Yes, Master by Kendall Defoe

Dear Master _____ ,

I would like to thank you again most sincerely for the opportunity to travel outside of our small community. To see the world is a sure way of expanding the senses and increasing one’s knowledge of self and our fellow man. As well, it was gracious of our most famous visitor, Ms. J____, to allow me a place in her home. I have included a photograph of her rather large residence in a section of this country named after angels. Do not think that I am still in this country because of such ostentation. Far from it. It seems to me that everyone here is concerned with how fast they can move and make money, although there is also the other problem of their consumption which seems to be the more pressing issue. It is a land where eating has become one of their non-official sports. Dear Master, there is so much that can be done here and needs to be done right away for their souls. They need our help.

I have to say, in contradiction to some of the comments shared by the other monks and visitors, that the people here can also be very generous. This is a land with a near-bottomless well of resources. There was one funny incident at a small restaurant that I would like to share with you. I asked for some green tea and then, when I finished, the waitress asked if I wanted more hot water for a “refill.” This surprised me and made me ask for the cost of such a service. The woman laughed and said that hot water was something that was always free in this country. She must have noted my accent because we soon engaged in a conversation about where I was from, why I had travelled such a long distance, and where I was staying during my time here. She was quite surprised that someone such as Ms. J___ would take an interest in a humble monk. We spoke for some length more – the restaurant was not very occupied – and she gave me a whole box of green tea, telling me that I was the first customer in a long period of time to actually order such a thing! I thanked her and gave her what little money I had for the drink. I mention this incident at such length because it is the first instance of an encounter between myself and a citizen not from the media or Hollywood in this country. I even wore a plain suit instead of the robes used in our monastery so that I would not draw undue attention. It was a very nice moment in what became a very noisy and stressful period of encounters with people who wanted to wish me well or just see me in their homes. I have been critical of this sort of worship within this culture, but I soon realized that I was becoming a member of their society. I was becoming a celebrity. This can create problems in a culture where religion is invariably linked with the people who appear on television asking for money so that their gods will be pleased. That is truly shameless and I could not see how such a situation could exist in such a country until I noted the generosity of that waitress. People give and take here without much thought as to what it means to do so. That was something that did disturb me and it made me choose to stay a little longer to spread our beliefs. They need a counterbalance.

I now turn to some of my travels. I must again thank Ms. J____ for her generosity in providing me with the means to travel here. She offered to provide me with my own driver and even – this is astonishing – pilot, but I decided that this would seem too proud. Instead, I have travelled across this great land on my own using their public buses, taxis and trains. This has been somewhat taxing and I have often thought of using aeroplanes for my work, but my still heavy fear of flying would not allow this possibility. I know how childish this sounds, especially when I consider how far I have travelled from our land. Perhaps one day I will overcome this fear.

Oh, it is good to travel and meet the people of this land! I have met farmers, mechanics, teachers, salesmen of all types, doctors, students – so many of them – lawyers, housewives, children, musicians, street performers and families of every number and persuasion. They have all heard me listen and speak to them about you, Master, the monastery and my time there. However, there is one group that has met here that has filled my thoughts and occupies my mind as I put down these words. Let me share more with you, Master.

I met them first when I travelled through that area called New York City. Many of the people I met in other cities told me stories that made me believe that it was worse than some of the old tales I heard as a child about the beings that tormented evil-doers who did not repent their deeds before entering the next life. Yes, Master, I admit that I had fear in my heart as I passed into that city by bus, and I was worried by the presence of so many buildings and their endless faces of shining light flashing and reflecting so strenuously that I felt that my vision would be impaired forever. But I did get to see more than I imagined once I settled into the nice hotel that Ms. J____ booked for me. The concierge gave me a map and some advice on moving through the city and I have seen the Statue of Liberty from within and without, the Empire State Building that was featured in that old movie that you have mentioned to me and the other monks many times, and even “Ground Zero,” the sight of that terrible evil inflicted on an unknowing victim. I still wore a simple suit among the “New Yorkers,” but certain residents and tourists recognized me and were thankful for the presence of a religious figure that had travelled so far to be with them after such an unfortunate incident. I did not think it wise to disabuse them of this idea and offered them prayers of peace for loved ones lost to that horror. I do apologize. This letter is becoming quite lengthy. I did say that there was one other group that I wanted to mention. This next group works in darkness or during those moments when the rush of human life here is confined to their labours in those endless buildings. I speak of a group called “taggers”.

