108 Steps

21 March 2020 – It all starts with a query-by-text. The Much-Loved-Relative tapping out the message has just seen a sculpture he can’t account for, on Kingsway near Gladstone, a ladder soaring to the skies. A tribute to firefighters, perhaps?

He trusts that Iceland Penny will know the answer.

Well, she doesn’t. But she now knows where she will go walking, this very day. She feels a particular need to solve the mystery because MLR is the person who gave her the “Iceland Penny” nickname, all those years ago.

I’m on it.

Good grief, that ladder does indeed soar. I’m still more than a block away, and look at it.

Right up to it, on the median.

Encased and locked down at the bottom …

against any fool who might be tempted to climb up.

Very, very up.

No signage.

I retreat to Kings Café just opposite, in the hopes of (a) information, and (b) a latte. I get both.

The café fits our new-normal: tables stacked, take-out only, and a young masked & gloved man swabbing an already-sparkling floor as I walk in. We nod, and swerve apart as I pass.

The young woman behind the counter, also masked & gloved, takes my order. When I ask about the ladder, she slips down the mask long enough to answer, revealing a warm smile and great enthusiasm for my question.

The artist’s name is Khan Lee, she tells me; also originally from Korea, just like her. The ladder has 108 rungs, symbolizing the 108 — here her already-impressive English doesn’t quite meet the need, and she mimes a bow, an obeisance — of spiritual practice.

I ask if I may take her picture, because I am delighted by her respect for the work of art and her eagerness to share what she knows, and I want you to feel this human connection as well.

So, please meet Hailey (her chosen English name). But note: she has pulled off mask & gloves and loosened her hair for the shot; immediately afterward, she reties her hair, washes her hands, and replaces mask & gloves.

Later, online, I learn Hailey got it right.  In his artist’s statement for this 40-metre installation, Khan Lee explains:

108 Steps is a steel sculpture of a free-standing ladder with 108 rungs. The ladder is one of the oldest and simplest tools. The number 108 has significance for a variety of cultures, and is considered sacred within many Dharmic faiths. There are approximately 108 blocks on Kingsway.

I take my latte outside, place gloves & sunglasses on the little table, take one more photo …

and then drink my coffee, more attuned to the ladder’s calm majesty than the traffic all around.

Later, walking back west along Kingsway, a printed message in keeping with the benign mood of that earlier visual.

Kindness, reaching out, even as we practice social distance.

I think of that the next day, walking past Rogers Park.

Social distance, with friends, in the sunshine!

We can do this.

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. Despite the death and fear, there are good things happening.

    Reply
  2. Good luck in the next weeks and months Penny.

    Reply
    • Oh Sarah, you too! I’m not sure where you’re living right now, haven’t seen any posts in a while, but wherever you are, stay healthy and socially connected…

      Reply
  3. wonderful. thank you for sharing

    Reply
    • I would have loved the sculpture anyway, but under all the circumstances, that moment with Hailey was the most special part of the whole outing

      Reply
  4. I love this – I wondered about the 108 in the title right away because it’s very Buddhist…and what a cool answer I got. The ladder sculpture is terrific, as a delightful visual conundrum and for the way it brings together disparate elements – the ladder/tool as object, and Buddhist philosophy. I like that you had a nice interaction because of your curiosity (but that happens all the time with you, doesn’t it?). And I like that you set off in quest of the answer. And I love the circle of friends. Thanks, Penny. 🙂

    Reply
    • I practised Taoist tai chi for many years, with its 108 steps… I’m glad you enjoyed this post; because of today’s circumstances, I valued what it offered me even more than I would have otherwise, and I’m happy to see readers connect to that deeper value, and poignancy

      Reply
      • I’m not familiar with Taoist Tai Chi…I studied back in the 70s but like so many things, it fell away at some point. But some lessons don’t fade, one internalizes certain things. The blogging community has been an especially good place to connect lately. Take care! 🙂

  5. p.s. I like thinking that your practice from long ago continues, in your mindful, open-ended but deliberate walks around Vancouver.

    Reply

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