I had been going to yoga courses for a few months and was really enjoying the benefits. The most recent course in restorative yoga included chanting. I was also taking singing lessons at the time and had been thrilled to learn I was a soprano who, with exercise and gentle coaching, could actually carry a tune. The chanting was an unexpectedly delightful augmentation to this new-found pleasure.
On one of the chanting sessions, the teacher invited me to join her and some others at her home the following Sunday for an evening of chanting. I was shy, but accepted.
Among those present that evening was a young woman, who I was later to learn was an ascending star in the pop music industry. My own curiosity, however, was captured by a slender, quiet brunette, chanting along with the rest of us, swaying slightly, smiling beatifically, nodding from time to time, as though in agreement with some interlocutor whose argument was inaudible to all but her.
We paused in our chanting to take tea and mingle. I smiled and greeted other women and made my way around from the living room to the kitchen, pausing long enough with the starlet to learn that she was busy on the road, depleted by not taking care of herself and feeling and the need to replenish. I acknowledged the importance of self-care and moved away, unaware of the value of the confidence that had been shared.
As the social waltz brought me closer to the serene brunette, I approached her and another woman, who were speaking of the benefits of chanting; “I find myself forgetting myself.” “It just feels so good.” “I feel connected to something bigger.” I acquiesced in silence with each statement. And then the slender young woman turned her eyes to me. I smiled. She smiled in return. I offered her a date and coconut treat, which she accepted in silence. After chewing for a moment, she looked at me and said, “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me this week.”
She told how she worked at a reputable jeweller in downtown Toronto, earning part-time wages to help pay tuition for her graduate studies. The whole city was buzzing with the upcoming visit of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. And this young woman had been something of a disciple from afar for some time. His Holiness had been scheduled to speak at a local venue, and the woman was adamant she must attend; she couldn’t miss such a rare opportunity. Her regular shift, however, fell during the time of the Dalai Lama’s speaking event. She approached her supervisor, confident in her own mind that the fates would never deny her. And yet, her supervisor had proved intransigent. No. The schedule was the schedule. When she insisted, the supervisor alluded to store policy about abandoned shifts and led her to believe she might be fired for not showing up. What to do? She tried to switch shifts with colleagues. She dreamed up family emergencies and fantasized about quitting for her principles. On the morning of the day of the Dalai Lama’s appearance, she thought seriously about calling in sick. What, she wondered, would the Dalai Lama do?
She went to work as scheduled.
It was a grey day, and the time dripped by. In her mind: “The Dalai Lama is getting out of the limo, now. The Dalai Lama is speaking, now, sharing the wisdom I will never have. The Dalai Lama is taking questions from the blessed audience, now.” No longer angry, the woman was simply feeling forlorn and singularly unfortunate.
And then movement at the front of the jewellery store caught her eye. She raised her head. A crowd came through the double doors; grey and black and navy suits. She was about to dismiss the mob when her vision caught, in the midst of the dark tones, a blaze of saffron.
Her jaw dropped. She blinked rapidly. Her heart rate accelerated. Dear God… Holy Heaven!! It was the Dalai Lama!!
She stood stark still. The world began to move as a film in slow motion. The suits split left and right and the saffron robes made their way through the middle, in her direction, toward the centre of the jewellers, to the back, to the watch counter.
She raised her eyes to his. He smiled gently. He walked straight towards her and her counter. He paused a few steps away, as though unsure of himself. He held her gaze and she his. She breathed twice. And then she turned her eyes to the watches beneath the glass and the dazzling lights.
And there it was. She reached under the glass and selected the deluxe timepiece with the saffron leather wristband. She removed it from its place in the display, raised it gingerly above the counter, looked at it appraisingly and then held it at arm’s length, at once confident and diffident, and offered it to the holy man. “Your Holiness...” Again she held his gaze. He smiled. A small smile at first, broadening into a grin, his eyes catching the mood. And then he reached out to take the watch, chuckling and then laughing out loud, holding it to his robes, and once charmed and amused by the match, by the absurdity of the Dalai Lama desirous of a timepiece, by the perfection of the moment.
He raised his eyes once more to hers. Nodding, smiling. Those few seconds a benediction for them both.
When I came home from chanting that evening, I shared the young woman’s tale with my mother. Mom and I had been speaking of the Dalai Lama’s visit for the past few days. After I passed along the story of the missed speaking event and the unexpected purchase of the watch, my mom was quiet for many long moments. I realized she was crying, softly. I didn’t speak and finally Mom said, “Thank you for telling me that story. It’s so perfect. It feels like it happened to me.