He said he wanted to work on talking. In what situation are you seeing yourself talking? I’m talking to people, he says. Where are you, I ask? I’m around a table with a group of people. We’re out to dinner. It’s loud, lots of people drinking, conversing, loud music playing in the background. As he describes the situation, I see his thin legs crossed, his thin body curled over in a c-shape, almost in a circle. In between sentences, I see his eyes flutter up, a couple rapid, tense blinks and then he speaks, his mouth hardly opening, his voice circling inside his mouth, a thin voice, everything thin, withered. A young man, old before his time.
Here we go I say to the group. Lets get that table and put it close to this noisy heater. Put some music on that computer. Get that large bottle of cold tea, and those cups, and lets sit around together. In Japan when you give an instruction like that, everyone gets up simultaneously, there’s a swirl of commotion, the dust settles, and it’s done. I place the thin man across from a good-looking woman who is an actress. I know she will draw him in, and maybe make him a bit nervous.
Alright. We’ve been at this table for a while. We’ve had a couple of beers. We’re loosening up. Lets see what happens. Douzo.
The party begins. I disappear into the thin mans blind spot and watch. He is doing almost exactly what he did when he explained the situation to me, but more pronounced. Everyone is engrossed. You can almost see the food on the table.
Okay, that’s good. I squeeze into the group next to the thin man. I have him sit back. With my hands, I help him uncurl his spine, relax his stomach. I get him to lean back and receive support from the chair. I’m not sure what I want to do next, so I sit quietly for a good fifteen seconds, without saying a word…
Okay, I say addressing the group. Your eyes are open, right? Now, close your eyes? Good. Now open your eyes. Good. Let me ask you, do your eyes really close or open? The group is wondering where I am going. I mean, can an eyeball open and close? Do eyeballs do that? What opens and closes? What raises and lowers, folds and unfolds? I am intentionally not looking at the thin man. I don’t want him to worry about me watching him.
You know, I say to the group, when you are really sleepy; when you can hardly keep “your eyes open,” how heavy your eyelids feel? Go there. Imagine that. Can you sense the weight of your eyelids? What’s happening, I ask, as I see everyone’s blinking slowing way down.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the thin man. The tension in his face is gone, and his face no longer looks thin. His upper body looks wide. I’m noticing for the first time how broad his shoulders are. There’s no anxiety left in the man. The thin man has become the calm man. No more flutter in the eyes. None.
Imagine you’re an alligator, I say to the group. You’re slowly, sliding through the swamp, your large, weighty, eyelids covering and closing over your round eyeballs… then sluggishly opening, only as far as they open on their own. Imagine yourself semi-submerged, the lower half of your eyes under the water.
Nothing could disturb the calm man now. Nothing could make this man nervous.
Okay. Time for lunch. Indian food. I can’t wait. Doumo arigatou gosaimashita. Good job.
At lunch the calm man sits at the head of the table, open, unafraid, his voice full and resonate.
Alexander’s work, when it works, can work miracles, miracles that can change a person’s life forever.