A Life Written in Water



A couple of weeks ago, I was in Shanghai. I woke up on a Saturday and wanted to see how people lived and what they did on a regular basis, avoiding the tourist traps of the city. After all, places that cater to tourists are usually not true cultural representations.

My friends who were with me told me that Saturdays are all about parks in Shanghai, so we went to People’s Park and they were right. Thousands of people were there, old men flying colorful kites, people playing with a kind of yoyo, lines of meditators doing tai chi. The one person who sticks out in my mind however was a man doing calligraphy on the gray stones of the park’s entrance.

The man was writing a poem, prayer, or political tract on the paving stones using a kind of water brush. It was a cool day so the words stuck there for a while, but he was on the third line of his work, and each line was about fifty feet long, so the first words had already evaporated into the air. They were gone for everyone, except for those people who had taken the time to follow him and read what he had written as he was going.

There was a small crowd who stood next to him and concentrated on his brush work, getting his ideas, whatever they were, immediately. Others stopped a moment and read a little bit before moving on out of respect for his artistry or ideas. I don’t know.

I don’t read Chinese, so I have no idea what was being written. It was interesting to watch all of this happen from my perspective, how focused the writing was and focused the readers were, completely immersed in this world as the tai chi people, the kit fliers, the yoyo-ers, and I buzzed around them offering all kind of distraction. However, they were completely mindful of where they are.

What did I walk away with? All art is temporary. Everything in this world is after all. The moment of creation implies the moment of destruction, and those people who read his work in water have it in them as much as anyone who has read anything on paper. There are any number of distractions in this world, but staying focused and in this moment adds meaning to all moments.