|Black Lightning Strikes The Trees - Photo by J. Scott, 1996|
His life was preordained to be one of privilege, wealth, and luxury. He was conceived on March 2nd, 1918 in St. Petersburg, during a riot on the first anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II's abdication. Of course, not everything that's preordained actually comes to pass, and before he was born, Dmitry Kalashnik's parents had lost everything that they couldn't fit into two suitcases, fled the Russian revolution in the dead of night, and washed up on Ellis Island. He was born on Christmas Eve - over two weeks late, and "very large."
Things went a bit downhill, from there. Just before little Dmitry's fourth birthday, his father, whose only marketable skill had been investing and counting money, succumbed to being run over by a streetcar (as so many future hoboes' fathers were). His mother, who hadn't known a minute of work of any kind, back home, stretched her late husband's meager life insurance as far as it would go, but after two years, it was gone. She could bake, and her pirogi were the talk of their neighborhood, so she was able to find work in a bakery, and she followed the shop's owner when he relocated to Pittsburgh in 1928. She married him not long after that, and for her, life began to resemble life, again.
We all know what happened next. The global economy melted into the fire and burned into a stinky smoke, Dmitry's mother and step-father lost their home and moved into a tiny apartment, and focused all of their energy on keeping their sweets and pirogi shop alive. The boy rebounded for a while, but finally left home in 1930, barely eleven years old, and survived as best he could the competing ravages of homelessness and puberty.
While he learned to live outside, eventually becoming a full-fledged hobo, albeit a terribly young one, his mother learned to live without him, relying on her faith to paint a mental picture of him that wasn't crushingly tragic. In St. Petersburg, she and her first husband had been among the last of the Russian Orthodox Buddhists, and she had spent Dmitry's formative years working to instill in him the values of the great teacher. As she absorbed the sermons of her new husband's American Catholic priests in Pittsburgh, she prayed that she had set her son upon a decent path.
A lifetime later (10 years), having rebounded a dozen times from a dozen different horrors that would have sent lesser men to their whimpering deaths, Rubbery Dmitry, The Mad Monk held steady. He had next to nothing of his own, and that suited him fine. His life was simple. He was walking and riding the rails of freedom and migrant labor, and he was relatively content. He remembered neither the scripture, nor the teachings of Buddha - save for the lessons of stillness, from the latter. "Be still," he heard his mother whisper, "be still."
Life screamed at him to run, or to fight, or to run, fighting into the abyss of the horrible nothing, but he forced himself, shaking, to be as motionless as possible. He mentally reread the headlines of the day - Jews being rounded up and sent to camps, where there were reports of mass slaughter. War machines. Troops here, talks there, fleets, riots, death tolls, more talks, rumors, smoke, blood...
He practiced his Buddhist breathing. He realized that he hadn't paid nearly enough attention to the lessons on breathing. He shrugged and tried to fake it until he made it, and he breathed all wrong. The world had gone mad, and it was all over essentially nothing, and the opposing forces were sworn to keep fighting until well beyond death, because the other side was so deeply, ungodly WRONG, and that, as they say, was that.
Rubbery Dmitry, The Mad Monk closed his eyes. He thought. You might say he prayed. You'd be wrong, but forgiven for saying that. He heard his mother again - be still. He snorted, for although he knew exactly what it meant to be still, he had yet to master - or even honestly attempt - the art of being still.
He took a deep breath, told all of his personal woes - as well as those of the universe around him - to give him a minute, and searched for stillness.
And it stopped. All of it.
And he heard his mother say, "Good, good. Steady... Now what?"