Monday, April 16, 2012



The crowd overflowed to the glass front of Wendy's across the street. The people, all white, wore t-shirts with slogans or carried posterboard signs or, in one case, a plastic fetus, two feet long, stapled to the top of a balsa wood stick. A few of the protesters wore rosary beads, and a man at the front wore black clergy robes, but the majority were what she would have profiled as southern, evangelical, and clueless. She wondered if they'd been bussed into the city. Stacy felt her arms tighten around the elbows of the two women standing next to her, interlocked. The three were part of a human fence separating the clinic from the surging protesters, who had been enticed there by a recent talk radio diatribe. The clinic door opened, and a young black woman emerged, birth control prescription in hand, stoic in the midst of the noisy fracas. The protesters shouted, cried and cursed at her; a young woman wearing a fluorescent vest wrapped an arm around her shoulder and began hustling her to the gate. They would take her all the way to the bus if need be.


The light wind threatened to hurry the ceremony. Wisps of fine powder occasionally escaped as the saffron-robed monk made his way down the line, smiling as he dispensed a measure of colored sand into each newspaper cone. A line of twenty-five or thirty people of a type -- NPR listeners, organic gardeners, Unitarians -- stood awkwardly along the deserted edge of the Schuylkill River. Those who had received their sand squinted out over the water, or stared down into the tinted grains; those whose cones were still empty watched the monk -- his slippered feet on the green grass, or the glossy wooden beads on his wrist, or his wrinkled scalp and warm, dark, brown eyes. The lama, the teacher, waited at the top of the line, always peaceful, neutral, patient. Fifteen minutes prior, his team had scooped up the colored sand comprising a huge mandala, eight feet square, multiple three-dimensional layers of tiny images and laden symbols that had taken weeks to assemble on the museum's Asian gallery floor. In a moment, the lama would call for the assemblage to pour the sand into the river -- fleet as the water, impermanent as emotion.

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