I got to see the Dalai Lama yesterday in Atlanta
Here's how it happened:
Went down to Atlanta yesterday (Monday 10/22/07) for work. I was supposed to be "observing" an environmental cleanup on a property formerly owned by my client. The cleanup is being performed by contractors for the current owners, who unfortunately hired incompetant environmental consultants before they bought the property, leading them to buy a contaminated piece of property (contaminated with perchloroethene or "perc" - a drycleaning solvent - very nasty) .
I'll be observing and collecting "split" samples with the current contractor while they do their cleanup of the contaminated soil. When they're finished, my company will come in to do the cleanup of contaminated groundwater. There has been a lawsuit, about to be settled any day now, dragging on for a couple of years between my client and the other contractor's client. The current property owners are responsible for the soil cleanup while my client, the former owner, is responsible for the groundwater cleanup.
So, my client's attorneys had called me, in complete frenzy, on Friday. "They've already started the soil cleanup!" Which was news to all of us. The lawyer had driven by the site and had seen fences up, backhoes around, etc. The lawyers said, "We want you down there first thing Monday morning!" Naturally, my response was, "I'm on that! I'll be there at 8:00 a.m. Monday!"
So, I get up at 4:30 a.m. yesterday, drive to ATL and arrive about 7:00 a.m. I go grab some breakfast at my favorite ATL restaurant, The Flying Biscuit (it Rulz!). Get back to the job site, and there are 3-4 guys sitting on top of 5-gallon buckets, looking at each other, not doing much of anything. The lead contractor turns out to be a former client & also a really cool guy. He says, "Uh, we don't even have our demolition permit yet. We're not going to be doing anything - demolition or cleanup wise - until next week at the soonest." Turns out the lawyers freaked out for nothing.
I asked if I could come inside the building and have a look around. He says he'd have to make some calls and get it approved with his client first. He put the property manager on the phone, she says that until there's a signed settlement agreement, they're not completely comfortable with my company having unfettered access to the site. She says to hang out and "have some coffee and a muffin" and she'll get back to me.
An hour and half later, I still haven't heard a word from the property manager. I'm sitting in my truck, taking notes, when I hear on the radio, "Today's theme for the 'Free Lunch' here on [station] will all be related to peace, for the Dalai Lama's visit to Atlanta today. He's going to be giving a free talk down at Centennial Park. The gates open at 1:00. There's going to be music at 3:00. The Dalai Lama's talk starts at 4:45."
My inner dialogue went something like this:
"Did I just hear that right? The Dalai Lama is going to talk today at 4:45? Here? In Atlanta? Today? Holy Fuck! I'm in Atlanta today too! This is so not a coincidence! And, it's only [looks at watch] 11:00 now! I could totally make that! But should I go or not? I mean, I could get back to the office in a couple of hours. If I left now, I could get in a half a day of productive work. But...how many times in your life do you get a chance to see the Dalai Lama? Like, once, maybe?
"Remember that time in 1984 in New York City when you were hanging out in the park, and you read in the paper that Frank Zappa was playing that same night, and you had enough money to get in the show, and you had the time too, you didn't have to be at any certain place at any certain time, but you had a bus ticket, and you thought 'I'll see Frank Zappa another time, I'd better go ahead and get on the bus and get on back home.' But you never did see Frank Zappa live, did you? No, you didn't, because he died in 1993, and now all you can do is buy CDs and DVDs and you'll never see Frank Zappa because he's dead. Is that the same kind of memory you want to have for the Dalai Lama too?"
"Frank Zappa is dead and I never got to see him, because I took the easy road in 1984. The Dalai Lama is alive and here in Atlanta today, and SO AM I! Fuck it! I'm going!"
So, I fucked off for a while and did a little thrift store shopping for my Halloween costume (I'm going to be a wizard - I needed some black pants that I'm going to turn into giant bell bottoms). Later, I parked at the MARTA train station and took the train into downtown.
I got to Centennial Park around 2:15 - two and half hours before the Dalai Lama was scheduled to speak. I got a great seat about 100 feet or so from the stage. Everyone around me was pretty cool. I befriended a group of 5 or so women from Agnes Scott College - all humanities & social science majors - sitting next to me.
Waiting the 2 & 1/2 hours wasn't SO bad, but my ass did hurt after sitting on the ground for so long. There was some music: native Tibetan, local Atlanta jazz, and the throat-chanting monks - who were totally fucking amazing!
Then, after excessive cermonial thanksgiving and ass-kissing, FINALLY, the Dalai Lama addressed the assembled masses. I was struck by his gentleness, humility and sense of humor. His wasn't a life-changing address, but was still inspiring and uplifting nonetheless. Here are some of the highlights that I remember:
"If you want world peace, you must first establish peace within yourself."
"I'm just like you. There's really nothing different about me. We all have the same emotions."
"All of the world's religions come from the same source."
"The monastic life is the same, whether you are Buddhist, Christian, or Islamic."
"Suffering leads to Fear. Fear leads to anger. Fear and anger inside a person can cause all kinds of bodily illness and disease."
"We are all part of the human family, all brothers and sisters. When you try to 'go over there' and destroy your enemies, you are in effect destroying a part of yourself. Peace can never be achieved this way."
"China is a great, populous nation. They have worked hard and accomplished much. They deserve to have the Olympic Games. However, they must also learn to respect basic human rights."
Leaving the address, I definately felt inspired and uplifted. Am I glad I went? You betcha.
So, I got to see the Dalai Lama in Atlanta yesterday.
At least I got that going for me, which is good.
...but it seemed like such a good idea at the time...