Chapter Twenty Five II
Genius makes the difficult look simple.
Endless practice makes genius.
The Shaolin sit together, over one hundred monks in attendance. The temple has seventy five in residence, the rest come from around New York and New Jersey. Even the old ascetic, Tan, who never left his tiny area of the grounds, abandoned his perpetual meditation to attend. Janah excuses herself and goes to visit him, he chats with her openly to the amazement of the monks, many of whom had never actually seen him until today. Of course, it is the young bodhisattva, it would be disrespectful for even Master Tan to ignore her they thought. Janah stands, bows to the priests and returns to her family and Sonia, who grabs her hand as soon as she sat. Janah thinks it no wonder I am so calm, Sonia is carrying all the tension for me. Sonia gives her dad a list of all the things I would have to do and asks him a few zillion times if he thought I would be okay. He assures her that he is certain I know exactly what I’m doing.
She settles down a little when he says, “Master Janah and Daphne saved our lives baby, I’m sure this will be no problem for her,” still, she clings to Janah’s hand for reassurance.
Master Sung makes the introductions, “Please welcome our friend Master Kim and the family members of Daphne Sylk and Master Janah. We owe a debt of gratitude to Master Kim for introducing one of his own students to Shaolin, and for bringing us Master Janah. For this afternoon, our temple is Master Kim’s dojang. I welcome our honored guests from Shaolin New Jersey, Shaolin Brooklyn and Shaolin Beaverton Oregon. We have the honor of three additional masters of taekwondo from New York, Master Yi, Master Pak, and Master Fischer, Master Jung from Miami and Grandmaster Yang Moon from Seoul Korea.”
There is a burst of applause for the visitors and families, a welcoming demonstration of two kuen by the monks, followed by more applause, then a splendid demonstration of shuriken. The small pointed stars sail across the grounds and thunk into the target board with pinpoint accuracy. Then, it is time.
Janah, “Best put on a good show, Kim neglected to mention all the visitors, sly old devil.”
“Dang, I would have charged more if I’d known Grandmaster Moon was showing up. Should have asked for a bigger dressing room. Where are the paparazzi?"
Janah giggles, “Give them something to talk about, I’ll melt your mind later.”
“I’ll make it quick then.”
Kim bows, “Thank you for this opportunity to share our art. Today, we test Sabum Daphne Sylk for the rank of 5th degree Master of Taekwondo. We will begin with our poomse, or forms as they are known. Sabum Sylk’s 5th degree form is Ilyo, which means ‘oneness’.”
Ilyo calls for crane stances, which the Shaolin use, and sidekicks. In two spots I have to hold an extended foot out in a high sidekick for 10 seconds. I hold it motionlessly, higher than my head. In my mind, I am a statue.
Sonia whispers to Janah, “Her kicks are so high, yet graceful at the same time, and the speed, I can hardly follow.”
The only sound is the snap of my gi as I punch and kick.
I demonstrate three additional forms of my choosing. First Hansoo, then Cheonkwon and finally Jitae, all black belt forms. Master Kim announces that all the other taekwondo forms are written on cards in a box. I pull a card from the box and announce the form, explain its design and purpose and demonstrate it. I pull Koryo the first degree black belt form, then Taebeck, a fairly long form then Tae Geuk Sam Jang, the third of the basic Tae Geuk forms. My last two forms, also randomly chosen, are Cheonkwon, a 4th degree form of some length, and Sipjin, 3rd degree black belt form.
I’d spent thousands of hours practicing. I know these moves awake, asleep, frontwards and backwards. Master Kim is perfectly aware I could have flawlessly performed any of them. He’d asked me to perform extra ones for benefit of the guests and hosts.
Chris, “Watching Daphne move is akin to watching Baryshnikov in his prime, Jordan in the NBA finals, Federer play with a tennis ball. Things happen that humans aren’t supposed to be able to do. Much less with her exquisite grace and finesse.”
Sonia leans over to Janah, “Doesn’t she know about gravity?”
Janah, “She ignores it.”
My primary weapons are nunchucks, but I felt it would honor the Shaolin to demonstrate a long staff technique, a tradition of the Shaolin. Kim announces that I would perform a short demonstration with the nunchucks and, in honor of the Temple, demonstrate long staff for my rank test requirement. The spectators nod appreciatively, pleased that Master Kim had seen fit to include this most traditional Shaolin weapon.
Following the movement of the two batons connected by a short chain is impossible, showing why it’s such a formidable weapon in the hands of a skilled artist. It comes from above, the side, below and directly at an opponent with such speed there is no defense except surrender. For my finishing move, I’d taught myself to flip one end of the nunchucks under my foot, the connecting chain under the arch, then, using the momentum, kick the nunchucks high into the air, spinning like a propeller blade. As the whirling sticks come down, I spin and catch them by the chain, behind my back, bowing to a huge round of applause from the appreciative audience.
Chris, “When did she learn that?”
Susan, “I don’t know when she had time, I’ve never seen her do it.”
