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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 79 white oak, reaching the height of at least a five-story Manhattan building, was drinking from sources deep and unknown, forgot- ten aquifers way below the earth’s surface. Trees of this nature that were watered were known to burst, exploding rooftops and building structures. One day I knocked on the door of the house. A blonde woman with a young child hiding in her skirts opened it. “I wonder if it’s OK that I hang out here a bit sometimes? I’ve fallen in love with your tree.” “Tree?” she asked. I could see past the door. They’d just moved in. “That one,” I pointed. I wanted her, too, to love it. Why else would she have bought the house? The mighty branches extended over the entire yard and out into the street. She glanced at it. “Oh, yes, it costs a lot to prune. Sure, it’s fine,” she said, and shut the door. Untold money was made during the nineties. Couples in their twenties were suddenly millionaires many times over. The cat- egory of billionaire came into being. I knew this owner was part of the phenomenon. Stunned by her sudden wealth, she had no time left to notice the tree. I worried for these people, but I was in my fifties, old enough to worship the great oak. I would do it for all of them. BEFORE I BECAME a full-time writer, I was a teacher. My last teaching job was with twenty-five fifth- and sixth-graders in a private school. I’d never taught a whole group of white well-to-do kids before. My specialty was inner-city kids, ragtag, sometimes hungry. I developed writ- ing practice with these young students. Rudely honest and still connected to community and family, however broken, these Chippewa and African-American students gave me fresh insights into the writing mind. But the ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds in this private setting I’d never encountered before. They came to school well-dressed, with too many snacks, but as soon as they were dropped off all hell broke loose. I was afraid they’d kill each other—or at least break a few arms, legs, and pelvic bones. “Quick, without thinking, write what your mother was wearing this morning.” I gave this assignment in early September. Most kids don’t notice their mothers that much, but their re- sponses gave me some insight. My mother is in Switzerland. She left two weeks ago, wrote one thin boy. I haven’t seen her in a long time. My stepmother was making me breakfast. I hate her. She’s a lousy cook. I poured Coke on my cereal, penned a redheaded fifth-grader. I understood that material goods replaced human attention, guidance, and touch. Each day I watched these kids take out their frustration and isolation on each other. The wealth served to cre- ate loneliness. I sensed this same vacancy in these quaint, expensive streets that I walked. Soul was missing; only commerce was left. Yet when I attended a luncheon celebrating a big investment in my partner’s company by a venture capitalist, I was surprised to meet the software engineers, who turned out to be fresh, ide- alistic, and enthusiastic. They said things we used to say as hip- pies, only they substituted the word “technology” for our word “love.” “This technology program will change the world, will make it a better place,” intoned one young man. I tried to find some common ground for sharing. Zen? Litera- ture? Writing? These topics were getting me nowhere. I dropped them and finally just listened. The short-haired blond in a striped polo on my right told me about his love of waves and how he had followed the surf all over the world. The one across the table in a yellow tee-shirt and thick glasses spoke of the traditional Korean wedding he would have in six months. He had met his fiancée five weeks earlier in L.A. The others teased him, but they were all going to attend the ceremonies. I tried to ask what they were develop- ing for the company, but no one could tell me. It wasn’t a secret, they said. It was just that they hadn’t gotten far enough. I’m no computer genius, but I didn’t quite believe them, even though I knew they weren’t lying. I feared a rootlessness at the core of all this research. In truth, I was disappointed that all this technology was discovered in my lifetime. It seemed So many years ago, when I heard my teacher talk about surrendering to the unknown, it sounded good and true. But to experience it was something altogether different. I felt frightened, hopeless, on the edge of depression, but not even able to sink into that hole. Seagrape Tree