Contributed by David Crandall
Photographs by Kevin Salfen
[Editor’s note: in the below, Mr. Crandall discusses some of his experience while rehearsing for Sumida River, performed June 8, 2014, at the Zen Mountain Monastery.]
A bamboo grove grows in front of Jizo House, the dormitory where the TN men are housed at the monastery. In my role as the Boatman in Sumida River, I needed a boating pole, so I received permission to cull a slender bamboo stalk from the grove. Selecting one that was already dead and dry, it was an easy matter to cut it to size using a hacksaw kindly lent me by T—, one of the monastics. I very much like the idea of using a locally grown pole in our performance. It’s a slender but strong tie, a bond that was perhaps ordained in a previous life.
It’s natural for the mind to run to such philosophical thoughts here; the play we’re rehearsing, in which a congregation of well-wishers intone invocations to Amida Buddha on behalf of a young boy’s soul, is echoed in our two daily meditation sessions.
I confess, though, that I missed the first half of our first session. Sleeping blissfully, I somehow didn’t hear the signal bell that was meant to awaken me in time for the 5:25 start time. There I was, fast asleep, when a lovely apparition appeared in my bedroom, the head monitor Z— in her flowing robes, gently but firmly reminding me that it was time to join the others. Groggy and disoriented, I thought perhaps my time had come and she had materialized to lead me to the Western Paradise. But no, I went instead to the meditation hall and managed to slip into the second half of the session.
Determined not to repeat the mistake, I set two alarm clocks this morning, and wound up not sleeping much at all, as if I were nervously awaiting an early morning flight. I heard the bell clearly (before the clocks kicked in), and was at the hall well ahead of schedule. But I must say that yesterday was a much more memorable experience. Sometimes, it pays to fail.