Janah, “She started fiddling around with it a few weeks ago. She practices hapkido with Black at night in the garden, then she worked on this. She flipped them over the wall more than once until she got control, Black would climb the wall, throw them back over and sneak back into the temple through the herbarium. One time she flipped it back over the wall before he got back and he had to do it all over again.”
Susan, “That girl, no one ever found out?”
Janah smiles, “Master Sung told Black the next day it would be easier to help student Sylk if he just went out the front door to retrieve her nunchucks. Mysteriously, the door was always unlocked until Daphne finished practicing.”
Susan, “She finally learned to quit sending it over the wall?”
Janah, “I guess. She did it the last time she practiced though.”
Susan, “So she did this tonight without knowing for sure it would work?”
Janah, “Daphne is at her best under pressure.”
Lacy, “What if she screwed it up?”
Janah, “Then it would be screwed up. Like she says, ‘it’s not like I’m saving the world or anything.’ Her attitude is, if there’s no chance of a mistake, there’s no fun.”
Chris, “She’s got a point.”
Lacy, “If she can do all this now, what do the Shaolin teach her?”
Janah, “That she has to listen to me.”
Sonia, “I didn’t realize until I stayed with the moms that you two were girlfriends, in the hospital you seemed so …I don’t know…”
Janah turns to her, saying nothing.
Sonia, “Sometimes I would see both of you at the same time, in one person, it was beautiful. At first I thought it was the monk thing.”
Lacy, “They’ve always been like that, see one, you see the other. They’ve been together since they were, what, twelve? When Janah moved in next door to Daphne, I guess you heard the story?”
Sonia, “Yes, it’s so cool, they all live in that great condo. The moms are so much fun, we were totally silly. To say it helped isn’t nearly enough. I got to watch Kara paint, she’s unreal.”
Janah, “Now the long staff, the other side of Daphne, total grace and elegance.”
I have speed strikes of course, the gung fu form I demonstrate is highlighted by long arcs, swoops, spins and twists.
Sonia, “She spins the staff so quickly it’s like looking at an electric fan.”
The Shaolin applaud enthusiastically. Master Kim bows in return to mine. I am so deep in the zone that my eyes register nothing, my mind calm, undisturbed by thought.
Chris begins setting up my breaking technique. Two of the advanced degrees, standing on concrete blocks to add height, hold two pine boards a couple of feet over my head each holding one edge of the boards with both hands. There is enough room for me to kick between their hands. If the kick is high and fast, the boards will snap in two. Too low or too slow and the boards would still be up there, laughing at me. If I’m off center, I would only kick the wrist of one of the holders. Since the boards are being held so high, I will also have to be in the air when I make contact. It’s difficult with one board, Chris has never seen it done with two. Her stomach knots as she makes the preparations.
As Chris sits down, Susan turns quickly to her and whispers, “Is it supposed to be that high?”
Chris, “It’s what Kim wanted,” squeezes Susan’s hand and holds her breath. I bow to my family then to the Shaolin then to Master Kim.
“May I demonstrate my break, sir?”
Kim nods impassively. I look up at the target, then over to Janah, who gives away nothing, I feel a surge of energy. I check the holders. If these guys don’t have a solid grip, my effort would be wasted as the boards would fly out of their hands unbroken. They both indicate they’re ready. Neither wants to face Master Kim if they foul this up. Their knuckles are white, fingers clamped on to their respective sides. My eyes return to the target and in a motion so sudden that many in the audience don’t really see it, the boards are in four pieces and I am bowing to Master Kim. Everyone explodes into applause, which I acknowledge with another deep bow.
My hand breaks are simpler, but not simple. The first one is to break a standard board with the middle knuckles of my bent fingers, not my fist. Not difficult if you can put your shoulders and hips into the punch. Master Kim requires I do it from only one hand span from the board. There is no way to accomplish it other than sheer speed.
Again, Chris had never seen the break attempted. After bowing to Kim, I again asked permission to demonstrate the break, he nods, I look at the holder, he nods. I curl the fingers of my right hand and use the left to measure the distance to the board. Then I am bowing to Kim again, the holder still has the board between his hands. I pull his arms apart revealing that I, in fact, had split the board. No one, not even the holder, had seen the strike. I am on a roll of a roll.
Chris says to no one in particular, “That’s the most amazing thing I never saw.”
Chris is about to become speechless. Kim has the four black belts, each holding a standard breaking board, line up off to my side about two feet in front of me. The idea is straightforward. The first will throw the board in a spin parallel to the ground, like a propeller flying right to left through the air. I have to break the board with a punch, left hand, the next board right hand, the next a kick, left foot and the last with the right foot as it passes in front of me. Four boards, one after another, four strikes. In less than ten seconds there are 3 broken boards on the ground. Then, a hush in the crowd as I turn around. I am going to attempt the last break with the board thrown behind me, blind. I stand perfectly still, there is absolute silence as I face the Shaolin they can see my eyes are closed, I have one hand in the air, I drop it and the board leaves the assistant’s hand spinning behind me. My foot shoots directly back, the board shatters. The silence is deafening as people try to process. Silently, the entire body of Shaolin stand as a unit and bows.
