Standing in a small grocery store, I hear a man say, "now he has peace." I ask him if someone died. He says, "Michael Jackson." "No," I hear myself say out loud. A moment of disbelief quickly shifts to piercing sadness.
I step outside. The news is spreading. I hear it first as a driving beat from passing cars. The melodies are as familiar as apple pie. And the words:
ABC. Don't Stop Till You Get Enough. Thriller.
I feel a wave of recognition moving through these city streets, acknowledging what cannot yet be embraced.
Needing a new name for this man who became such an enigmatic figure over the years, he is dubbed the King of Pop. Paul McCartney affectionately calls him a boy-man. Father of three who lived on a ranch called Neverland.
Minutes earlier, while visiting friends at Ten Ren tea in chinatown, I meet a young white man. He tells me that when he lived in Japan, "you're celebrated. It's great but no matter how fluent you are, how much you know, you'll never be normal. You'll always be a foreigner."
I drink in his words while sipping King's Tea. The earthy tone of this blend of green Oolong and ginseng soothes as it energizes. He says, "We have a lot of problems but what I love about this country is that we don't take things at face value. We investigate. We question." His posture straightens and his tone brightens. "We are such innovators. We produce so much."
Walking later that evening, digesting the news, an image comes to mind. It's from the second Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan. Spock is dying of radiation exposure in a sealed chamber as he saves the lives of everyone on the ship. Kirk places his hand against the glass separating them. Spock reaches out to meet him in the famous split hand gesture.
"Live long and prosper," no longer being appropriate, Spock chokes out, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Kirk adds in painful recognition and devotion to his friend, "or the one."
Just then, I walk by a club blasting,
Want to be startin' somethin'. Got to be startin' somethin'. . .
You're stuck in the middle and the pain is thunder.
Choked up, I hear myself thinking, "this is real. It's not a movie. This is really happening." I start crying and don't know why. I walk to where my feet instinctively need to go, towards the river.
Arriving there, the sky sounds a low bass note as storm clouds linger. It starts to drizzle. In the distance, a large boat passes by with that same melody, same beat streaming out. The path turns and opens into a large grassy field. I lie down. After a few minutes, I notice kids tossing a ball around, undaunted by a few raindrops. I get up, re-energized, and make my way home.
Days later, speaking with a friend, we're talking about how living with intention differs from having an agenda. He asks me, "what's your intention?" I say, "connecting." I ask him, "what's yours?" "Saying yes," he replies.
John Lennon said that he was drawn to Yoko Ono after seeing one piece in her interactive art show. You had to climb a ladder, pick up a magnifying class tied to it, and use it to read a tiny word written on the ceiling. The word was, "yes."
This past Sunday, a number of us gathered for a Potluck Tea Party in New York City's Central Park. We offered iced Jasmine tea beside a path leading to a landmark called the Imagine Circle. It is situated at the center of Strawberry Fields, a park within a park, which was dedicated after John Lennon's death. A mosaic of tiles forms the circle. In the middle is one word: Imagine.
Standing, holding a tray of iced tea, I watch as one person after another smiles. We are meeting in yes.
Fifty feet away in the Imagine Circle, a few guys with guitars start to play Beatles tunes interspersed with Lennon's later songs. They are playing yes.
As people notice the tea party, some smile and keep going. Some stop just long enough to overcome hesitancy as they "grab and go." Others stay to share what brings them to NYC, to the park, to the circle. Some ask for directions to wherever they're headed next.
Everybody has something to contribute:
Wow, this is free? That's really nice of you.
This is a great idea. God bless you for doing it.
Hey, this is really good tea. What is it?
Could I have one for my friend?
As we pack up for the day and begin to walk out along the path, a friend whispers, "did you hear that?" I say, "no, what?" He laughs and remarks, "just as we passed by, I heard somebody say,
There goes the tea party!
Riding home that evening, I sit across from three boys playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. I ask if they're Ok with me taking their picture and sharing it online.
They smile. I instantly understand the meaning of their gesture. I snap their photo and thank them. They go back to the game. I close my eyes as the train moves on.
I see a huge stage in an immense open field. King Michael raises his white-gloved hand high as scruffy John leans in to the mike beside him. All the years of struggle and confusion, of harm endured and harm done, come together as they sing out a familiar refrain:
We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving.
As new voices from across the field keep the song going, another one is taken up:
Imagine all the people living lives in peace.
The two refrains become one as the wave of sound builds and spreads out. The sky brightens. The king and the dreamer embrace.
Our tea party continues. We'll gather one Sunday afternoon each month to celebrate community with a cup of tea.
As the flyer says, this event is free.