Just back from a very full and rich trip to New York City and each step of the way I was reminded of being there with Sensei in the fall of 2006.
He enjoyed the city overall, said it gave him energy to be there, but he also noted that the people were “heavy” in some way. Wherever we went, doormen, taxi drivers, waiters and shopkeepers had strong reactions to him, either darting away or (more often) remarking that he was “different, special”, lingering to be near him and sometimes straight out asking his advice for their lives. It was interesting to note because none of them knew anything of Sensei’s background or status. Without even language in common, they were reacting purely from his presence.
At the end of our time in New York, Sensei insisted on going to Ground Zero. Back then, it was still a big hole in the ground, with rubble all around and the beginnings of new construction. We managed to walk from the wind-whipped corner where the taxi left us, up the sidewalk, and into the temporary memorial hall lined with photos and stories from the events of September 11, 2001.
“Very heavy feeling,” Sensei said, upon entering the hall. It affected him deeply; it seemed he could hardly bear to be there. A female security guard spotted us among the crowd and asked if we’d like some help. As so many people had on this trip, she was taken with Sensei and followed us around, offering help whenever she could.
When we came to the end of the exhibit, Sensei filled out a card to leave in the visitor comment book, writing the following in Japanese with my translation beneath:
“Please always remember the blue sky deep within your hearts and keep that feeling with you wherever you go, whoever you meet. That is very important…………………(he entered a carefully penned, long ellipses)………………..because words cannot express……………..
Kanjuro Shibata, Zen archery master of Trungpa Rinpoche’s kyudo group”
The morning after this visit, the day of our flight home, Sensei awoke with an alarming red rash all along the right side of his body and in considerable pain. I wasn’t certain if we should fly home, but also felt he needed to be home and he concurred. It turned out to be shingles. We treated it quickly and he managed to overcome it in a few weeks with no relapses, but I always felt haunted that he had contracted it from the depths of whatever he encountered that day at Ground Zero.