Chris, finally finding her voice says, “Nobody can do that.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Apparently they forgot to tell my Daphne.”
Sonia is crying, “The skill…..I…she's....magical.”
Janah, “I am amazed almost daily. As you have discovered, your mind can do far more than it is allowed to do. Never say a thing can’t be done.”
Sonia is thoughtful, wipes her eyes, Janah sees her absorb the lesson, there is nothing further to say.
I’m just getting to the fun part, sparring. While preparations are being made, Master Kim asks me questions about the history of taekwondo, its terminology, and the terms used in sparring contests. These are things I’ve known for years and the verbal test is mostly to give time to give my opponents time to warm up. Kim calls out various stances and strikes, kicks and punches, in Korean, and I perform them as he rattled the terms off.
“Buhm Suhgi,” cat stance, “Ap Suhgi,” walking stance, “”Dollyo Chagi,” roundhouse kick, “Momtong Bakat Mahkgi,” middle section outside block, kicks were “Chagi,” stances, “Suhgi,” punch, “Jirugi,” and so on. There are thirteen or fourteen kicks and another thirteen blocking or hand techniques, plus two dozen terms relating to sparring matches or equipment. I’d heard them so many times I use the Korean terms myself rather than the English versions. Kim runs out of things for me to do, time for the matches.
The opponents wear protective headgear, sparring gloves and shin pads, no chest protectors. Tony and Hector are 4th degree black belts, to test for 5th themselves before long, and have years of experience behind them. Hector is shorter than me, very slim, very quick. Tony is six-three and nearly two hundred twenty pounds. I know them both and know they respect me. I also understand that they have an obligation to put on a good match. Kicks are allowed to the head or body, punches only to the body, traditional in taekwondo sparring. Points are awarded by four judges, one point for a well landed kick, two for a kick to the head, three for a flying kick to the head. No kicks below the belt. This isn’t meant to be a death match or even a severe injury match. It had been demonstrated by the breaking techniques that I have speed, power and accuracy. It is not in any way a diminution of the rank test to avoid unnecessary and pointless injury. I am at risk for broken ribs, a bloody nose, even a broken jaw if a heel caught me in the face. A poorly executed kick blocked by a hard elbow or shin can fracture or break a bone.
Susan, “I hope Daphne can handle two matches. There’s usually only a demonstration match, not one with full contact and judging. He’s making her do two full contact matches!”
Lacy, “Can she get hurt? She’s not wearing any pads.”
Kara, “What’s so funny?”
Janah, “You guys.”
Kara, “What’s funny about being worried?”
Janah, “This is the easiest part. They can’t hit Daphne unless she lets them.”
Chris, “I know, I know. You know what she’s feeling, I’ll bet she’s giggling along with you isn’t she?”
Janah, “Actually, I doubt she’s not excited enough to giggle. She might be the most calm person in the here, if her heart rate gets any lower, she’ll be asleep.”
Sonia whispers to Janah, “Mine’s going a mile a minute. What if Lacy’s right? Can’t she get hurt?”
Janah whispers back, “I’d worry about the two guys, Daphne’s fine.”
Royce asks Sonia, “Daphne has to fight two guys, for real? Sounds dangerous.”
Sonia replies confidently, “Only for the two guys dad, Daphne’s fine.” She glances at Janah.
My first match is three, three minute rounds against the smaller black belt, Hector. Chris is the referee, who also gets a vote and can award points.
Chris brings us together in the fighting area, the four judges at each corner. She announces I am red and the opponent blue, then we face Master Kim and bow. We face each other, bow. She asks if we are ready, we shout, “Yes ma’am!” She gives the command “Shijak!” (begin) and we’re into it.
I front kick my opponent right off, he steps back and smiles. The kick is worth a point, I had not tried to make it hurt. He tries a few partial kicks, I don’t move, sensing his wariness. He throws a couple of punches I deflect with a hand, still otherwise motionless. Hector tries more kick and punch combinations, getting nerve rackingly close, making no contact. I sidestep a front kick and land a punch to his solar plexus, striking him hard enough to wind him. I know he’s fast, so decide to take a little steam out of his engine. He gets more aggressive with kicks and tries a spinning kick. I lean back just enough to let it fly by my nose, then give him a roundhouse to his side, his foot still in the air from the spinning kick. By tagging him when he is on one leg, it’s child’s play to knock him down. To Hector’s credit, he pops up immediately. I leap forward into a flying front kick with my other leg and knock him down again.
