Monday, February 3, 2014

Dead Battery

For this morning’s reading at practice, I took this passage from Urs App’s translation of Zen Master Yunmen, one of the Chinese golden age masters:

A monk asked Yunmen for instruction. The Master said: “Bow, will you?” The monk bowed and rose. Yunmen poked at him with his staff, and the monk drew back. Yunmen remarked: “Well, you’re not blind.” Then he told the monk to come closer again. When the monk stepped in front of him, he said: “And you’re not deaf.” Then Yunmen held up his staff and asked, “Do you understand?” The monk said, “I don’t.” And Yunmen remarked, “Neither are you mute.” At this the monk attained insight. (Master Yumen, Kodansha International, 1994, pp. 191-192).

Later after breakfast, as I lay lethargically in my room, a banging came at the front door. A fellow dressed very well for the cold weather waited out there and started speaking and gesturing in a way I could not understand at first, but eventually figured out he was deaf and mute and that his car needed a jump. Feeling lethargic, depressed and ungenerous, to say nothing of incapable of helping anyone with an automobile problem, I pulled my car around to his, and we started a 20-minute adventure trying to jump his SUV. I’m not sure he knew much more about jumping a car than I do, but he had the cables, hooked them up.

I have no idea exactly what his predicament was: if he was headed to work or not or how his car wound up across the street (he wasn’t a next-door neighbor, it turned out). As for me, I just felt dumb. I sat in my car with my heater running, wondering how big a jerk I was for not inviting him in so sit with me. I tried to justify my reluctance by noticing how much interest he took in looking at his inert engine. “Nah, he doesn’t want to sit in here.”

There was no resuscitating his engine. In a new round of awkward communication he indicated that he wanted me, in my car, to push his SUV to a place around the corner. The streets were half covered in frozen ice. I wasn’t sure I understood him. He wrote a two-word note, “APT LIVE.” So, he lived nearby, and he wanted me to push him there.

I simply wouldn’t push his car, but I did finally communicate that I’d give him a ride home. I did. Later he returned and is still working on his SUV.

At this point I make my own clumsy, frantic efforts at communication. Coincidence this. Irony that. Boy, did I learn such-and-such. Three big mistakes. The eloquent guy has a dead battery.

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