Ichi-go ichi-e, So They Say
Feeling less-than-accomplished yesterday, I looked up sunset time and determined I could summit Echo Mountain in about 45 minutes to enjoy some last light. Something in the air motivated me. And I needed an arbitrary goal. It’s also good to clean the arteries and clear the thoughts.
Just a shirt and shorts and shoes I should have thrown out months ago. I could endure the chilliness if I didn’t stop much. Water would be in the car. My body knows the course well enough. This body can trust me, and I would find myself patting my quads before steep sections. The low pressure seemed to bring more birds to the trails and bushes. Chatty and whimsically pleasant little guys, per my anthropomorphism.
Made it. A blotch of storm clouds in the northwest. Pausing atop the crumbly steps of the once-ever Mount Lowe Railway, the phrase ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) came to mind. (Literally “one time, one meeting,” or, in the accessible cliché, “one chance in a lifetime.” Or, loosely connecting to the Heraclitus’ line, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Every moment is irretrievably unique. It’s Buddhist with room for some heartbreak, I like to think.) But I realized that I’ve long been emphasizing the first half of this romantic noble truth–“one time”–and not the second part, about the space and the lucky little unions in our lives. Lucky to witness sunset tonight, alone but for another runner sitting there. And I thought, just this place. And I think of 会, and how I associate business and work with that kanji, such as eikaiwa (英会話, English language school) and how I was meeting with the clouds and the mountains. And our language was just-this-ness. From a Catholic standpoint, one could say I had made it just in time for communion, with our host sinking behind the San Gabriels.
And then I applied ichi-go to other parts of my life. Thought how I had to publish a poem by my father, whose birthday was this past Saturday, who passed away over two years ago, whose couplets came to mind after I met another coupletist at a party on Saturday night. (And I don’t go to parties much. I’m relatively hermitic. But I swear that my ketogenic diet has upped my gaba levels and dropped my inhibitions sufficient to alter/up my sociability.) So it was there, outside on the balcony, that a friend and I met this self-proclaimed rhapsode, who sat down beside us on the couch and dished wonderful stories to us and recited a funnytender couplet poem he wrote for his late love from decades ago. He was someone my aunt or dad might like. He said that he told long stories because he was Irish, and I thought he could somehow be related to my Boston Irish side. I mean, islands must make us mingle.
And so all this brings me to my late father, as so many associations and coincidences will do. I’ve been going through his writing, and I found a particular poem that I love, about the eventual shuttering of Pan Am, where he worked for some thirty years. I think this poem specifically references the closing of a reservation office (the “R-R” in the last line). It’s 16 couplets of compassionate honor: for his coworkers, himself, history, our collective roles in WWII to Vietnam, and inevitability and love of inevitability (amor fati, another good principle to live by). Some of these lines pierce me. I can’t stop saying aloud, “Progress plods in painful mystery.”
And a tip of the hat to the party rhapsode, who catalyzed this post’s publishing. (Note that I’m initial-capping every line, as that’s my dad’s old-school style. Like you crazy folks who double-space after a period. There’s no helping you.)
Station Closing STP
The die was cast; fate had its say;
We put the world on hold that day.
We’d watched a famous family grow;
We’d seen ’em come and seen ’em go.
A blend of victory and defeats,
We’d filled a lot of aircraft seats,
And seen a day we had to get
A hefty surcharge for a jet.
For careless records, clerks were scolded;
Files were mutilated, spindled, folded;
Girls wore dresses, men wore collars,
Tariffs quoted pounds and dollars.
Then came Russia’s bold embargo
Prompting Pan Am’s mercy cargo.
Berlin cheered our epic showing;
Bullets pockmarked every Boeing.
Later in a cause uncertain–
Hell behind an Asian curtain.
Spat and sputtered some as nights
Were heard to hum with furlough flights;
And then, at Saigon’s stark demise
These clippers streaked through ashen skies
While victory sneered at either state,
And reason screamed “Evacuate!”
And freedom wept, so few to find,
And fewer still dared look behind.
But winter’s strife is springtime’s history;
Progress plods in painful mystery.
We’re just a part of all that’s been;
We’re saddened at the state we’re in;
Our tears proclaim a once-proud day;
– William F. Tiernan (1933-2016)