The round ends there. Hector picks up the pace in round two. He’s getting frustrated, wherever his blow is aimed, I’m not there. He is a professional however, and can only respect my ability, he isn’t holding back or cutting me any slack. I get three more points in round two, I’d let him put on a good show, taking a punch to my ribs and a roundhouse kick to my side, he picks up two points. Going into round three, I am up six to three. In round three I let him land a flying roundhouse to the side of my head a two pointer, but I had swiveled my head with the kick, he’d only hurt his foot hitting the top of my skull. He limps slightly, I let him land a punch to my shoulder. I don’t see the point of him going away humiliated. I sail a flying spinning kick to his head, tap the side of his headgear enough to make a sound, not enough to do any damage. I get three more points for that, then, when landing from the spinning kick, I step, turn and catch him in the chest with a flying back kick, again for show, not for damage. Hector staggers back, I hadn’t hit him hard enough to knock him down, enough is enough I think. More applause, and the parents breathe a sigh of relief as they began to understand that I’m in complete control.
Introductions are the same for match two. Tony is a much bigger opponent and would actually be easier to stay away from as he doesn’t have Hector’s speed or mobility. He is, however, strong and in shape. I spend round one avoiding his kicks and punches, trying to wind him a bit. Tony is easy enough to stay away from, he just isn’t cooperating by running out of gas. It surprises me, he seems to be cruising along just fine. I think, ‘C-mom had done a good job getting him in shape.’ One of his punches catches me in the side deeper than I’d intended and I feel it. ‘That’s it,’ I think, ‘no more cute stuff.’
“That’ll be a nicely bruised rib,” I mental Janah.
“Then quit screwing around.”
I shrug off the pain, determined to slow him down. In round two, he tries a three kick combination, front flying front and double side kick. Stepping just away from the thick leg, I jam straightened fingers into his abdomen just below the breastbone, hear his sudden expulsion of breath and he bends over momentarily. I turn my back to him and stuck my heel in his face, just far enough to give him a crack on the nose. Blood begins to trickle down his face over his lip. Tony smiles at me and bows, now he’s focused. He tries a double roundhouse, I block the first with the heel of my hand, the second with my elbow, I see him grimace despite the shin guard, then give him a spinning kick to the ribs. I figure if my ribs were bruised, he might enjoy the same feeling. He winces but recovers well. Tony’s solid and I weigh much less, my kick made an impression, not a damaging one. He tries a down kick, a good move since he’s tall, I catch the heel of his foot and sweep my leg behind his other foot, send him to the dirt. The round ends with my opponent a little short of breath, sore ribs and a bloody nose.
In round three I let him kick and punch, avoiding everything with only the slightest moves back or to the side. I am frustrating him by letting him get close, no contact. I see his frustration and decide the best thing would be to call it a day. He takes two strong swings at me, if either had connected I would have certainly gotten the rib finished off, not just bruised. His foot lashes out in a front kick, I want him to get in another lick before the end, he made it a good one. I am driven back hard, sit and roll over backwards. He is on me. I spring up as he front kicks again, this time I am in the air higher than his kick. My foot lashes out and catches the bridge of his nose, this time with some force. Blood spurts out again. I land in a horse riding stance, my shoulder facing his midsection. I punch straight out to the side, into his solar plexus. He doubles over and sinks to his knees. The match is called. The injured black belt is laid out on his back. Janah comes over and while Chris applies ice to his nose, Janah holds her palms against his abdomen. A few minutes later he is bowing and hugs me.
Tony tells me, “You’re the best fighter I’ve ever seen. I’ll proudly tell everyone at the dojang how you kicked my butt. Thank you for your lesson Master Sylk.”
I whisper to him, holding his thick arm in mine, “You are total power, Tony, you whacked my rib, I don’t think it’s cracked but you bruised the bejesus out of it. And that front kick nearly sent me out of the temple. I, too, have learned much from you.”
I kiss his cheek, he beams like a kid at Christmas.
Master Kim awards me the 5th degree belt with pride and pleasure, his favorite student is now a master.
Everyone is in the big hall for refreshments, I’m the center of attention from all the monks, it’s great. They’d trained with me and know I am resilient, they hadn’t seen my complete fighting skills until today. Master Sung and Master Kim are sitting together with the other masters.
Sung tells Kim, “We may have created a monster. Now all the masters will want her to learn their style.”
Master Kim, “May I be permitted to visit and observe her progress from time to time?”
Master Sung, “You are welcome in our temple anytime, you need not ever ask. Come whenever you wish.”
Master Sung asks to see Janah and me, he says, “You have demonstrated exceptional awareness and skill. You are Master of Taekwondo. Go home for a week with your parents and recover; then return to us. You have much to do.”
I thank Master Sung for his understanding. He knows I have an injury and that it would heal quite well with Janah there to work on it. It would make the parents feel better to have us with them for a while. I go off to tell the family, Janah lingers by Master Sung for a bit, sensing he wants to talk to her.
He says, “Student Sylk has sustained an injury, though it is minor, and she will heal quickly with your qi. We want you to take care of her and bring her back to us in a week. We have see much in student Sylk during her training and today only confirmed our observations. Such skill and selflessness in one so young is most unusual. She could have done much more damage, instead restrained herself, as is appropriate. She let the young men lose with dignity, sacrificing her own body in the process. You have seen and understood her long before you got here. I don’t tell you this to inform you of what you already know, rather to let you know we see and understand.”
