Tag Archives: Friendship

Once in a Lifetime

I glossed over it in my last post, but our time in Sayfohn's English class was a truly amazing experience. Like sitting with Shimi in Iporanga, watching the face of the Great Magician manifest in the night sky; like camping outside Natural Bridges with Pati, Andrew and Tim, it will be a memory that I will cherish forever.

Monks are everywhere in Thailand and Laos. At first, you tend to gawk, drawn to by the bright orange robes, the shaved heads, and the implication of a greater peace and serenity. Time passes. You see older monks, praying at the shrine of the Emerald buddha or riding the Chao Praya express. You see young novices roaming the streets of Chiang Mai, arms around each others' shoulders. You see monks riding jeepneys, drinking coconut water, sitting in front of a laptop. After a while, they no longer seem quite as strange or (dare I say it) exotic. Nonetheless, they still seem to exist in a slightly different plane of existence; one step removed from the the mundane life of the every day. In Thailand, even with all of the opportunities that presented themselves, I never once approached or started a conversation with a monk. Several times I smiled and nodded my head at a passing monk, but these acknowledgements were met with silent, expressionless faces. I resisted the urge to make a fetish of buddhism; I was content to let them be.

When we first entered Syfohn's English class, I will admit to a little nervousness. A room, lit by flourescent bulbs, filled with handmade wooden benches and desks. At the head of the room, a well-used whiteboard covered in ghostly handwriting from lessons past. At the back, a small map of the globe. On the walls, a few scrawled bits of graffiti. Seated, with thin notebooks and loose papers scattered on the desks in front of them, about 25 novices, aged 11-18, each dressed in an orange robe. With their heads and eyebrows shaved, they seemed remarkably young. They stared as we entered, some of them giggling into cupped hands.

Syfohn asked us to sit, and then returned to the whiteboard, where a series of novices were writing sentences in English. When they finished, he encouraged us to stand and introduced us to his students: “This is Mr. Fil and Mr. Tim, and they have come to help with tonight's English classes. Won't you all welcome them?”

A chorus of voices. “Good evening Mr. Fil! Good evening Mr. Tim!” Their English was tentative and carefully enunciated. The word evening contained three syllables.

Syfohn then continued with the lesson. The students has been given a paragraph of English to read and translate. It told the story of a young novice, much like themselves, whose name was Bun Pheng. Most of the novices, we learned from Syfohn, had come from very poor families. They had travelled great distances to take their vows. While Buddhism may have been an important part of their previous lives, Syfohn told us that most of them entered the monastery because it provided them with a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, and a chance at an education; opportunities that were rare in their home provinces. These kids were here, in the historic heart of Luang Prabang, surrounded by tourists and far from home, in search of a better life. Here, with their fellow novices, they studied a variety of subjects including Mathematics, History, Buddhist Thought, and English.

Syfohn walked the students through a series of spoken exercises centered on the story of Novice Bun Pheng. It must have been quite familiar to the novices, perhaps even an exact description of their own lives. It described life in the monastery, from 4 am wake up calls to pray to the Buddha, to afternoons spent cleaning the temple ground, to evenings spent fasting.

Afterwards, Syfohn asked us to join the students in small groups of about 6-7, and to practice English with them. I sat on a small bench and the young novices backed away from me. “Good evening,” I said, “how are you?” They stared at me, some giggling, and then they conferred with each other in quiet whispers. One of them then spoke tentatively. “Good evening. I am fine.”

“What is your name” I asked, pronouncing the words clearly and loudly. Again, they whispered with each other. A different novice responded, “My name is Novice Keo. What is your name?” We continued on, at first simply repeating the questions that they had been asked about their fictional brother, Novice Bun Pheng. How old are you? Where are you from? But soon enough, we had all gained enough comfort and confidence to move into an actual conversation. I asked them about what they learned in school; they asked me what I liked to in my free time. I asked if they had any siblings; they asked how long I had been in Luang Prabang. Eventually, we were all smiling and laughing, winding our way through the minor obstacles of confusion, incomprehension, and mispronunciation. “Kho jai hien pasaa Lao,” I informed them (I would like to learn the Lao language). They laughed and repeated the sentence correctly so that I could imitate them.

It was a lovely time. As the class ended, we all thanked each other profusely. We had shared a couple of hours in a classroom in Luang Prabang and now we were all dispersing into our own individual lives, caught up in the conflicting, chaotic flow of existence. Where will life take these young men? Some will continue within the monastic tradition, spending their entire lives as monks. Others will leave their orange robes behind and return to the secular life, perhaps marry and one day send their own sons to take vows at some faraway monastery. What will happen to our wonderful friend, Syfohn? Will we ever see his smile again?

