Dao Du Jour II, Day 50: Extra Ordinary

Chapter 49: Trust and Power

“The wise have no mind of their own,

finding it in the minds

of ordinary people.”

~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)

“In my walks,” Emerson wrote, “every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Several years ago, I was invited to a wedding in Woodstock, NY. To get there, I had to carpool with some of the bride’s friends. We met up that morning in the East Village. I arrived at the car rental place and spotted the woman I assumed I was looking for, as she was the only woman there. She smiled, shook my hand, and introduced me to an elderly man next to her—her “boyfriend”—named Philip. The age difference—which was quite possibly pushing half a century—was noteworthy but, I figured, it’s New York, and they were, like most of the crowd attending the wedding, artsy types.

I took the wheel, and we began our escape from Manhattan. Philip sat shotgun, his partner in the back. She was in the theater world. I asked Philip what he did. He was vague and evasive, saying he worked in an adjacent area, the arts, etc. We drove on. I finished my second cup of coffee. My mind began turning things over.

My body knew before my conscious mind that I was sitting across from Philip Glass.

I was only passingly familiar with his music—an old roommate used to play it in the background while he worked, and I remember loving his score from the film The Hours—but I had the sense that he was kind of a big deal. I resisted googling his name to get image confirmation lest I loose control of the car and kill the famous composer. But at our first rest stop and could safely use my phone, I came to learn not only that it was, in fact, him, but that according to Wikipedia, Philip Glass is generally considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century.

During our drive up to Woodstock, he peppered me with questions about my work in philosophy. I was at a crucial point in my career, having leveraged my twenties running down the dream of being a professor, beginning to conjure a plan B, wondering if Marge Simpson was right: that, as she tells Lisa, “grad students aren’t bad people, honey, they’ve just made a terrible life choice.” Philip was interested, enchanted, encouraging. When we arrived and parted ways prior to the wedding ceremony, he stopped me and gave a kind of “go forth young man you will do well” benediction.

When I saw him at the reception hours later, as the evening eased toward bacchanal, I asked him “Why didn’t you tell me you were Philip Glass?” He laughed and said, “Because then I wouldn’t have gotten to know you and learn from you. You would have treated me differently.”

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