Janah, “It seems like such a short time that we’ve been here and Master Sung has been gracious in permitting us to learn and serve. Daphne loves the temple and Shaolin, the result of her instructor’s teaching. Master Kim only had her to work with while she was in class and still he taught her so much. The Shaolin are able to instruct and guide us every day. She is immersed in the monastery and your teaching.”
Master Sung, “We await your return to us Master J.”
Janah, seldom overcome with emotion, bows with tears in her eyes. Master Sung made a point of letting her know her standing in the monastery. It was not for any recognition or elevation that she wept. It is that these men had the kindness and compassion that the world so desperately needs and so tragically ignores.
Master Sung knows her heart, “We, too, weep for the needless suffering in the world.”
Janah asks the parents to wait for a bit, she needs to see Master Hue for liniment. She goes to the big black belt and asks how he is feeling.
“I don’t know what you did, the pain just vanished. Can you can fix my nose?”
Janah, “Please, wait.”
Master Hue appears magically with a preparation to help with the pain for the big martial artist, one to apply to his face to increase the blood flow and to apply to Daphne’s rib. The ice had kept his nose from swelling, she knew it would be tender. She asks him to sit, she kneels in front of him and applies the pain relief mixture to his nose and the top of his lip. She tells him to put it on again that night and to begin using the other preparation, a milder form of the liniment she would use on my rib.
While he sits cross legged in front of her she gently puts her palms over his face, not quite touching him.
He says his face feels frozen and it doesn’t hurt anymore. Several of the visiting Masters surround them. They had never seen qi applied so directly, or so efficiently. Their silent attention is more real respect than any recognition or applause. These are not men easily impressed.
Janah reminds Tony of the instructions and says, “Apply the mixture tonight even if it doesn’t hurt, use the other for the next week,” she looks at Master Kim.
He says, “I will make sure.”
Janah, “Master Sung has given us permission to go home for a week. May we come to the school and observe class?”
Master Kim lights up with an unusual smile. “It will give me a chance to get a photograph of Master Daphne and introduce her as a 5th degree. Come Wednesday and we will have a celebration as well.”
With arrangements made, we pay respects to the Shaolin and depart for home. We’d been at the monastery for over two years and had been home only a few times for a night or two. Now, a whole week!
“I’m going to let you spoil me the whole time kid.”
Janah smiles her Daphne smile, the one that makes my pulse quicken.
While Janah worked on Tony, Dr. Epstein and James were invited by Master Sung to come and talk with the monks on various aspects of psychiatry. Dr. Epstein considers this a remarkable opportunity and accepts unequivocally.
He tells James. “The monks are remarkably open and inquisitive. They would make very adept students.”
James, “They would make very adept teachers.”
Dr. Epstein, “Good point. I’m anxious to learn, they were kind enough to let me think they wanted to learn from me.”
James, “Oh, they will, don’t get me wrong. Their understanding of the nature of consciousness and how the world works is finding confirmation in current physics, neurobiology and psychiatry. If everyone had to put in a year at a legitimate Shaolin monastery, you and I would be out of work.”
Chapter Twenty Six II
Coming home from school one day,
I saw a man hit a woman and threaten a child,
right on the street, nobody did anything.
I said something to him, he pushed me down.
That was before Daphne.
Things have changed.
At home and in bed. I’m not hurting badly, a twinge of pain when I inhale, and a fat bruise where I’d been struck by Tony’s huge fist.
Janah gives me that smile. I close my eyes as Janah begins relaxing me, my hand drifts through her fine hair. Then motionless for eight hours.
I’m up early, moving a little slower, stiff from the rib injury, my knuckles and feet are bruised. I sit down to coffee with Susan.
Susan, “You were brilliant yesterday. I wanted to do an end zone dance at the finish, I decided it would be inappropriate.”
“Probably for the best. The way you dance might have raised the monks’ consciousness a bit too high.”
Chris and Kara join us, there are warm cinnamon rolls and bagels set out on the table.
Janah comes in, hungry as usual, I make tea and cut fruit for her.
Susan, “Your hair is back to its old length, do you have to cut it again?”
“Janah let hers grow from the time she cut it, I kept mine shaved for a while, there isn’t a rule, so I’m going to leave it like it is. I cut it because it demonstrates a willingness not to be tied up in appearances. Beyond that, it’s up to us. I don’t want Master J thinking she’s off the hook.”
Chris, “Because she washes and brushes it for you.”
“Precisely, it’s the second best thing about the day and she’s spoiled me with it.”
Susan, “What’s the first best thing?”
The women look at Susan.
Still perplexed, she says, “What?”
“Well Sis, it’s my bedtime story. Janah reads it to me every night. It’s called Daphne Gets an Orgasm.”
Susan turns to Chris, “Sounds like the one you read to me.”
Chris, “Plot’s similar, characters are different.”
Kara, “Oh, by the way, dad asked if you guys would pass by his office.”
