Forget the Footnotes

Zen and the art of package delivery

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We sent 20 boxes with DHL to Sweden as part of the process of dismantling our London home. Nothing expensive, just our old memorabilia — drawings by the kids, letters from family and friends, things we wrote as teenagers, photos of old girlfriends, gifts from people now dead.

DHL managed to deliver 1 box but lost the other 19. Despite repeated phone calls no one can locate their whereabouts. No one knows, no one cares. Everyone is looking at computer screens and no bar codes match. The only thing worse than an incompetent state-run company is an incompetent privately-run company.

Old memorabilia like this has a strange status. I haven’t looked at any of it for years and I probably never will look at it again. Still I lug this stuff around with me wherever I go. Why? Surely it’s a way of providing a paper trail; a means of giving account of one’s life if I one day had to. Going from one country to another for the last 25 years, this pile of junk provides me with a sense of continuity. For better or worse, this stuff is me.

I was in Thailand when the buddha statues of Bamiyan were distroyed by the Taliban. I was very distraught and remember arguing that Unesco should have a rapid action force that could save cultural monuments in danger. Why should only human beings be saved? I used to think I would have given my life for those Buddhas.

The Thais of course were completely unimpressed. ‘It shows the ephemeral quality of all things, including stone statues. That is the teaching of the Buddha.’ OK, I remember thinking, now I know I’m not a Buddhist.

Perhaps DHL is trying to teach us something profound? Maybe this is their way of bringing us closer to enlightenment? It’s a Zen riddle: if those boxes are me and the boxes are lost, then where am I? Perhaps DHL no longer delivers boxes but instead only final release from human suffering?


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