Open eyes ahead.
With closed eyes I can go back,
To the secret heart.
I have never really noticed the passage of a year as much as this last one. Most of my years have been spent in one place. Though I have traveled, I never extended a stay over 3 months. Spending a year in Bhutan has shown me how much can change in one year if you are paying attention. It demonstrated how much you can grow and learn, and exactly how long a year is. A year can seem at the same time languidly long and sneakily short. I have been on both ends of the spectrum and in between. I have learned to appreciate time in a new way, how to practice patience and presence, even when I felt like running away.
There were intense struggles, but with it, sublime sweetness. There were times when I was lonely to tears. Life, the teacher, does not give easy lessons, but nothing is ever so polarized that you can’t find something to appreciate. While I dealt with my learnings, I began to integrate into my community. What makes it now hard to leave are the people who have helped me through each rough spell, here in my village, as well as other teachers in the program. I have surrogate families now and people who have become fixtures in my life. The toddler, Dechen, who always gallops around in his tiny blue golashes in front of my gate and says, clapping his hands together, “Kuzuzempo madam! Gaté jo ni?”. This little guy has no idea how many times he’s brought me out of a funk.
My students. I will miss them the most. No students I’ve ever taught have made their way this deep into my heart. They have been such a joy, each day. They have made everything worth it here. Without these students, I would have left after a month. Ok, nice village, beautiful place, but this is rough! I’m out! The kids kept me going. Seeing their faces each day reminded me why I came, and brought me more and more out of my self, out of whatever I thought I was, or what problems I thought I had. And it was work! They weren’t always easy to be with, hitting each other, calling names, being naughty kids. But we learned how to solve problems in new ways together. Do I know if they will stop hitting each other? No. But at least they know there’s one person who doesn’t approve.
I’m also going to miss my landlords. Hearing Ap Kuenzang’s cane against the wood floor above me, the TV tuned to BBS, and Am Tandin muttering her nightly prayers. I’ll miss talking with them in Dzongkha, their patience with me as I eek out meaning from this once impenetrable language. I joked that Am Tandin has been my “Dzongkha Lopen” (teacher). She got kick out of that. I have loved living with grandparents. I hope when I’m old, my eyes still twinkle like Am Tandin’s and that I keep working outdoors through any impediments like Ap Kuenzang. I also hope to be as generous as these two. They continually give to me, even when what we each have is scarce. They’ve inspired me, so that when I get something good, I share. Finally, I want to be as sweet as they are with my partner. Sometimes, when they’re working, they sit down to rest and just talk with each other. They do sweet things for each other daily, and I’ve never heard their voices raised in anger.
I think I’ll even miss the quirky things too. Like my uneven floor with wide spaces between the boards. I’ll miss getting my cold water from the outside tap. I’ll miss the sound of the outside tap always running, like some kind of meditation waterfall track. I’ll miss the good things, like the crackly logs in the bukari while I snuggle into bed. I won’t miss sleeping alone, or not sleeping at all. I’ll miss my alarm clock bird that always starts singing right at 5:30am. I’ll miss the cows. A lot. I’ll miss the mountains, the near horizons everywhere. My walks. The quiet. The intense quiet. I’ll miss the memories I’ve kept in my “secret heart”, the ones of such intense beauty that the clumsy hands of words could never grasp.
I’ll miss drinking milk tea everywhere you go and eating too much rice all the time. I’ll wonder why no one is asking me over and over if I had my lunch, or if I want to eat lunch now. You ate your lunch? How about dinner? I will miss the supreme hospitality and generosity that is so ingrained in the culture. The formality too. Driglam Namzha. Oh yes, I will miss that because the US could use a little more politeness and ritual in everyday life.
What’s hard to imagine is that I won’t see these people for a long time, if ever again. We’ve given so much to each other, and now I am leaving. We’re continuing our lives separately. There’s even one friend to whom we all said a premature and mournful goodbye as we attended her cremation here. As Phurba said on our last Gompa Mobile adventure, “Life is like that. It is always coming or going. You are born, then you leave when you die. So even your life is coming and going. So we meet, but we always depart at some point. I am glad we got to meet in this lifetime.” I am glad too, that I got to meet all these people in this lifetime. Even though my students have given me presents on which they write “Sorry miss, I have nothing much to give” over the wrapping, their presence in my life exceeds anything they could package in paper.
I am learning how to say goodbye to people I love. I know I will continue to send my love to this place and these people for as long as I live, whether or not I get the chance to return.
Kadinchey, from the top to the bottom of my heart.