By Ilena Pegan
When I turned six my mother buckled me into the back seat of our white Mercury Sable station wagon and drove away from Los Angeles to Mendocino County. My younger sister and brother were living in China with our grandparents and my father was wrapping things up in Los Angeles. That evening the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas became my home. Fast forward roughly twelve years and it's every slab of cement, patch of dried grass, sturdy redwood is memorized on the back of my hand. I walk back and forth on the hazardous sidewalks armed with peacock remains, as the stars' gleam purse right through the darkness.
Today I was saying good bye to my first friend made at the Monastery, today she was graduating from Developing Virtue Secondary School. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas the schools are separated into two boy and girl divisions. Because the schools are on the campus of a Buddhist Monastery these rules are taken very seriously. During lunch we are divided by a gigantic screen, we are not allowed to look at boys' school students, let alone talk to them or of them. So this graduation celebrating gathering was also following the rules of one gender only.
I said good bye and congratulations to all the seniors, which was altogether six of my close friends, for the eighth time that day. They were revered upon a beautifully decorated table sited right in front of the stage. They were all dressed beautifully but more importantly they all looked like they were ready to face the world. The entire school was hustling about and whispering congratulations to each of the seniors. The basketball court pulsated with excitement and anticipation. Everyone was giggling and the air hummed with chatter.
My fingers tap nervously, waiting, waiting, for the capo to arrive. With shaking hands I lean forward and adjust the microphone. I look up and give a half grin. I look at the guitar that has suddenly been placed upon my lap – what's it doing here? My fingers pinch a green, neon colored, probably glow-in-the-dark guitar pick and I don't think I'm holding it right. A hand lands upon my shoulder, I snap up straight, "Are you going to play?" the hand asks. "Huh?" I smartly respond, "Oh. Yeah. I think I need a capo." The hand giggles, "Well I think that there's no more time to look for the capo – just go for it." I nod my head, gag down a huge gulp of air and look up at the audience. "Ello! Well, I'll have to do with this handmade capo made of rubber-bands and a pencil. You want a look?" I grin while I raise the guitar off my lap, the audience ripples with soft chuckles. I let a sly smirk sneak out from the corner of my mouth then quickly hide it away. "This is song for you Seniors, thank you for being great friends and great guidance counselors we didn't have to pay for." I look up and they're cheerfully grinning away, "Wish me luck," I chortle.
I struck a chord and then another and soon enough I remembered the song. I gave my shoulders one more relaxing waggle and announced, "This song has yet to receive a title." The song sprang out with my shaky voice and once I stroke the final note there was a burst of applause, "Encore! Encore!"
I began the next song with a confused mumble jumble of clashing notes. I didn't get to practice this song and as I continue forcing through the song each chord is played off beat. Before I can struggle through the first line, one of my friends runs up and begins humming with me. Soon enough, my sister joyfully gallops up dragging her friends by their hands. More of my classmates prance on stage and kneel by my side. Suddenly there was an entire group aiding me forward. The audience was cheering us on and laughing, hitting the tables in front of them. By the middle of the song I'm able to catch up the chords with the vocals. As we reach the end, we are a steady harmonious collaboration of mumbling. We ended, arms spread wide and heads tilted high.
The audience whooped and the applause hit us like a tidal wave. The seniors were holding their stomachs, laughing at our foolish performance. But we got the point across – that we were a community, a family that would always be supporting each other. In this atmosphere I have learned two very important lessons: first of all tag along the entire community if I ever perform; secondly, there is something more than competition and violence. There is a community that doesn't want to fight for the prize, they grab it all together. This is where I blossomed, learned how to tighten my moral compass and to always look at life optimistically. The Buddhist Monastery, where not-so-good singers with knowledge of only four chords on a guitar flourish.