness had written. But alas, the interview wasn't meant to be. I will have to wait until he comes to America, or better yet, I would love to be the first Western columnist to interview him after he returns to Lhasa when Tibet is finally free from Chinese occupation.
One idea of the Dalai Lama that I found most intriguing was that the terminality of life enhances it and motivates us to achieve our goals. I read that thought while in country bouncing along the winding and tortuous Tibetan road to the holy city of Lhasa. His Holiness' comment acted like a "koan" for me. A koan is a Buddhist technique that propels a person closer to enlightenment by the use of a question or statement. Well, it worked. On the road to Lhasa, I was well aware that I was not as young as I thought. When you travel in Tibet, you are nearly three miles above sea level, and most Westerners experience altitude sickness. There were times in Tibet that the effects of altitude sickness made me think that I knew what breathing my last breathe would be like. As a consequence, the Dalai Lama's wisdom and altitude sickness acted like a koan for me. At that moment, I was receptive to enlightenment.
However, after returning to the States and the demands of life, my enlightenment no longer was center stage, but rather, it receded to the backstage of my mind. There it stayed ready to re-enter when the time was right. That time came recently when George Harrison died. While the Beatles didn't captivate me like some, I did like much of their material. When the news broke across my TV screen, I took the announcement with only passing attention. It wasn't until I saw Harrison's picture under which was written, 1943-2001, did reality come crashing in! It made a grand entrance back to center stage of my consciousness with all the pomp of the Grand March from "Aida."
Why did it have to jolt me so much? Couldn't the reality have dawned upon my denial that I was growing older more subtly? No. It crashed in upon me. I realized that I had lived longer than George Harrison. He was born the same year as was I. Now, half the Beatles are dead, and I'm still alive. However, John Lennon's death was caused by a nut case, therefore, it wasn't the same as Harrison's passing. Here was a Brit that nearly all the world knew-a person who added much to the Beatles and music in general. George is dead, and I'm alive. If someone fifty-eight could die, I too could die prematurely. That reality sent my mind spinning. All the money and things that anyone could ever need hadn't buffered or insulated him from death. Then my shock went further than the reality of my possible death. I thought about all that Harrison had done with his life. Beyond the things that he accumulated, he accomplished a myriad of goals. Look what he did with the Beatles and his various incarnations after them. I can't even sing well in the shower. I'm not going to be knighted by the queen, nor will I be able to travel as much as he did, nor do it as luxuriously as he did.
The words of the Dalai Lama really registered now with the ferocity of a plane crashing into a skyscraper. George Harrison's death was the proverbial wakeup call for me. As 2001 quickly fades and the New Year looms on the horizon waiting for the final countdown, I have resolved to get my life into gear. I now have a list of things that I will accomplish this year. The list includes interviewing the Dalai Lama, getting a full-time teaching position at a college, syndicating my column, losing fifteen pounds and keeping it off, getting into better cardiovascular shape, becoming a better manager of my precious remaining time, learning to play the bagpipes, loving my family more, and reaching out to the lost and lonely.
You could help me by e-mailing me periodically during the next year to keep me on task. By doing so, you will remind yourself that you also are a terminal person. Enjoy the New Year and have the time of your life...
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 12/21/01.