The elegance of chance, a prompt for the “Munching Words Brunch.”
We used to meet on Saturdays at a local coffee shop. Now, with the pandemic, we meet Thursday mornings on Zoom. It’s poetry and prose by Southwestern New Mexico writers.
I seldom speak of my Buddhist faith on this blog, but it seemed workable to combine it with the brunch piece because the discussion of chance happens, not by chance, to feature some discussion of the practice.
On July 17, 1977, I received a scroll, a mandala, to which my attention is focused when I do morning or evening Gongyo. Gongyo is that assiduous practice that Nichiren Buddhists do twice daily. Reciting some parts of the Lotus Sutra and much more daimoku. You can find much more about that and other aspects of Buddhism in this PDF of a three-part series on Eagle Peak Press, my publishing site.
The Elegance of Chance
I took a ride on the Reading a few times—somebody else always owned it.
The chance of winning the jackpot on Power Ball or Mega Millions is slim. We play three or four times a year. Won back the price of a lottery ticket a couple times. Five dollars once. Sad seeing the poor folk buying 20 tickets or more when the jackpot gets huge.
Played cards in the hooch in Nam—never for money. At a $100 a month who the hell could take the chance. Besides, too stoned by then. Inelegant when mistakenly sipping from the reconstituted chocolate milk after somebody dropped a cigarette in it—don’t think I pitched the butt or sipped the mix. That memory eludes me.
Surely not chance smoking dope in a Spec-5’s private room—tiny purple fishes ran laughing through my fingers. His girlfriend sent him the LP with Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses.
Some might suppose it chance that the guy pulled in front of us from an on ramp on the interstate from Shively to Louisville at 4:30 am. Had to take my first wife to work before heading to Ft. Knox in 1969. Instinctively, at 60 mph, I did a four-wheel drift—cutting the wheel sharply to the left and stepped on the gas. We moved ahead into the next lane without a skid and kept moving. NASCAR people do it all the time. I never watched them. Just did it.
A chance encounter at the Depot. Platform shoes, elephant bells and the tank top—that was me. Don’t remember what she wore. She mirrored my every move on the dance floor. A one-night event.
The Depot was formerly a bus station, reincarnated as a club. I chanced to see Zappa and the Mothers—with Flo and Eddie. Not so elegant but certainly entertaining. Mitch Ryder and more. The club was short-lived.
By chance, my 2nd father-in-law worked at the depot, before the conversion, back when the gray dog still stopped there. He gave me with some very heavy (7-8 pounds) suede pants from the lost and found. Perhaps some performer left them behind—either a time traveler or heading for another venue. The 30-inch waist fit then. Doubtful it will again.
For a time, chance worked for me. Won tickets from WGTB a few times. A station owned by the very Jesuit Georgetown University. It played progressive/psychedelic music and had news from Pacifica. The school sold the station when they tired of the foolish radio guys making rude comments about the Church. But I did get to take a young fellow Buddhist to see Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Even got a parking space next to GWU auditorium—impossible to park there. Tickets AND a parking space! Elegant indeed.
The Burrito Brothers were among the groups at the one and only rock festival I attended. Heard about it by chance. In an Iowa farm a 150 miles away from Minneapolis. Not that crazy about the Burritos, but the Chambers Brothers were fantastic. Lying on the grass and smoking it—perhaps not elegant. A bong, a chillum or at least a filter would have improved the Panama Red that liked to rip my lungs out.
Chance, elegant or otherwise, not something I really acknowledge anymore. Where others see it, I see karmic opportunities. It’s not fate or predetermination. The choice to take this path or another is still up to me—the available choice and the consequence of the decision is where karma comes in. That’s very elegant to me.
The tapestry of life—events occurring along the timeline of eternity. Painful or pleasant—experiences are what they are, and what we make of them. It’s not easy, mastering the mind rather than letting it master us. Decades ago, I never tried, now I do. Sometimes I even succeed, elegantly.
Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year for River: the Joni Letters in 2008—the first one for jazz in 43 years. A very humble and gracious man. I ferried him and his wife around DC a couple days in 1981 as I volunteered at a control center in L’Enfant Plaza for a major SGI event —the Aloha We Love America Rally. I did morning Gongyo with him, Tina Turner and Patrick Duffy. It wasn’t chance that I could get off from work to do this. It was elegant.
I had given up the weed by then. Children were on the agenda. Then there was the New Year’s Gongyo in Silver Spring, Maryland. A location 45 minutes from our Northern Virginia home. Didn’t see a drunk driver anywhere along the way. I did feel a sense of exhilaration surprisingly like the effects of marijuana. I didn’t really need it anymore.