I love those passing moments that stick in your mind. Hardly any moments do. Most moments are, by nature, momentary. But once in a while an instant in time seems to reflect a lasting truth, something to be grokked for its wisdom potential. For example…
Last night, sitting around after my martial arts class, I hear someone say the word “curry” while I’m putting my sandals on. Instantly I have an uncontrollable urge for Indian food. Conveniently, there is an Indian restaurant just a few doors down from the Pacific Martial Arts dojo.
I order a couple of dishes plus some chapattis and am told, “It’ll be ready in 10 to 15 minutes.” Great. A warm night. Fifteen minutes. The Book Bin on the next block. My destiny is clear. A fall moon draws me across the street to my addiction.
And to my grokking moment. After glancing at the new book display, I head to the Philosophy section in the used books area. There I find that I have some company in my shelves of interest. At the end of the section a tough-looking thirty-something guy is looking up at some titles.
My mind instantly categorizes him: “biker dude.” Sleeveless T-shirt. Ponytail. Scruffy beard. Boots. Black jeans. Thick studded belt with a wallet chain attached. (At least, this is my recollection from a quick look; Biker Dude, if you’re a weblog reader and come across this, forgive me for any descriptive errors.)
I’m thinking, “Funny that the Book Bin would put the Harley-Davidson maintenance manuals over here with such serious books.” I stroll by behind the guy on my way to Metaphysics and steal a glance at what he’s been so intently perusing on the top shelf.
I catch him pulling down a book from the Aristotle section.
I walk around the corner and feel like I should turn myself in to the Thought Police. “Guilty as charged. Stereotyping. Biblio-profiling. Whatever you want to call it, I just did it. Take me away to Liberal Reform School.”
I briefly toyed with the idea of asking permission from the guy to take a photo of him holding the Aristotle book—that’d be solid evidence against me at the trial—but a cautionary voice inside my head said, “Hey, maybe he is both a fan of Aristotle and a tough biker dude with no sense of humor.” I continued on to consider some Taoism tomes and, later, why the image of this guy reaching out for the Aristotle book wouldn’t leave me.
Moments like this one feel like Reality is giving me a good, well-deserved shake, along with a scream in the ear: “You don’t know shit about what really is going on, Brian! But don’t feel bad. Hardly anybody else does either.” Thanks for the wakeup call, Reality. Unfortunately I’m prone to go right back to sleep after each of your “You don’t know shit!” reminders.
One guy. One glance. One misconception. No big deal. Just a mistaken moment.
Except…how many moments are there in the day? How many opportunities for what is to be obscured by my erroneous preconceptions of what I think is? Countless. Pretty depressing. Worst of all, I don’t even know the difference between the two most of the time. I don’t have the will or the way to walk behind what I think is and get a close look at what is.
It’s almost like there is No Exit. But I’ve got to believe there is. Especially with leftovers from India Palace waiting for me in the refrigerator. There’s nothing fake about eating deliciously spicy Indian food. It is what it is, just like life itself. The trick, I’m convinced, is in really tasting, instead of thinking about tasting. That’s the message of my Book Bin moment, but I’m not going to think too much more about it.