Two months ago I read Sensei Andrea Harkins’ blog post “To Be Like Bruce Lee” and decided it was high time I made a trip to his grave. I grew up in Seattle but had never made seeking the site a priority. I never really caught on to the hype about Bruce Lee. I have yet to see one of his movies. After I read about how he struggled against injury and racism I thought it might be nice to leave flowers on behalf of Sensei Andrea. She was all for it. Finally the perfect morning came around – I had an errand near that part of town and the weather was beautiful. As I prepared the card for the flowers it occurred to me that I wanted to leave flowers too. It was the first stirring of what touched my heart and spirit later that morning.
Errand accomplished, traffic fought, flowers purchased, card secured with ribbon, I drove through the gates of Lake View Cemetery. Too late I saw the sign saying that the office is across the street. However, I was so delighted with the place I decided to drive around and see if I could find the grave on my own.
I was thrilled to see so many old mausoleums, sculptures, and graves. I was surprised to find so many names of city founders. Seattle has a very quirky history featuring some interesting people, and many are buried in this cemetery. I saw quite a few unique modern graves and many Asian style graves. But I somehow missed Bruce Lee, and I knew what his grave looked like from Internet pictures. Reluctantly, I admitted to myself that time was ticking away. I found a place to park on the street outside the office. I was very grateful they weren’t busy.
I suppose I could’ve planned the entire thing out and researched exactly where Bruce Lee’s grave is so I could’ve gone straight there. But then I would’ve missed out on the whole experience of the treasure hunt. I would barely have noticed the other graves. I would’ve missed meeting the helpful lady working at the front desk of the office – she was delightful. I’d certainly have missed signing the Bruce Lee guest book on behalf of Sensei Andrea. I would never have seen that in one week, visitors came from all over the world – including a rugby team from the United Kingdom! Most of all, I might not have a desire to return another day for a nice long ramble. As I drove back through the cemetery, I realized it is possible to over-plan one’s life.
I know how I missed spotting the graves – the colors are used for many other headstones elsewhere and one cannot see the names from any road. The stones face downhill towards Lake Washington – to the east where the sun rises. It is a beautiful spot bordered on two sides with hedges. A bench encourages visitors to stay awhile. I placed the shared bouquet and card, snapped a picture for Sensei Andrea, and sat down.
I had the place to myself, which is probably unusual, especially on a gorgeous Spring morning. The bright warm sun was a blessed relief after a miserable, dark, rainy winter. Birds sang sweetly and the evergreen trees sighed in the gentle breeze. I immediately felt at ease. I hadn’t planned on lingering but the place drew my heart into itself. I wasn’t quite ready just yet to contemplate the life of a man who I don’t know much about, so I let the peace of the place soak into my soul.
I started wondering about the people buried nearby and got up briefly to see who they were. I found this stone at Bruce Lee’s right. It’s squeezed between flagstones and a red camellia bush – easily overlooked. This was the oldest and, to me, the most compelling grave near the Lees. Three years my junior when he died so far from home. What was his story? Had he studied boxing? What would he think of who he’s buried next to? Where are his descendants? Does anyone notice his grave when they visit the Lees? Sometimes when we find what we are looking for we discover there’s more to pursue.
I took a few more pictures, sat down on the bench again and read the inscriptions on the Lees’ graves.
I reflected on these inscriptions for awhile. “Your inspiration continues to guide us toward our personal liberation” is especially apropos for Sensei Andrea’s tribute. I am very glad Sensei Andrea found inspiration in Bruce Lee’s life story and had shaped that inspiration into a post that encourages people to overcome obstacles and free their potential. As I sat on the bench across from Bruce Lee’s headstone, I realized reading about his struggles had touched me more deeply than I knew. The longer sentiment on Brandon Lee’s grave really resonates with me. I try to appreciate and recall life’s best moments as much as I can – including a sunny day in a quiet graveyard, where I discovered more than what I’d originally come for.
I wrapped up my musings by thinking about what Bruce Lee means to me. I’m still trying to figure out that thing about being like water, and maybe I’ll spend my life exploring different aspects of it. I am grateful for the words even though I am totally ignorant about if “be water, my friend” was his own words or a screenwriter’s words, or even some ancient author’s words. I next wondered how much inspiration is infused into the lives of the Senseis who teach me. Certainly I’ve heard Bruce Lee’s name a time or two during Karate classes! I realized I’m grateful for his life because of how he touched others. I ended on a whimsical thought – what would Bruce Lee say to me? Probably, “Practice,” I thought wryly as I stood up and bowed.
I came away refreshed for the quiet time of reflection in a peaceful place. As I walked back to my car I thought about Sensei Ando’s blog post, “How to Meditate Without Losing Your Mind” and realized I had actually applied what I’d learned in that article. My eyes were open the whole time, but yes, I was meditating and it had changed me. I found an appreciation for the life of someone I barely know anything about.
There was one more surprise for me that morning. Before I reached my car I spotted a water spigot. It occurred to me that the bouquet could’ve used more water in the vase so I turned back to get it. As I neared the grave, I spotted the reflection of the card. I recognized a “perfect moment” when I saw it and took this picture:
A gift left on a grave reflected back at me – a visual representation of how I gave something but ended up receiving so much more. This more than anything else spoke to me because I value the art of photography and have been developing (pun intended) my skills for most of my life. If I hadn’t turned back to the grave, I’d have missed this moment – missed the gift of shooting a unique picture (which is what us photographers live for). If I hadn’t turned back to Karate after so many years away from it, I’d have missed a thousand precious moments.
Later in the evening I discovered the peace from that morning was still with me in the dojo. I do believe my performance was better than usual as a result. I do seek out peaceful places frequently during the week while on my daily walks with the dog, but it’s rare that a place will touch me so deeply that it spills over into my Karate hours later.
All that from what started out as a simple favor for my friend Sensei Andrea! And thank you, friend. If it wasn’t for your blog post, I wouldn’t have had an experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. I know what’s written on Brandon Lee’s grave about such experiences, so I’m writing and sharing my experience so it can be remembered by not just me, but also by you and by my readers. Hopefully some little piece of this experience will live and breathe in the soul of another and inspire something positive.