My Moment with Marcel Marceau
(Boston, Saturday, April 20, 1974)
for Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)
His flat palms glide on invisible glass
and you feel trapped like him in a cage.
When he slides backwards in his walk
you sense his struggles against the wind.
I love his mime in the public garden
chasing butterflies, bouncing a ball,
children on swings and riding bicycles,
women on a bench chatting and knitting.
In "Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death"
he conveys in four minutes life's pathos
and joy more dramatically than volumes
of novels by means of his silent gestures.
He learned the power of illusion fighting
with the French Résistance near the end of
World War II. He and a companion had come
to a clearing and suddenly found themselves
face-to-face with a unit of German soldiers.
Startled, Marceau struck a predatory pose
acting as if he was the advance guard of a
larger French force and got them to surrender.
Appearing on the Johnny Carson show
he mentioned Zen before a commercial break.
When the interview resumed, Carson asked
about his Hollywood friends instead of Zen.
A few years later I attended his matinee
in Boston, going backstage after the show.
I wrote out a Chuang Tzu quote on silence
as gift hoping to ask him more about Zen.
The guard tells me that Marceau takes a nap
for his evening show and will not see visitors
except the French Consul-General and his wife
for he had an appointment and they're old friends.
Suddenly I blurt out "I'm an old friend too!
and we go way back Chuang Tzu's the name"
surprised at myself invoking this ancient
Taoist sage as my ruse for his welcome.
Marceau still had his Bip costume on with
a white-caked face. He signs my home-made card,
draws his flower "thank you for the wonderful
Chuang Tzu quote in deep remembrance of Bip."
He tells me: "My interest in Zen came after
an inner experience through mime. Years from now,
they will know that there were enlightened people
in the 20th century. Enlightenment takes time.
The secret is that time takes care of everything.
God bless you." When I found a similar image
in Hexagram 50 of the I Ching, I jotted his
remarks to me in my Wilhelm-Baynes edition:
"The Caldron: Supreme good fortune. Success.
One's good qualities and gifts of mind will
not go to waste. If one is truly spiritual
the time is bound to come and all will go well."
And it did enlightened beings came to guide me,
my protein paper became a "Science Citation Classic",
my poem cast in bronze, all because I was inspired
and blessed in my moment with Marcel Marceau.
Peter Y. Chou
Mountain View, October 5, 2007
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