Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Power of Attorney

People have been streaming into the law firm for the last several days.  Couples, individuals, and plenty of kids in tow.  We were open all day Saturday just trying to accommodate everybody and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down.  The law firm must be doing great, right?  Lookie here at all these paying clients, right?

Well--not exactly.

See, we're located in a very heavily Hispanic neighborhood.  As is true of most large cities, there are people living here who aren't supposed to be here.  Some of them have been here for years (24 years, in one case) and many have had children here who, because they were born here, are supposed to be here.  And ever since the ICE began its most recent crackdown, these people are scared.  They're scared that somebody's going to arrest them at work or on their way home, and take them away, and then what will happen to their kids?

Because that is what's happening.  ICE has shown up and arrested women during court hearings.  ICE has walked into Hispanic-owned businesses and detained people.  ICE has done "targeted actions" at locations frequented by Hispanic folks and just rounded up everybody.

Now, these are people who can't legally be here, so some of you might think all that is okay.  Some folks think we should have been cracking down on undocumented immigrants all along, and I respect that.  Some folks think we need a wall along the border, and while I can't imagine how that could possibly help, I do understand the mentality. I would argue that you can't really root out an estimated 11.4 million people and dump them on the other side of the border without some very serious societal and demographic consequences, but I do understand that some people are in favor of that.  Anyway, that whole argument, while very interesting, is kind of beside the point of this blog post.

What we're concerned about here is what happens to the kids.  The accidental orphans who stay behind when Mom and Dad disappear.

My boss is concerned about that too.  That's why, when these people come streaming in, he helps them draw up the paperwork so that someone else--an aunt, a grandmother, a trusted friend--can take custody of the kids if anything happens. Documents that give the someone else permission to enroll the kids in school, get them medical care, stuff like that.  You need documents like this to do just about anything for somebody's kid, if you're not the custodial parent.  So that's what we've been doing.  Word is spreading and so more and more people are coming.  At first we were taking walk-ins just as they appeared, but now we've had to start setting appointments because there's not enough room in the lobby for everybody who's waiting.

(And by the way, I've gotten to be a regular whiz at saying, in Spanish, "Sign here please.  This signature means X. This signature means Y."  And stuff like that.)

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, we're doing this for free.  What we'd ordinarily charge is way out of the reach of most of these folks.

I'm not going to tell you the name of the law firm.  I can't, lest the steady stream of clients become a tsunami and the ICE starts staking out the office.  But I can tell you this. Their kids, though usually shy around strangers and law firm people, are just like American kids. Kids who don't understand things like demographics and politics and international borders. Kids who don't want to go live with Aunt Lucy because their parents have been taken away.    

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Zen For A Day

So for about two years now, I've really been wanting to go to a retreat.  That is, a meditation experience where you go someplace, usually a nice place with lots of plants and trees, and do some serious meditating for days or even weeks.  I don't think this is strictly a Buddhist thing -- I went on a Christian retreat once as a teenager, though no actual meditation happened -- but Buddhists are kind of known to do this.  The idea is to have really deep meditations, so that you realize profound and awesome things about your nature and the universe.  Or at least you get a break from the phone ringing and people texting you every five minutes.

The last time I went on a retreat was I think in 2013, when Brother ChiSing was still alive and we all went to Praxis in far North Texas, just south of the Red River. That was awesome.  It was three days of meditation, walking, quiet and general restfulness.  I had a close encounter with a grasshopper, which is sort of a long story but you can read about it here.  And there were stars. Lots of stars. Zillions and zillions of stars. And grasshoppers.  Anyway, a great time was had.  And now it's been a couple of years and I really want to do this again and I keep running into the same two barriers:  One, there just ain't a lot of Buddhist meditation retreats happening in Texas.  This here's the Bible belt, in case you didn't know. And two, the ones there are, are either A. prohibitively expensive or B. far away or often C. both.

There was this one in Austin, for example, last weekend.  It was for women only, and it was hosted by the Plum Blossom Sangha, which is kind of a sister group to the Dallas Meditation Center, where I hang out. Same school of Buddhism, same guys in charge.  So it would have made a lot of sense to go, except the cheapest accommodations they had available were still too expensive for our budget.  I jist ain't got that kind of money for a weekend.  (And if I did, I'd be saving it up for a new mattress, which I desperately need.)  There's another one in April, which is cheaper, but still too expensive. Life is expensive, you know.

