May I Join You?

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

There has only ever been one question.  This is what I learned on the Santa Monica pier last week.  I hadn’t eaten in two days and decided not to speak except one sentence:”May I join you?”  This was a wonderful experiment with what might happen, or with who I would be in relation to others, without language.

It started off a little awkwardly.  “My I join you? I asked a thin grand-motherly woman watching an 80-year-old  carousel of galloping horses spin circles around mirrors and light.

She said yes and slid over to make a little space for me on her green bench.   “Are you watching your son or daughter?” she asked.  Couldn’t answer. Just looked into her eyes and smiled.  And she left after a few minutes.

I walked back out onto the pier.  A handsome dread-locked musician was playing Bach on his violin wearing a tattered red sweatshirt.  I stood in front of him and listened to the music with my eyes closed.  I didn’t ask out loud “May I join you?”  And by standing there, listening to the music,  I realized the question had already been answered.  It occurred to me the  music was asking of me the same: May I join you?

I noticed he was African American and that concepts of black and white had blurred away with our exchange.  Musician. Audience.  Violinist. Dancer. May I join you?

I felt the winds off the shores of Venice Beach pass over my face and arms, run through my hair. May I join you?  they asked.

And then a painful thought hits me. The hardest part for me in asking this question is the belief that at some point one of us will leave. I’m not sure I every want to leave, or that I can. But is there ever really any leaving anyway?  I wondered.

My feet carry me farther down the pier, past kiosks housing vendors whose eyes are filled with light.  May I join you with what I am selling? they asked. May I join you with my currency? I asked.  I remembered I didn’t have a penny on me, and yet noticed the question wasn’t going away.

I am journeying closer to the end of the wide wooden planked pier. May I join you pier? May I join you ocean? As I step farther and farther out beyond the shore, I am held by the pier, I am joined to both.

There is a musician playing Johnny Cash on his guitar at the end of the pier and I know all the songs. May I join you musician? May I join you Cash? May I join you ocean? Wind? Air? Song? History? Daylight?

I know the lyrics to the songs.

Off the end of the pier Mexican fishermen troll for Makerell.  A fisherman’s cell phone rings, he places it to his ear. Another pulls a cigarette out of his pocket.  A small Makerell is hiested out of the black water and writhes fiercely on the cold wet wood.

Suddenly, gently, everything is one and there is no longer any separation at all. Tears come.  I see that I have always been the asker and I have always been the asked, and that  nothing else has ever been true for anybody or anything.

Seagulls hover immovable in the wind, wings outstretched wide directly above me, then flap and fly into the sky, their home.  They swoop and play in troops of three, coming together then parting.  A heavy pelican cuts through the sky like a jetliner.  He greets the seagulls and they fly together, diving in and out of gusts of wind. The wind moves through my hair. I sit down on a wooden bench. I am crying. I listen to the music. I know the lyrics.

May I join you? I ask. May I join you? I am asked.


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