That Beatific Grin
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Here in L.A., lots of people seek out gurus. Me, I think that's not due to any inherent local flakiness; I think it's due to our great local ambition. You see, Angelenos have a desire not merely to succeed, but to escape the desire for success. We want to stop caring, yet triumph beyond our wildest expectations. We want to achieve "everything," then see "everything" as unimportant.
This explains the popularity of religions based loosely on Eastern wisdom. We like to study ancient texts about the embrace of poverty and the denial of self—but we prefer to study them in large homes with a view of Coldwater Canyon, some minimalist Italian furniture, and a big Rothko…you know, just to set the mood.
Of course, a strategy for inner peace which requires success as a prerequisite does present a few issues. And it's true that even our finest sages seem to have a hard time escaping desire: They build major organizations to promote simplicity. They write books that say "be free but be all that you can be."
That's why the Urban Man chose his own guru carefully. We met only once, but he was the Perfect Master: He spoke not a word, requested no donations, yet offered a humbling message.
It happened late one night, eight or ten years ago. I was running down the monumental stairway in the lobby of a big glass-and-steel office building. I was fully suited, shoes clattering, laptop bag banging against my hip. Despite the hour, all the lights were blazing in a space large enough to hold several large homes.
But I was not alone. In the far corner, a thin and grizzled janitor, age 55 or 60, blue uniform, was working a mop. When I entered, he paused to watch me as I sprinted all the way across the vast marble floor. Right at the end, our eyes met, and lo, he offered me a slight grin of infinite and benign amusement.
That's it. That's all. A second later I was out the door. But that slight grin entered my little store of random memories—you know, like a snatch of laughter once heard on a playground or a tiny cloud once glimpsed over a mountain. I swear I have recalled that grin a thousand times. It said, "You think I'm nothing, but it's you running like an idiot."
And yes, since then, at tough moments, I often daydream of chucking it all to become a janitor or a busboy. I say that even though, like any acolyte, I have many unanswered questions about my guru: Did he give up some high stress job, or was he always in maintenance? Does he work all night, then go home and sleep in perfect peace while outside rages the fearful noise of day?
Other times, I want to track him down, take him by the collar, and ask the same question I'd ask any guru: "Wasn't that little smile actually a fraud? Don't you, like everyone, suffer plenty of stress in your job? Do you have kids? If so, do you teach them to mop, or do you secretly instruct them to "Be All That You Can Be?"
Nevertheless, I remain a faithful follower. I want to believe that my guru has truly escaped desire. That he cares only about a clean world and a job well done.
Sometimes I even practice my own beatific grin. I might need it if I never achieve the staggering and undeniable success that would lead to inner peace. Sometimes I even replay that scene in the lobby a little differently. I picture myself standing with the mop, watching with benign amusement as The Urban Man clatters by. I like to imagine the late night silence left behind after he has passed through the exit door.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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