Let me explain further. I saw, at one of those subway stations where you have to consider how impossibly large the population is in that city, a group of young men and women dancing. It was a remarkable performance done on sheets of cardboard and they used all of their bodies as a means of performance. Master, I do not have a photo of their movements, but you must believe me when I tell you that they use their hands, backs, arms and even their heads! This makes them appear to be much like the tops that the children spin in our villages. Once again, I was recognized, this time by one of the young women chanting along to the very large and noisy radio they used to co-ordinate their movements. She told her companions who I was and what I was doing in their country and they all showed an interest in our culture and beliefs. It is true what I have read and heard: you cannot judge books by their covers. I spent a Saturday with them and they received my questions with a good humour. Their questions were very thoughtful and also humourous. They wondered why I was not wearing the robes, and when I explained to them my need to appear as an average citizen of their country, they explained how such a thing would be impossible once I had appeared on television. Their wisdom surprised me and touched me. Robes would not be out of place among such people dressed as they were in baggy trousers with endless pockets, oversized and multicoloured shirts and head-wrappings of multiple hues covering shaved and tattooed skulls and braided hair. They even offered to show me how I could acquire these types of clothes and particular hairstyles and paints for the body. Do not worry, Master, I did not indulge. My behaviour was simply as an observer who wanted to learn more.

Yes, Master, these people are the “taggers” that I spoke of. They are artists, memoirists, people who want to be remembered long after they have left this life for another plain. I have seen these people – not just the youths I encountered at the station but others of different backgrounds – use their skills as painters to create some of the most remarkable murals and designs. Their technique is quite interesting. They use cans of coloured aerosol spray to do their work. One older man did my portrait upon the wall of an abandoned structure and I must admit that it made me quite proud to see myself at such a height and with my features so well-represented. I had to dissuade him from using my name as a title, though, as I felt this would have been too boastful. There are already enough images of me in their media, thanks to Ms. J__. But this brought something else to mind.

Master, I have not forgotten any of the ancient teachings passed down over the centuries. Those scrolls and tablets are preserved in my heart, and I have found many of them translated and available in bookstores and libraries here. I think that these “taggers” may be able to spread our message and I have asked them to reprint the ancient beliefs and thoughts through their paintings. Some – only a few – have decided not to help, but most have been very enthusiastic about the idea. They want our thoughts to be available to all. I did recently observe one of their underground trains marked with a line from one of our texts: “Believe and all else becomes possible.” I am not ashamed to say that the temptation to cry was overpowering (although I did not submit to it). I have also heard that the “taggers” will be painting – their word for it is “bombing”, but that sounds too violent to me – several old and abandoned buildings with longer quotations and that this will continue into the foreseeable future. They like to use the buildings as their canvas and they will let me know when their first few murals are complete. I am to be the special guest at the unveiling.

I think that what also appeals to me about the work is that it will be seen by the people who most need it: the poor, the sick, the forgotten, and the neglected. It will be theirs to learn from and they will always have these thoughts nearby. Please forgive me if I have overstepped my bounds by encouraging such a project.

Once this project is initiated, I will return to organize the operation of the monastery. I have not forgotten. Master, I again thank you for the opportunity to travel and see this great nation. If Ms. J___ does write to you about my plans – as she has inquired of me over the last month – please tell her that I am still doing my work and that I do plan on returning to her home as soon as it is possible for me to leave New York. I will contact her soon.

Again, many thanks.
Your humble servant,

Writer/Reader/Poet/Dreamer... Kendall is a college instructor, experimenter with the written word, and someone who thinks that books are worth saving. (Also: librarians and snail mail—damn you, Canada Post and certain school boards!) I just hope that someone gets a laugh and enjoys my work...