Janah stands, “Then, ladies, no more sex talk until we get back. I don’t want to miss anything.”
James looks up from his notes, we are at the door to his office, “Hi dad. Mom said you wanted to see us.”
James, “Yes, please come in.”
James watches as we walk to the two chairs in front of his desk. We go to the right side of the respective chairs, pull them back a bit and sit down. Then, unlike when we sit on the sofa, we cross our legs towards each other, fold our hands in our laps, left hand rested in right palm. Janah’s blue eyes sparkle. He stares, thinking how my near black, green eyes, reveal nothing. Not empty, intense. He thinks of a cobra. Small wonder Janah always feels safe.
James, “I have a question if I may.”
Janah, “Of course.”
“Daphne's test started me thinking. I know the mission is to relieve suffering. I know the preferred method is to spend time, to help. Help, I presume, is situational. Sometimes to sit and listen, other times more directly.”
James, “Do you see where I’m going?”
Janah, “You want to know what happens when relieving suffering of one who is helpless, causes suffering to another.”
James, “Yes. You can imagine all sorts of scenarios. Wife beaters, child molesters, sadists and psychopaths.”
Janah, “If we’re faced with a situation where violence to the one relieves the suffering of another, what do we do?”
“Situational ethics. A man is beating a child, there is no one around, there is no time to call the police, what do we do?’
James, “You’ve already faced a situation like this, two men trying to rape a young girl.”
“Daphne did what she had to do given the circumstances. We can’t decide these things in advance, we have to improvise. We are not going to allow the innocent to be abused by the powerful, the mentally deranged, or even the simply self absorbed. The fact that the abuser may be a victim of prior abuse has no bearing on the immediate problem. Being a former victim doesn’t give anyone a pass to victimize. It’s not the abused wife’s fault her abusive husband had a crummy childhood. If they don’t behave, Daphne will deal with it. If that means the abuser suffers, that’s unfortunate. He suffers the consequences of his behavior. Daphne is the consequence.”
James, “You have extraordinary brain power, Daphne has extraordinary physical skill and unique sensory capability…”
Janah, “You want to know why we would apply these gifts to such apparently ordinary matters.”
James, “Some might say that medical research, or medicine itself, teaching, for both you and Daphne would help more people, and without violence.”
Janah, “Ask the abused child, the battered wife, the physically and psychologically terrorized, what they think. One more research associate in a lab full of Petri dishes is useless to them. Their suffering is real and immediate. I could run genetic sequences the rest of my life and discover nothing. I’m glad for those who do it, I hope they win Nobel prizes. Our path is different.”
James, “Sometimes, it comes to our attention, Bernie’s and mine, that there are abusers who fall under the legal radar. We aren’t sure what to do about it. When it’s obvious, of course we report it. An amazing number of these cases wind up with no action. Obviously the abused is scared stiff, doesn’t press charges, or drops them. We see lots of suspicious cases, don’t have enough physical evidence to go on, nobody speaks up. It’s intensely frustrating. We know there are children involved who, by any historical standards, are going to become abusers themselves given their current environment. Bernie has been contacted by some very well heeled people. They want to help the helpless where they can. The problem is obvious.”
Janah, “You can supply plenty of help for the victim, relocation, new jobs, treatment if necessary. Essentially a private witness protection program. The obvious part is that the bad guy is still a bad guy. Eventually he finds a new fool and starts up again. In a weird way, removing his victims gives him a pass.”
James, “Exactly. What do we do with him? What do we do to strongly discourage him from simply continuing.”
Janah, “Daphne and I will be at the temple for a while. In the meantime, I see that you guys have a ton of things to think through logistically. By the time she’s out, we’ll have more clarity on a solution.”.
Chapter Twenty Seven II
Brian’s mother: Who are you?
Wise Man #2: We are three wise men.
Brian’s mother: What?
Wise Man #1: We are three wise men.
Brian’s mother: Well, what are you doing creeping
around a cow shed at two o'clock in the morning?
That doesn't sound very wise to me.
Life of Brian, Monty Python
The women are sitting around the dining table playing Scrabble, Janah kibitzing next to me. Susan gets a pile of points for flagellate, after she adds to the word late already on the board. Then Chris tried to use l-e-s on top of brain.
Kara, “There’s no word lesbrain, I think you have a Freudian thing going on there.”
Chris, ‘No, it means smart gay woman, like Susan.”
Kara asks Janah, “Does this fall under the truthiness rule?”
Janah, “Maybe we could make a truthiness rule that if a new word can be understood or explained easily from the spelling, it would count. It might add something to the game.”
“So you couldn’t just put out x-c-v-r-e, for instance and say it means something. Is that the idea?”
Janah, “Exactly, lesbrain.”
“Do you mean I’m a smart lesbian, or a girl who has sex on her mind all the time?”
“Both,” Susan said.
“It’s not my fault, Janah makes my hormones rage. If it weren’t for her I would definitely be a virgin my entire life. Besides, if you think Master J only meditates on world peace, I have breaking news for you. I’m not bursting your bubble am I K-mom?”
