TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2010 (my 25th anniversary as a cab driver) -- Eighteen days left
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO my maternal grandparents departed a tiny village of 350 people in rural northeastern Slovakia. They were youngsters, too poor to afford transport, and so for five weeks they walked all the way across Poland, sleeping in haystacks.
In Gdansk they boarded a boat for a three-week ride to America. Their plan was to make a pile of money and then go back and live big lives in the old village. Instead, my grandfather became a coal miner near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and my grandmother raised the six kids they produced. Neither of my grandparents nor any of their eventual forty-some American descendants ever made it back, until four summers ago when my wife and daughter and I made the trip.
The village, Volica (it rhymes with "pizza" and is just begging for a restaurant named Pizza Volica), has changed little. There are still 350 residents. Horse-drawn wagons still roll through the streets. Pigs, goats, chickens, a wood pile, and an all-important vegetable garden fill almost every back yard. I found 120-130 Slovakian cousins I'd never quite imagined before. One of my relations owned the town's one small store and served as a robe-wearing official of the one small Russian Orthodox church. Another was the bartender in the one small bar. Another was the mayor. My grandparents were remembered as a kind of legend: the kids who walked away to America and never came back.
My cousins were curious about our lives, America, democracy. And my family and I were curious about their lives in the village. We were surprised to hear people say (usually with some embarrassment) that life was maybe a little better under communism. Under communism, there had been a safety net. Even with all the stupidities of that system, they'd shared a sense that they were "all in this together." Now everyone was officially on their own. Now all the young people had to go elsewhere to find jobs -- mostly only old folks were left. The community, and the village's sense of community, had taken a hit.
LAST WEEK one of my Slovak-American cousins, 43-year old Philip, called from Arizona. In Sedona he had just been among the crowds that are gathering to experience the gaze of a Croatian man named Braco (it's pronounced "Braht-zo" and I'm told it means "little brother") who is touring the US for the first time. For several years Braco has been holding "gazing sessions" in Europe, where crowds of thousands wait all day long to gaze with him.
Some people call Braco a "healer" but he doesn't call himself anything. Braco says only that he "makes the gaze" and while doing so his experience is that "I feel happy." What he does is this: he stands in front of groups of people for eight-minute sessions and gazes at them. Nothing else. He doesn't speak, he doesn't say, "You should live this way, you should live that way" -- he doesn't say anything. He doesn't recommend a diet or a political candidate, he doesn't ask for devotion or piles of money (tickets cost eight bucks).
Yesterday, as well as the day before, I went to gaze at Braco as he gazed at me and several hundred other people inside the South of Market Cultural Center in San Francisco. Beforehand, one of the people traveling with Braco gave a short introduction. She said that many people who attend one of Braco's gazing sessions have reported healings and transformations, and she showed a short video she had produced: people talking about their surprising and always positive experiences before, during, and after these events. And then Braco walked out, stood on a box so that everyone in the crowd could see him, and slowly gazed around the room. He kept his hands at his sides and didn't move any part of his body except his eyes, which methodically worked their way to all corners of the group. (Yesterday I stood in the fifth row, and I saw him blink a couple of times. And yes, both days I felt that he made direct eye contact specifically with me.) After eight minutes (or so) he gave a nod so slight that I might have only imagined it, stepped down, and walked off stage.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of the experience (or if I have to make anything of it at all). I didn't see auras or light as some people report. I haven't noticed any particular healings or transformations or any miracles other than the ongoing miracle that I get to take one more breath, and now another, and now yet another. But I did find it quite remarkable that a person could stand motionless in front of a group of people and seem to be completely at peace, as Braco seemed, and to exude an attitude which seemed, to me, to be one hundred percent "at your service." (Sorry -- Braco was here for two days, and has now left for Hawaii and then Japan. For more info click here.)
Also remarkable to me was the crowd -- polite, open, hopeful, and with its guard dropped. Everyone here by word of mouth. All of us quite willing for something unexpected and good to happen. Even early on that first day -- before the event began, before I'd seen Braco or his introducer or the video -- I found myself smiling broadly and seeing absolutely no reason why I should stop smiling, in fact, no way to stop myself from smiling. Here hundreds of us were, taking time out from our days, creating a small trusting on-the-spot community for half an hour. Not knowing exactly what to expect, simply happy to be here, breathing, waiting. If miracles go looking for places to show up, it's easy for me to imagine them searching for an atmosphere such as that atmosphere.
And of course this occurred to me, "There was a similar feeling at the Beach Impeach events." An incredulous sense in the crowd, a borderline giddiness, an uncertainty, a willingness. Everyone here because a friend had shared news of it. Everyone absolutely open to the possibility of something great and unexpected happen.
I write this story because...it's all I know to do. This is my way of creating community. And democracy.
I hope you'll share news of the Slash Oil event with (forward this email to) anyone you think would be interested.
If you can come, I hope that you indeed will come. And if you are planning to come, I hope you will register in advance so that I can know what size crowd to prepare for.
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Hope to see you soon.