It is impossible to know, of course. We never know what waits for us, even around the nearest corner. The important thing is to be present right here, right now, to seek awareness of what makes every experience unique and instructive. I cannot remember the names of all the novices I met that night, but I can still see their smiles, their bright eyes, their openness and curiosity. I wish them all the happiness in the world, and i hope that wherever they might find themselves, they remain just as open and just as curious.

I gave Syfohn the t-shirt I was wearing on the night that we met. Emblazoned across the chest are three words SELF. DISCO. VERY. Self Discovery. May you never stop seeking and discovering, Syfohn. And may the self you discover be full of joy, peace and love. Khop jai lai lai.

 

 

Wintry Afternoon With Friends

 

allergy season ~ albuquerque and santa fe, new mexico

OF VINEGAR AND KARMA


back in the early 1990s, i spent about four years living, working and going to school in albuquerque, nm. i was in my early twenties, and to be perfectly honest, i was not at my most emotionally healthy. in the common parlance of the rom-com, i had a lot of growing up to do. there are memories of my time in new mexico that can still bring moments of sweaty, gut-cramping embarrassment. i wore a skirt? a miniskirt? i fooled around with an aspiring model named clint? i sent secret admirer notes? ergh. sure, there were wonderful times and unforgettable experiences as well, but even those were fraught with the self-absorbed angst that only a twenty-year-old, semi-closeted, recovering seventh day adventist could muster.

tim amy hiking santa fe nm.jpg

what i’m trying to get at with all of these terrifying revelations is that new mexico and i have a very intense emotional history. under albuquerque’s chronically sunny skies, i experienced more than my share of awkwardness and inflicted more than my share of cruelty. i could go into more detail, but really, what would be the point? suffice it to say that whenever i go back, i can’t help but feel that there’s a shit ton of karmic payback waiting for exactly the right moment to serve notice.

glowing mysterious cloud.jpg

that moment was april 2010. it may seem overly dramatic to assert that the allergies i experienced during this visit to new mexico were a sort of cosmic retribution for my past sins, but i was there and i lived through it, so i know. this was some serious heironymus bosch shit. being eaten by a bird-headed creature while crows fly out of one’s ass could hardly be more terrible than the life-sapping combination of congestion, leakage, migraine, insomnia, dehydration, bloody nose, and puffy face that new mexico’s flora inflicted on me. apparently, other people suffered as well, this being the worst allergy season in years. new mexico had seen an unusually wet winter and pollen and mold counts, so i was told, were through the roof. such knowledge proved a cold comfort. misery may love company, but i would prefer to keep misery at a safe distance.

nomads partners lovers.jpg

luckily for me, i stumbled upon a remedy so powerful it not only does away with allergy symptoms, it also eradicates bad karma. my friend carla suggested it when my eyes, nose, mouth and throat first began to leak, but i foolishly chose to ignore her advice. it was only after i had hit my own rock bottom and realized i was helpless before this seasonal affliction that i finally surrendered to a higher power: the power of apple cider vinegar.

for those of you who are afflicted by allergies, bad karma, or both, i recommend the following brew:

2 C bragg’s apple cider vinegar
2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
4-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
several dashes of cayenne pepper

bring the above ingredients to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for a while. turn off heat and add:

2-4 teabags (stinging nettle, breathe easy, gypsy cold care, etc.)
enough local honey and warm water to dilute and make the brew palatable.

drink this stuff all day long. drink it til the people around you begin asking if you smell something weird.

how do i know it works on allergies? well, in my case, about two days after getting serious with the vinegar, my symptoms had all but disappeared. it verged on the miraculous.

how do i know it zapped my bad karma? because even though i started my tenure in new mexico as an insecure, awkward, unnecessarily cruel, sometimes vicious, skirt-wearing, closet case, i somehow managed to end up with the coolest, kindest, smartest, funniest, most talented and generous friends in the entire state. so to m, a, w, c, z, h, and e: thanks for putting up with my endless bitching and moaning about my damned allergies. you guys made new mexico more magical – one might even say enchanted – than ever.

dinner party santa fe nm.jpg
dinner-at-will-and-carlas.jpg


Posted by Wordmobi

r.i.p. matty drum

in early april, 2010, we learned that one of tim’s closest friends had died, an apparent suicide. we had spent a few days visiting with him in january, walking on the beaches of crescent city and playing guitar hero. in that short time, everything seemed fairly normal. there were a few big changes that he was adjusting to — the recent death of his mother and the end of a long-term relationship — but at the time, they seemed the stuff of everyday life; tragic and sad to be sure, but nothing insurmountable.

he left no note, no attempt at explanation. we will never know what brought him to this point. all we can do is remember him with love and gratitude and hope that he has found a peace that eluded him in his last days on this earth. wherever you are, matty d., know that you are missed and much loved.

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the photo at the top of this post was taken at the testicle festival, back when tim and matty and so many of the folks i’ve met on this journey were in college. matty’s on the far left and that’s tim second from the right. this photograph is thanks to danielle (seated in front).

Posted by Wordmobi