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Peace Out

The Dalai Lama cracks jokes, talks about the media, and jiggles my lip piercing.

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As a general rule, members of the media — nagged by deadline pressure — aren't the most patient people.

I know that rule applies to me, and it seemed to apply to other members of the local and national press waiting for the Dalai Lama to arrive at a question-and-answer session at the National Civil Rights Museum last week.

The Dalai Lama was in Memphis to accept the museum's International Freedom Award for his role in protecting and defending the rights of the Tibetan people. While His Holiness was led on a tour of the museum, we waited impatiently in a cold auditorium for more than two hours.

But all the tension in the room lifted when the bespectacled, bald monk made his way down the aisle, flanked on all sides by stern men in black suits. I was sitting on the end of an aisle, and as he walked by, the Dalai Lama lightly touched my shoulder.

The aged holy man, his translator, and National Civil Rights Museum chairman Benjamin Hooks took a seat behind a folding table. Cameras clicked, and flash bulbs popped. After a brief opening statement, he opened the floor to questions.

A technology writer from San Francisco asked the Dalai Lama how social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, could help spread peace and harmony. A puzzled look crossed the Dalai Lama's face, and he admitted to not knowing anything about Twitter.

But he did take the opportunity to address the media about the importance of its watchdog role: "Media people should have a long nose. Media people should smell in front and also behind," said the Dalai Lama, as members of the press erupted in laughter. "Media should have full freedom to find out what is going on."

Throughout the session, I had a hard time understanding the Dalai Lama's accent, but I knew when he was cracking a joke. A grin would spread across his face, causing everyone to laugh whether they understood him or not. He even made a quip about former President George W. Bush.

"It's no secret. I loved President Bush. He was a very straight-forward person," said the Dalai Lama, as several media folks groaned. "Now his policies ... I have some great reservations about that."

When the session was over, the Dalai Lama rose from his chair to leave. Several people reached out to shake his hand as he passed down the aisle.

I held back. But the Dalai Lama made eye contact with me and reached out and wiggled my silver lip stud, similar to how a grandfather might react to his granddaughter's lip piercing. He chuckled aloud, as did everyone else in the room, and continued out the door.

If I learned anything from my brief encounter with His Holiness, it was the virtue of patience. Suddenly, that morning's two-hour wait seemed worth every minute.

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