August 15, 2010

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I haven't written here since traveling to San Francisco and New York. On both trips I had not brought along my computer and thus it made it very difficult to write any sustained words onto this blog. My iPad is wonderful for incoming information, but it's very difficult to do any meaningful writing.

There were two reasons to go to San Francisco. One was to attend a meeting of the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists at Sokoji in Japantown, and the second was to visit my grandchildren who were visiting from Zurich. The family rented a house in the Castro district since they were staying for three weeks. The house was a grand and spacious Victorian with a lovely back patio for dining or sunning. Yes, the sun did come out although the temperature was quite chilly most of the time. I was glad of the sweater and scarf I'd brought. Summer can be bitter in San Francisco and this year it is downright disheartening.

I went out and about with the kids, through the Castro and up and over Dolores Park with a fabulous view of the skyline downtown. The kids are troopers, sophisticated in their acceptance of the varieties of peoples found on the streets of San Francisco. This is quite different from what they experience in Zurich where the people are generally far more conservative in dress and demeanor. The grandkids seem to flourish in the freedom of expression they find here and felt they didn't want to leave when it came time to go home. They were both born in San Francisco and remember living there before they moved to Europe. Still, as children, they have more freedom of movement in Zurich. They can go out alone to the playground in Zurich. Julian walks Esther to her ballet lesson. When out shopping, the kids can wander alone in other departments or stores. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen today in the U.S.

The day the folks were leaving for Switzerland, I went on to my hotel for the ASZB meeting. It had been difficult to find a room in Japantown, thus I got a budget hotel within walking distance but right at the edge of the Tenderloin at Geary and Polk. Holy moly. I live in sweet little Olympia and although I'm from Bed-Sty in Brooklyn, I haven't seen such sad life in a long time. I went out to find a snack shop after dark and walked along Polk street for two blocks to a convenience store. The pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers were all out. The streets are narrow in that area so you can't avoid close contact. To let you know they are available, as you walk by they simply say, "Hey" in a quiet tone. I'm certainly not frightened by any of this, just I'm so out of place in my looks, I must have seemed very comical to them. I wonder what they thought when they saw me. Did they think I was innocent and foolish? Do they wish they had another life? I know that when I see their lifestyle, I am intensely grateful for what I have. Any of us could wind up on the streets for a variety of reasons. Any of us could be born into dreadful poverty and hopelessness. For them, this is how they know to make a living. This is how they survive.

The meeting itself went well and I enjoyed the company of my peers. We're all getting older and we wonder how the next generation will flourish in the Dharma. We wonder how the tradition will go forward and how it will be changed in and by the American culture. We have many concerns and these are discussed in our interactions at such meetings. It is tremendously helpful to feel supported by one another and to feel the depth and strength of other teachers.

So, a report on my New York trip is the next blog before I pack and get ready to go to Honolulu to Aitken Roshi's Memorial Service which will be held on August 22.