“Hardly. Janah inherited certain, ah, personality traits from me I’m afraid.”
I ask Janah, “So your obsession is genetic?”
“Genes give me the predisposition, you give me the motivation. My obsession is very narrow. Limited to one leggy martial artist.”
She kisses me on the cheek. I beam at everyone, “It is so good to be me.”
The game continues, Kara creates slimer, as in a person who is slimy or who puts people down all the time. There are only 4 l’s in scrabble, she uses one from the word flagellate. Janah does a count. Chris edged us out this round.
While they put the tiles up, I ask, “I’ve wondered if people should define themselves like that?”
Sis, “Like what?”
“Like lesbian, gay, homo or hetero. I mean, doesn’t it have a tendency to define an entire person by which kind of genitals they like to play with?”
Sis, “Interesting way of putting it.”
“It kind of does really,” says Chris, “it’s been hard for gay people of either gender to be what we are until we united around, even flaunted, the terminology. We were getting nowhere in the discrimination game. Now, kind of unfortunately, the whole issue is wrapped up in sex because of the words.”
“A person is attracted to, feels a union with, another person. What does it matter whether that person is an innie or an outie.”
Susan, “What do belly buttons have to do with it?”
The table explodes in hysterics.
“God Sis, you are the best straight lez ever.”
Sis laughs at herself, “I got it now. Innie and outie for Christ’s sake. What kind of mind thinks of these things? Janah did you give her that?”
Janah, still giggling, shakes her head no.
A minute later, James walks in, Kara asks, “Does it bother you, being the only outie?”
We wait to see if James can figure it out. He stands quietly for a bit looking at everyone then kisses Kara, “As long as I’ve got you for an innie, it’s wonderful.”
Janah and I break into applause, Susan says, “No, there is no way he figured that out. That’s scary.”
She turns to Chris, “That’s almost surreal. How does he do that?”
“He’s pretty smart, for an outie.”
I go to the kitchen to make Kara’s Wild Turkey and water, open a dark Chianti and pour the moms a glass. I make toast and cheese appetizers along with bowls of mixed nuts. For dinner, I’m doing Caesar salad and frying both chicken and fish. There will be baked potatoes thanks to the microwave. I crisp the skin a bit in the oven after they cook. I’d been cooking green beans all day with onion, and a couple of tablespoons of canola oil. I add cane sugar, just a tablespoon and a pinch, a trick of Ms. Alva’s, a bit of dark soy sauce and Worcestershire, sea salt and generous amount of black pepper. Rounded out with creamed spinach, a favorite of Janah’s, cornbread with chopped jalapenos and cheese.
Janah pulls up a stool and sits next to me at the stove, “Table is too far away.”
I lean over and kiss her, then put strips of fish in the hot oil, cover it with a splatter screen, the range vent on high. As the pieces pop up, Janah holds up the screen while I scoop out the fish and transfer to a platter stacked with paper towels.
Chris, “What can I do?”
“Salad’s in the refrigerator. Do you want it served or put the bowl out and help themselves?”
“I’ll take the bowl in, they’re going to go through it all anyway. You make the best Caesar salad.”
“It’s because of my lesbrain.”
“Then make sure Janah takes good care of it, it cooks wonderfully.”
I smile to myself, mentaling Janah, “You heard her.”
“Oh, I’m on the case. All over the case. When I’m done with you tonight, you won’t be capable of thinking at all.”
Chapter Twenty Eight II
Internet Explorer is currently running without add-ons
(Sub-header message if you don’t have enough junk attached to IE)
Janah thinks it might be helpful if humans ran without add-ons.
The week is over, we find ourselves wanting to get back to the monastery and sad to be leaving the family.
“Time to gung fu, Sue.”
Susan, “I’m only going to pout for a little while, then I’m going to make Chris take me for a major night out.”
“See how easy Sis forgets us?”
Chris, “What’s your name again, kid?”
“Well, we meditate on deleting the self, I guess this is a good start.”
Chris, “Give me a huge hug and several kisses, you too, Master J. I can’t mental, so you better make damn sure the phone rings.”
Janah, “We’ll call in a few days.”
We part ways at the temple door, Janah goes to see Master Sung, and me to the kitchen. The monks are preparing the midday meal. I am at home now, my other a short distance across the monastery. I can feel her in conversation with Master Sung, she sends me a mental kiss. The others with me in the kitchen remark on my big smile.
“It’s good to be back with my friends. Even for just a week, Master J and I missed everyone.”
A week ago, I was promoted to master in another martial art. When I return, it’s as a simple student in my heart, ready to take on everyday chores.
Down the hallway, Janah is seated with Master Sung in a chamber off to the side of the main hall. They are enjoying the silence.
After a time he asks, “Do you wish to say anything to the monks?”
“Yes, tomorrow evening. I was thinking of the Shaolin during my absence. Some thoughts are coming together. Tomorrow will be good, thank you. If you will excuse me, I need to see Master Hue. ”
Hue is bent over one of his boiling pots, he looks up, “Welcome Master J. I’m cooking as usual. Can you say what I’m making?”
