Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rain Songs

Last night the rain sluiced down, soaking my hair and my jacket and my shoes. I walked up 6th Avenue to the bus stop, so happy with the rain, so happy with the cold, feeling myself young and strong and alive.

On the bus, it was delightfully warm, yet well-ventilated and airy. Everyone looked glum and put-upon. The downpour had sent extra people looking for buses, of course, so we were full, as Americans understand it. The driver asked us to move back. People shuffled back an inch or two, making room at the front for perhaps a couple more people. Americans, western Americans anyway, have not the faintest idea how to scrunch together. People I know who have arranged Dharma events here and in India tell me that they reckon the same space that will comfortably hold 200 Americans will comfortably hold 500 Indians. I had an absurd urge to sing out, “come on, folks squeeze together and let more people on! You were just out in that rain, you know how anxious they are to be aboard!” We could have taken on at least a dozen more passengers. But no. The riders were mute and sullen. I felt a fleeting contempt for my people, so convinced of their divine right to personal space, so willing to snatch what they imagine to be their own and to deny it to their brothers and sisters. And I looked at the enormous display of wealth -- all the iPads and iPods, the Blackberries, the shoes and jackets and dresses worth thousands upon thousands of dollars -- and thought, what right do you all have to be so unhappy? And if you are, then why don't you do something about it? Strike up a song, for God's sake. We could all have a terrific time, here. We could sing old favorites and enjoy each other's company. We could marvel at the fact that every single one of us is on our way to a warm dry home, where we'll change into dry clothes, where there is central heating and electric lights and food in the fridge.

Well. I'm a shy introvert: I was no more likely to exhort people to scrunch up or to lead them in a rousing group sing than I was to grow a second head. And the intense happiness, the rain-drunkenness, was dissipating as I walked home, under a gentler rain now. I'm glad it came. For a while there I thought maybe it was done with me for good.

Why don't we sing? Why don't we all know rain songs, to sing together on the bus? Oh, this is not a rich country at all: it's a poor, poor place, a wretchedly poverty-stricken detention pen of great apes accustomed to nothing but zoo cells, and terrified by the forest. We have nothing to give to each other or to anyone else. And what other meaningful measure of wealth is there? A wealthy man is one who can afford to give things away: almost every culture but our own knows that.

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