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A Morning Memorial on A1A for Jigme Norbu Before His Walk Resumes By Other Steps

| February 17, 2011

This morning's memorial benath the oak, where Jigme Norbu lost his life. (© FlaglerLive)

This morning’s memorial beneath the oak, where Jigme Norbu lost his life. (© FlaglerLive)

At 11:35 this morning, 63 hours after it was interrupted, Jigme Norbu’s Walk for Tibet-Florida resumed from a spot beneath a swooping oak tree on State Road A1A in the Hammock. It will reach West Palm Beach, some 300 miles south, on Feb. 26.

Norbu, the nephew of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, was not among the walkers. He was instantly killed on that spot Monday evening by inadvertence, by a passing car, as Norbu hugged the white line on the southbound side of the road, exactly one mile—less than 20 minutes, at his usually brisk pace—from the restaurant where his friends and walking companions were waiting.

Norbu was not among the walkers this morning, at least not physically. But a dozen walkers were with him, including Wangchuk Dorjee, the 67-year-old former member of the Tibetan Parliament in exile, who was on his fourth walk with Norbu and had had the last extended conversation with him (Norbu was planning a summer walk with students in Indiana, where he lives); Donna Kim-Brand, a life coach and friend who had laid out the Florida walk with Norbu last summer in West Palm Beach; Tashi Khongtsotsang, a 36-year-old Tibetan activist from Minneapolis who’d never met Norbu, but flew down this week to be among those taking up the walk for him; Damian Collins, owner of the Hammock Wine and Cheese Shoppe, who was the last person photographed with Norbu less than an hour before his death as she took him a drink and invited him to spend the night on the shop’s property; and several others.

Thursday’s walk followed a brief ceremony at the fateful spot, which by this morning had become a shrine to peace and Norbu of roses, plants, candles and a large peace sign made of wicker.

“I’d like to say thank you very much, all of you coming here, your love, your sympathy, we do appreciate it very much,” Dorjee told about 32 people assembled in a right circle around the shrine, as his voice was occasionally drowned out by the traffic shearing across A1A. Dorjee spoke of Norbu as the son of the Dalai Lama’s oldest brother, himself a leader in the Tibetan independence movement before his death in 2008, and a frequent walker for the cause. Norbu took up where his father left off. “He was our hero. And it is very sad,” Dorjee said. “We’re going to do a little prayer. This prayer is composed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for world peace, compassion, tolerance, and especially for Tibetan people.” Dorjee rang a bell, then intoned the prayer in one of Tibet’s several dialects.

Dorjee had walked the last miles with Norbu, ending his stretch on Monday after the pair reached the Matanzas bridge, because Dorjee’s back was hurting: he didn’t want to compromise his ability to make it the rest of the 300 miles. He was waiting for Norbu at T.J.’s Seafood Shack, exactly one mile south of the accident site, along with Kim-Brand and musicians Jamie DeFrates and Susan Brown, when the call from a Florida Highway Patrol trooper came in on Dorjee’s cell phone.

Kim-Brand, wearing a bright-red sweater and khata, a traditional Tibetan scarf,  then offered an elegy to Norbu: “It was a meditation for him, the walk. Step by step is the way we make world peace. Step by step is how we learn to be kind to one another, to make a difference in the world, to step into whatever our unique, personal calling is. So that would be his wish for all of us here, that we step up to the glory and magnificence of who we are as humans, as people who can make a difference in the world and create a world that just vibrates with beauty and kindness and goodness, freedom, dignity. Of course he had a special interest in the Tibetan cause, but Jigme was a man who bridged many worlds, the East and the West the young and the old, and you too bridge many worlds also. So our wish is that we carry on, and we are going to carry on with this walk for Tibet, Florida.”

Hear Jamie DeFrates and Susan Brown’s “Winterhawk”

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Jamie DeFrates and Susan Brown then sang “Winterhawk,” their own composition, inspired, DeFrates said, by “the human spirit, being free and not tied to this earthly plane.” It was DeFrates and Brown who drove Norbu’s group back to St. Augustine Monday night, as the troopers were finishing up their investigation at the accident scene.

Norbu’s body was flown out of Jacksonville at 8 Thursday morning. Cremation was to take place late this afternoon as part of a private family ceremony in Bloomington, Ind., where Norbu lived. “We know his holiness is fully involved in everything that’s going on,” Kim-Brand said, referring to the Dalai Lama. One of Norbu’s brothers and his eldest son will possibly be in West Palm Beach for a memorial ceremony there on Feb. 26. It isn’t likely that the Dalai Lama, who is in India, will be there.

One of the people who turned up for the ceremony was Evie Shellenberger, the former Flagler County School Board member—and the person there who turned out to have been the last to see the Dalai Lama in person. It was last April. Shellenberger attended a three-day seminar totaling six hours with the Dalai Lama, in Manhattan. “He taught a book that he’d written. It was unbelievable,” Shellenberger said. “To me it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have an opportunity to do.”

At 11:35, the walk resumed—on the sidewalk, opposite the southbound lane that took Norbu’s life. That walk was to be a symbolic three miles, following which about half the group was to drive down to Daytona Beach and walk there, and regroup this evening to plan the next days. The walk will be picking up several more people along the way, including several arriving tonight, on its way to events planned for Feb. 25 and 26 in West Palm Beach (see details here).

As Dorjee led the walk, he raised his right hand in the air and several times chanted Jigme Norbu’s name.

Contributions may be made to the Norbu Children’s Fund, c/o Daniel F. Scrone, BBVA Compass Bank, 155 Corridor Road, Ponte Verda, FL 32082; routing number: 063013924, account number: 2523012889.

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