There is a circle of musicians that gather in Washington Square Park on warm, sunny days. Their talents vary widely. Some of them play guitar quite well. Some not so well. Others struggle just to keep beat with the tambourine. But everyone has a great time– especially when the sun is shining. I normally drop in for a song or two. I become part of the group, dance with the music, and make encouraging eye contact with the other members. Even without an instrument, I feel that I outrank some of the weaker tambourine players.
Yesterday, it was very warm, and the circle was quite large. Several people were dancing. I noticed one man in particular. He had the longest, whitest, most flowingest beard I’d ever seen. It was reminiscent of Father Winter, or a cave hermit. And he was dancing with great joy. Eyes closed. Face upturned. I stopped my dancing and grabbed my camera. I tapped him on the shoulder, interrupting his trance.
“Excuse me,” I asked. “Do you mind if I take your photo?” He had the warmest smile.
“Sure,” he said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Bala,” he said. “Somebody told me I look just like Walt Whitman. You should look him up.”
I thanked Bala for the photo, and resumed dancing. But after the song was finished, I noticed Bala was gone. I quickly looked around. I knew he could not have gone far. But strangely, he was nowhere to be found. Then I saw him—he was far away, and he was running. Normally, people run from something. Or they run because they are late. Or maybe they run because they want exercise. But in Bala’s case, as best I could tell, he was running for no reason at all. He ran for about 50 yards, then he just stopped.
“Bala!” I shouted, running to catch up. He turned around. “Hey, I wanted to talk to you for a second.” He seemed very relaxed, unhurried. Then why was he running? “What’s your story?” I asked.
“I’m a mystic,” he said. His eyes were smiling.
“Am I saying your name right? Bah-Lah?”
“Yes,” he said. “My wife passed away a few years back. Her name was Barbara, I used to call her Ba. My name was Lawrence, she used to call me La. When she died, I change my name to Bala.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said. He smiled. “So what do you do, as a mystic?” I asked.
“Well, this is going to sound audacious… ” he hesitated for a moment. ”But I am a genius. I mean, linguistically, I am a genius.” He said this almost apologetically. Like being a genius was something he could not help. Like he was saying, I am the son of a duke.
“I am working on my third book,” Bala said. “My first two were about trivial things. This one is very important.”
“What is it about,” I asked.
“It’s called The Book of Everybody, Everyone, and Everything.”
“That’s an ambitious title.”
“You do know the difference between everybody and everyone, don’t you?”
“Every person has a body.” Bala pointed at his body. “And every person has a One.” Bala pointed at the top of his head. “Your body ends, it has limits. But your One does not end.” Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded. “I do.”
“I have an equation,” Bala said. That’s how Bala was. One second he was talking about your One. And the next second there’d be a clean break, and he’d want to tell you about his equation.
“My equation is like Einstein’s equation,” Bala said. “But instead of E=MC squared, it’s understanding = substance.”
“Understanding = substance,” I repeated.
“Exactly,” he said. “I want you to think about that for a second. I want you to tell me what it means.”
“OK.” I made my thinking face. A few moments passed. I stopped making my thinking face.
“You done thinking about it?” he asked.
“I think so.”
“OK. So what does it mean?”
“Well, the word understanding is an abstraction. And substance, is something concrete. So I guess what you’re saying, is that your thoughts somehow manifest themselves in reality.”
“Exactly!” he said. I felt proud. “But look closer.” I made my thinking face. But nothing came.
“That’s about as close as I can look, I think.”
“Understanding equals substance,” he said. ”They are the same thing. I mean, linguistically they are indistinguishable. Sub is Latin for under. And stance is a synonym of standing. You see? They equal each other.”
We talked for twenty minutes. Bala was a genius. Linguistically, he was a genius. But he was a non-linear genius. His genius was scattered across the universe of his brain, like stars. Little specks of poetic illumination that would fall upon him suddenly, in no apparent order—gifts from his One. These thoughts were what he lived for. My wife passed away a few years back. I live in poverty. They were beautiful to listen to, if not hard to follow at times. Sometimes Bala would speak so fast that he would close his eyes, as if having to concentrate to keep his entire soul from spilling out his mouth. He saw patterns in every coincidence. My birthday is a very holy number, but that’s a different story. His mind imposed order upon every bit of chaos it encountered. Then it drew a conclusion. Everything had meaning. All human conflict can be traced to a mistranslation of the names of Noah’s sons in the Bible. For Bala, every intricacy of language revealed a greater truth. The smallest shade of meaning held the potential for human enlightenment. The meaning of existence was compacted in language, waiting. To be discovered by a genius. Truth, he said, comes out of love. And I mean this quite literally. The word ‘truth’ was derived from the word ‘truce.’ Before there is truth, there must be a truce.
Bala opened his eyes.
“You are a genius,” I told him.
He gave me a hug.