She sniffs and says in Chinese, “Liniment.”
“Do you notice any difference?”
She takes a longer sniff, “This has less camphor than usual, you’ve added frankincense. Do I smell rosemary?”
Hue chuckles, “Very good. The rosemary gets the blood flowing and improves the scent. Frankincense is good for the skin, and adds a bit of spice aroma. Our potions get pretty fragrant, even pungent.”
Janah agrees, adding “I love all the smells, even the unusual ones. Daphne likes to tease me when I see her after being here. She says she can tell I’m coming from across the temple.”
Master Hue, “I hope we don’t offend her.”
Janah, “Oh no, she loves it. She can identify every scent, no matter how subtle. She’s says we let her use her sense of smell to its fullest. Like gung fu for her nose.”
At evening meditation the next day, Janah looks at the congregation of seated priests, disciples and novices, her shoulder length hair white as starlight. She floats to the cross legged position in the front of the hall, sapphire blue eyes take in the entire congregation and, it seems, the universe.
She speaks in English, “A single molecule of water is neither wet nor liquid. Only when it joins others like itself does it become useful, cleansing, refreshing and without which no life is possible. Your very mind is made of molecules. Which single molecule is your mind? Only together, in harmony, do they become your pure mind. A single being is a molecule, complete in itself, yet more perfect when working in harmony with others. So it is with the monks of Shaolin.”
She recites a portion of the Diamond Sutra in her clear soft voice, “Because that kind of person is not caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span. They are not caught up in the idea of a dharma or the idea of a non dharma. They are not caught up in the notion that this is a sign and this is not a sign. Why? If you are caught up in the idea of a dharma, you are also caught up in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being, and a life span. If you are caught up in the idea that there is no dharma, you are still caught up in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being, and a life span. That is why we should not get caught up in the dharmas or in the idea that the dharmas do not exist. All teachings must be abandoned, not to mention non-teachings.”
She explains, “A dharma is defined as ultimate nature, reality, sacred law or, in the Diamond Sutra itself, dharma is called the ‘such-ness of all things.’ Earlier in the same sutra, the Buddha says, ‘what are called the dharmas are, in fact, not all dharmas. That is why they are called all dharmas’.”
She smiles gently, “If this isn’t yet clear to you, simply let it go…then it will be clear to you. Internet Explorer calls it running without add-ons. I am most appreciative of Microsoft’s instruction.”
A silent blessing falls on the monks, Master Sung takes notice of the change in the atmosphere when Janah speaks. She said nothing mystical, the monks are familiar with the sutras. It is something about the voice, eyes, her absolute stillness. It resonates in one’s being. A presence enters and settles over the monks, the hall, the temple itself. There is silence, one hears the night creatures, frogs around the fish ponds, the moon shines down in the courtyard, a glow reflects on the wisps of clouds. In the middle of the vast city, monks have been transported to a lone temple high up in the mountains. It reminds the old ones of former homes far away.
Still in the otherwise empty meditation hall, the Abbot and a few of the other Masters talk quietly among themselves.
Master Chu, “You felt the presence.”
It isn’t a question, rather an observation. The others nod.
Master Sung, “It is good that this fresh breeze has come to our Order. We are most fortunate to find an awakened one in the middle of New York. I have seen only one other in my long years that could bring a blessing on the entire assembly.”
Master Chu, “Yes, I remember the monk from the northern province, Yu. He would come to us every odd year and spend a month, then return to his cave. He used to chide us about how soft we had it, with ample food and students to cook and clean. He loved to laugh and would tell stories of things he saw in the mountains. He, too, would recite the sutras.”
Sung, “And the room would be blessed by his presence, or the thing that came with him. A kind of serenity seemed to follow him around, it would flow over anyone near. I never thought to see another, not here, certainly not in one so young. Of course, her age is only my illusion.”
Master Hue, “When the Buddha first came to China, he taught the monks there. That Buddha was not Shaolin, there was no Ch’an, and certainly no Shaolin . It doesn’t matter, our order studies his teaching. So, Shaolin, not Shaolin, no difference. She tried to tell us that in the sutra tonight.”
Master Sung. “Her companion, student Sylk, has been respectful of her instructors. She is a physically gifted martial artist and has a most pleasant, even temperament. That the kitchen has taken on a new life is evident. Students ask to work there now, none want to leave for some other work. I remember not so long ago, cooking was the job most avoided, now everyone wants to be in the kitchen.”
Master Kahn, the gung fu master, says, “She works diligently with the younger ones in gung fu, endlessly patient. They all watch her, ask her for help. The entire training is at a higher level, she has raised the bar as they say here in America. Student Sylk has been here well over three years, she could have been given the white sash a year ago, Disciple Chin knows she is well past promotion. He tells me she has never mentioned it.”
Sung, “When there is no confusion, there is nothing to decide. She is a disciple in everything but name. We are obliged to bestow what she has earned.”