"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TIM's distant past

     My brother Tim can recall all kinds of interesting anecdotes from his past lives. (He and I spent most of our lives in different worlds.) Now 74, he'll be over at our house for dinner and he'll say casually, "When we were stomping grapes in Italy one time--"
      "What?" I'll squeak. "I never knew you stomped grapes in Italy!"
      Or, "When I was in New Delhi--"
    "When were you in New Delhi?"
    "That's where I got the freak bus." 
     "The freak bus?"   
     "It was the '60s. A couple of guys would get together and buy a bus and drive it across the continent. This man had a cobra in a basket and a mongoose in a cage. Its eyes were red like rubies glaring at the cobra. I asked him, 'Can you let it out?' and he said, 'You can't find a good cobra these days. Very expensive."
     Or, "This reminds me of when I was on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. They had something like that at the end of each car."
     "Like what?"
     "Those--those things of tea--yes, samovars--at both ends of the car." Then he'll talk about the Soviet Union.
     "In the Army, I was given aptitude tests. I deliberately did badly on Morse code. But I jumped on language school. I had a couple of romance languages under my belt and German, which is Teutonic. They offered Russian, which gave me a chance to learn a Slavic language. I had to learn Chinese all by myself.
     "When I was in Russia they had musical instruments in barber shops so customers could get up little quartets and things. I was watching a soccer game on Russian TV. People were three-deep watching. At half time where we would have had commercials, they had a man showing how to change a tire. The people stopped watching and wandered away. He put it under water to find the leak. . . and pumped and pumped. . .and bounced it--and said, 'See, that's how you change a tire.' Then the people wandered back and were three-deep again."
     Or, "I saw a bunch of discouraged grass in Istanbul--"
     "Yeah, just--you know, the normal kind. And I realized I hadn't seen grass for 3,000 miles."
       Or, "I met a guy waiting at Pakistan/Afghanistan customs. He had bandoliers of cartridges crossed on his chest. His rifle had mother-of-pearl inlay and you could see dints on the metalwork where a local blacksmith had made him a replacement part. All I remember of one of those long Asian conversations where you use pieces of all the languages you know plus sign language is asking him, 'You Pakistani, you Afghan?'
     "He said, 'Me, Khyber Pass.'
     "When the Russians invaded I felt sorry for the Russians."
     Tim and his girlfriend at the time were caught up in the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, a government massacre of student and civilian protesters and bystanders that took place on October 2, 1968, in Mexico City.  
     "I was at the bottom of the stairs when the shooting started. People with white gloves were running everywhere. Isabel and I ran up the stairs. Students were gathering in someone's apartment." One of the students was shot through the window and died in Tim's arms.
    "It was at night. They took people out one at a time, shot them or dragged off live bodies. They pulled me outside, too, and questioned me.
    "I told them, 'I'm a poet. I'm just visiting.'
    "One of them demanded, 'Which poets do you like?'
    "Walt Whitman. My favorite Spanish poet is Federico Garcia Lorca." I recited to them, 'Verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. . .' Nobody could fake that. They looked at each other and one said, 'Okay, take him back in.'
    They cleaned out a lot of people that night.
     Recently Tim said, "It's a bore to have a disintegrating mind."

Today I am thankful for the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.