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January 09, 2008

Coffee with Keiko

One of the benefits of not working is having the luxury of time to spend with people you really like who would otherwise be pushed to the periphery of your life as a result of that pesky little thing called a job.

You've probably heard of that book Tuesdays with Morrie but for the last couple of months I've been having coffee with Keiko. Usually on Wednesdays.

I met Keiko in a watercolour painting class a couple of years ago. Her paintings are exquisitely detailed and realistic and they sell almost immediately when she shows them.

She reminds me a little of Phyllis, my childhood friend, for one obvious reason: they are both of Japanese heritage. And, she has a cynical somewhat warped sense of humour that meshes well with mine; the kind you wouldn't expect from a petite Japanese woman.

She is also one of the calmest, most unobtrusive individuals I have ever met and that inner calm transmits when you are around her. Yes, she meditates. She has this great short asymmetric hair cut that makes her look sophisticated and a faint sprinkle of freckles on her face. She looks much younger than her age although I don't know what her age is. When she laughs her brown eyes light up and her face looks joyful and you know she is laughing and yet she makes very little sound. Yesterday she had brown rice and miso soup for breakfast.

Our conversation tends to cover all topics ranging from the metaphysical to the mundane.

One day we're speaking of travel and I say to her that I've discovered that I must wait for a compelling reason to travel, that I've noticed how a place will just come to me and I must feel compelled and then I know it is exactly where I am supposed to go and it's the right time to go there.

Keiko then proceeds to tell me this story.

"One day," she says hesitantly, "I woke up and I felt compelled to go to India." Really?" I am surprised because she has proclaimed that her husband and her are often just too lazy to get it together to plan a trip which prevents them from taking trips and she feels like she's seen everywhere she really wants to go anyway.

"When was this?" "About 8 years ago," she says. "I had been reading a lot about Sai Baba. Sai Baba?" "You mean the guy with the ashes?" I tried to recall what it was about him that I'd heard. "Ya," she says. "I woke up and I just knew I must go to India. He invited me." "How do you get invited?" "No," she said laughing. "He doesn't send you an invitation. I felt his intent." "Oh," I said. I tried to keep my right eyebrow from doing what it does when people say that kind of stuff.

"That morning I said to George [her husband], I feel compelled to go to India. He looked at me and said I'm NOT going to INDIA!"

"The thing is," she continued, "I realize that going to India is not such a big deal but I don't like dirty, crowded places. That's why I feel he invited me. Otherwise, India or South East Asia are not places I have ever desired to visit."

"So, I got on the phone to my ex sister-in-law. She's a millionaire. I told her that I felt compelled to go to India. She was all over it. Next thing I know she calls me back and says, I've booked us into Business class. It's a long flight. But, first we're stopping in Japan."

"I found that interesting," she said "because I'd been to a psychic a while before and the psychic told me previously that I would be going on a trip but she insisted I'd be going to Japan when at the time I had no intention of going to Japan."

"We didn't make any reservations. Normally, I'd always make reservations. And, I wasn't even worried or afraid about what would happen. I knew everything would be fine."

We arrived in Bangalore and we did a bit of siteseeing and then just asked a taxi driver to take us to Sai Baba's ashram. He drove us out there. It's a really big place. Maybe 10,000 people could come there at a time. Sai Baba comes out only about 2 times a day. He just comes out and walks among all the people.

My sister in law tried to find a room for us. But, there were no rooms left. She then went back afterwards and they said they had something we could stay in. It was this basic cement blocked hut. There was nothing in it. We had to sleep on the floor. There were these German tourists that we had to share it with. My sister in law made a place for her bed under some table. One of the germans was young and had a little Indian baby.

All I remember is how hot it was. It was so hot. And,I remember there would be these Indian women in beautiful saris looking absolutely pristine and calm sitting in the lotus position.

I remember being in this large crowd in the afternoon and he came near me but he didn't look at me. He was right near me and yet he didn't at any time glance in my direction as if he was avoiding me on purpose. Really, I say. Maybe he just didn't notice you. You're kinda small. There were a lot of people right? No,that wasn't it. It was intentional. But why would he have invited you only to ignore you?
I asked someone later and they said something about he didn't look at me because my soul needed to be cleansed.

What I liked about this story is that I like it when people surprise me. When I perceive them to be a certain way and they take my judgements, of which I make too many, and trash them, when they reveal facts about themselves that expand my understanding of who they are and remind me that we all know so little of everyone we think we know - ourselves, our friends, our spouses, the people we work with - and about the mysteries of life. When was the last time you really surprised yourself?

Keiko does this for me almost every time we meet. She also has a way of getting at the heart of an issue without ever referring to it directly and yet when she's finished I always walk away with some bit of wisdom to mull over that's usually relevant to whatever has been foremost on my mind.

For example, because I have been confused about what I would really feel some sort of enthusiasm about doing next to make money she asked me one simple question. Why did you leave your last job? What were you thinking? She asked me and not in a what the hell were you thinking kind of way but what was going on inside your head when you knew you must leave?

I could answer that instantly because I was indeed having a very specific thought when I left. I was thinking of something that I know I should be doing but am not, the one thing I am on the planet to do that I have been avoiding my entire life.

Meeting Keiko for coffee has become one of the highlights of my week.

PS: I asked Keiko whether she'd be okay with me writing something about her and she said yes. She might be horrified mind you at the results; at how much I have undoubtedly omitted or flat out got wrong about her trip to Sai Baba. :-)

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