Steve and I had never seen the Dalai Lama in person, so when someone offered us tickets to his appearance on the UCSD campus yesterday, we couldn’t resist. In Tibet, which we visited not once but twice over the last 18 months, you can be thrown in jail for having his picture on your cell phone. Many Tibetans consider him a living god. Even if he’s not divine (and he says he isn’t), he indisputably was the ruler of the country until fleeing into exile in advance of the Chinese occupation. He’ll turn 82 this year, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to see him while he’s still on the planet.
Our tickets said the event would start at 9 a.m, and they warned that everyone would have to go through strict security checks. So shortly after 8:30, we took our place among the thousands of folks lined up to have their bags and backpacks inspected and their water bottles emptied.
At a certain point, I noticed that the couple in front of me was eying a small group of monks milling off to the side of the crowds queuing up to be inspected. Eventually, I realized that they seemed to think one of those monks was the Dalai Lama himself — a notion I dismissed as ridiculous. But the man was persistent. “We should go over and ask,” he declared. He looked at me. “Will you guys hold our place in line?”
“Go for it!” I encouraged them, thinking they’d soon be back, embarrassed by their error.
Minutes passed, and they returned — exultant.
“Yup,” they confirmed. “We shook his hand and thanked him for being here. He was great!”
Stunned, I slipped out of line myself and inched close to the monks.
I felt too shy to try for a selfie or otherwise intrude on his holiness. But comparing the man 15 feet away from me with the picture of the Dalai Lama on my ticket, the two indeed looked identical. And the gesture matched even better the Buddhist leader’s mischievous sense of humor. What could be more fun than to slip out and turn your back on the huge apparatus of Security — guards and metal detectors and searches and tedious lines — and hang out with the folks?
A moment later he slipped away, to meet with the press and finally (around 10) get up before a crowd that may have exceeded 20,000. His speech was good. But I appreciated his actions even more.