So, last Saturday I hauled myself over to the local Zen center, another Buddhist group in the Dallas environs, for a daylong retreat. It was better than nothing. (It was also cheaper.  A mere $35, and for that you get tea and crackers, too.)  Now, there's meditation in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, which is what I do, and then there's Zen, which is a whole nother thing.  A Zen retreat basically involves a whole lot of sitting, not a whole lot of anything else, and it's all very formal.  No stars. No grasshoppers.  You sit facing the wall instead of facing other people; people bow at you; you do certain stuff when the bell rings, etc.  Which, again, is great, unless you're like me and you have A. very little patience for formality and B. no clue what to do when the bell rings about half the time.  Or maybe more than half the time.

Now, I knew what I was getting into.  I've been there before.  But, that was an hour and a half long regular session, not a daylong retreat.  I also knew what I was bringing with me, which is, a right hip that gets very cranky sometimes, especially when you want to sit on it for what seems like an inordinate length of time.  So, being a smart person, I asked for a chair.  Yes, you can meditate in a chair.  It means you're not touching the Earth like all the cool kids, but you can do it.  The trick is not to rest on the back of the chair, and just kind of sit forward with your spine straight but not rigid and incline yourself not exactly forward but not exactly backward, either, while avoiding being straight up and down.  Yeah, it's kind of like flying a helicopter.  Not that I've ever flown a helicopter, but I don't imagine you just sort of wing over to where you want to be and press the "hover" button.

So anyway.  I was in this chair, and I was meditating, and everything was going more or less well, and then the teacher showed up.  The teacher is a pretty cool dude.  I think he's a comparative religion professor someplace besides being a Zen master, and professors of comparative religion (and Zen masters) tend to be rather even tempered and sanguine about this whole what's-my-place-in-the-universe thing.  I've only met him like once three years ago, but he remembered meeting me and I, remarkably, remembered what he'd said to me last time, which made him very happy.  (I imagine most professors of comparative religion would be overjoyed if they ran into a student who still remembered the basic plot of the Bhagavad Gita.)  So that went well, and we broke for lunch, and that went well, and honestly, I was doing fine until time for the tea ceremony.

I hope y'all have actually been to a Japanese tea ceremony, because I don't know if I can possibly describe what it's like. Let's just say, like all things Japanese, that the presentation of the thing matters as much or more as the actual substance.  You know how when you go to a Japanese restaurant, the food is very artfully designed and served on attractive little plates with contrasting colors and stuff?  Yeah, well, they do that with everything. Not to mention tea.  Well, especially tea.  Tea is very important. How important is it?  Well, it's important enough that I scooted out of my chair and got down on the floor, with the cool kids, so that we'd all be sitting at the same height and the tea servers wouldn't have to bend at a different angle to offer me a cup.  Because that wouldn't look right. 

Unfortunately, scooting down onto the floor was a mistake.  My cranky hip was already cranky, in spite of the chair, and being on the floor did not make it any happier. There's something about leaning outward at that angle that it just really doesn't like after a while.  So we meditated for half an hour, and then the teacher said a few words, and then the tea ceremony started, and by this point my cranky hip is making it really obvious that I'd better do something, like immediately, if I want to be able to limp down the stairs to go home.  So what did I do?  I straightened my right leg.  Rolled my toes to the inside.  Rolled my toes to the outside.  Then tucked the leg back in, figuring it would be good for another ten minutes.  Maybe.  Possibly.

And the second I saw the expressions on the faces of the people across from me, I could just tell I'd committed some kind of horrible faux pas.  Which, in a Japanese setting, is ridiculously easy to do.  And it had to be during the tea ceremony.  Of course.

So, being the brave person that I am, I snuck out the back door an hour and a half early, which was the second I had a chance and before anybody could talk to me.  Eesh.  Maybe if I don't show up back there for like thirty days or something, everyone will have forgotten all about it.  Or maybe it'll become one of those apocryphal fairy tales people use to scare hell out of children; "And that, young grasshopper, is why we don't straighten our right legs during the tea ceremony."

(Like how I came full circle on the grasshopper thing?)

Well, anyway, how embarrassing.  But I got my retreat, sort of.  Somebody just please remind me that the next time I go back there, I'm not to get out of the chair for anything. Yea verily, even tea.  Unless, of course, that would be another horrible faux pas.  Which is possible.