When I heard last year that the Dalai Lama was going to address the Minnesota Legislature I decided I was obligated to do my best to arrange an interview with His Holiness by using my job as a reason (an excuse?) to meet the charismatic leader.
Not that I'm that schooled in Buddhism nor am I that knowledgeable about the trials and tribulations of the Dalai Lama but I thought it was a rather unique opportunity to be in the presence of an acknowledged world leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. How often does one get a chance like that? Plus I liked the fact that story after story I read about him emphasized his penchant for giggling. That in itself warranted an effort for an interview.
I of course never thought it could possibly happen. My only previous brushes with fame didn't exactly measure up with this potential opportunity. In kindergarten young Dee Dee Hasselburg, the daughter of actress Loni Anderson, followed me around like a lost, devoted puppy, attaching herself to me for whatever reason in an affectionate way. Later on I bagged the groceries of World Series hero and Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola who was accompanied by his son, Frank Jr. and a whole lot of pop to purchase.
More recently Mrs. Minnesota stopped by our office a few of weeks ago and I got to shake her hand while admiring the tiara upon her head. She smiled at me and as she walked away she did her lightbulb wave and I wished her well. A few days later at the Twins' game they had Mrs. Minnesota sing "God Bless America" and the "Star Spangled Banner." What could be more patriotic you ask? Well for one thing the one who did the singing wasn't the woman I had just met. Somebody's cheating or in some states it's called bigamy. Anyhoo getting back to our story...
I suffered what can mildly be described as a fracture of previous faith after my Mom died. Not that I hadn't questioned it severely before but I really was wondering what the point of all this we face can possibly be. My still best friend was kind and thoughtful enough to loan to me a book of daily Christian meditations with a Seventh Day Adventist bent. I read those passages religiously feeling as if I was shirking my duties any day I happen to miss my reading.
At the same time I further roamed down that super information byway by subscribing to a Buddhist email lesson of the day. The combination of Christian scripture and Buddhist wisdom meant almost as much to me as a friend who could possibly care so much as to be concerned that I didn't at the most difficult time of my life lose my bedrock faith in all things spiritual.
A couple of months back as I attended my first and only meeting concerning the Dalai Lama's visit I expected to be delivered the news that I would in no way be able to interview him because he had far better things to do, far more important people to spend time with. But I didn't hear that. I was told that if he had the time, a Senate counterpart and myself might have the chance to ask the Dalai Lama a few questions. At any rate we were given the promise of access to the retiring room behind the House of Representatives' chamber where His Holiness would greet legislative leaders after his speech.
I tried to formulate some questions for the possible interview in my mind. "Who's your favorite Beatle?" "What's your favorite meal?" "What music do you listen to, books do you read?" "Do you remember specific lessons from past lives and what life was better, reincarnation number five or seven?"
All this occurred while truly believing there was no way I'd ever come within 20 feet of the spiritual compassionate one. But as the time neared it actually began to appear that an interview wasn't entirely out of the question. I was being given access that even those higher up weren't granted and who could guess, maybe His Holiness would take one look at me and decide this was a person he could open up to and answer the questions never before asked.
The morning before his speech I was given my security clearance and told to be in the retiring room no later than 8:00 a.m. for his 9:30 speech. The night before I fretted more than I usually am inclined to do. What exactly do you ask the Dalai Lama?
As I tried to get some sleep I was a tad more paranoid than usual. I double checked my doubly set alarm clock. I checked the air in my newly purchased tires. I made sure I had all my necessary credentials to get into my choice spot.
As the alarm buzzed the next morning and I awoke from a fitful night's rest I speeded up my normal morning routine just in case. An hour later as I nervously approached the never before sacred House chamber I felt a strange but serene calm. My nervousness was overcome with a feeling of genuine serenity- I was going to enjoy this morning despite myself.
As I cut my way through the line that had formed an hour before, I felt honored that while I may not be able to speak with His Holiness I was being given the access that few others were. After wading my way through security much more stringent than the Metrodome's efforts at protecting the beleaguered Chuck Knoblauch the week before, I stood in my designated spot for about an hour. Just as the events were scheduled to proceed I was told by security that I had to evacuate the backroom for yet another sweep and so my only option was to meander out front to where the speech was going to take place. I stood awkwardly out of place and out of time as the Dalai Lama was introduced into the chamber. I was in a spot up front where he had to walk right by me to get to the speaker's spot. After he passed I pressed my way back to the back room, right where I belonged.
After his address he was escorted back to the retiring room by the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader. I stood there knowing I couldn't speak but needed to be the eyes of the many who weren't fortunate enough to have the access. As the members of the reception line one by one went up to have scarves previously distributed blessed by the Dalai Lama I decided to get in line. Scarfless I approached him and he looked at me. I took the step forward, reached out my hand and met his eyes. He stood right hand extended, expectant as if he expected me to deliver some words of wisdom. I said, "thank you" as he giggled.
Later I was told by one House member that the Dalai Lama's gentleness was noticed and admired to which I silently (of course) concurred. Learn to smile and laugh and appreciate the always present compassion that can occur in an exchange between any one of us at any moment and one can overcome just about any obstacle that appears in our path.