I rested my hand on his shoulder. Confident and firm, but the trust was still brittle. We accelerated through cyclists and peddlers and ornately decorated rickshaws and buses with flailing young boys hanging out of the sides, careening the streets to enroll passengers. Aggressive taxis and the occasional meandering cow muddled the traveling stream as well. Bending with the silhouette of the lake, we rumbled further into rice paddies through muddy gingerline colored earth stitching the patchwork of fields.
His smile would mirror back your worth. Spectacular aesthetically, still, the poise of his eyes possessed a focus that believed in the value of the fixated object. Typically scattered in motion, yet soft in presence when they finally landed. The stable base to the sharpness of his eyes, was his ever present, perfectly aligned teeth in a capaciously framed mouth. The smile, almost as constant a companion to him as the beloved Royal Enfield humming between our legs.
We were heading to a stupa outside of the city of Pokhara. A whitewashed stone, sacred site meticulously built and humbly inarticulate, the grandeur muted by its longevity, on top of a ridge above the streams and trickles of eclectically gathered scurriers and drifters and journeyers. Gurung was a waiter for a coffee shop I frequented. The balcony strapped to the outside of the small venue kept the AnnaPurna still and subtle before my eyes, a deeply moving scene to write and journal before in the mornings, ahead of daily excursions. Enthusiastic by the delivery of warmth and sincerity in our gestures and questioning of one another, we celebrated a quickly sound friendship. Though we had a mere few hours of interaction, we took off on an adventure to a sight neither of us had seen.
The peak dangled closer. Nearing the stupa, we taxingly climbed the crudely cut ivory steps teething out of the hilltop. I love man’s desire to institute a site as sacred and set apart. Our arrogant authority in our ability to only title and name.
Gurung, more than I, drew honestly and mightily from his pseudo-healthy state, a blessing of youth rather than manicured care or effort. Also, I think he smoked, which I have no evidence for jealously inferring. Oh well, I thought, I’ll get to the stout, stubby Buddha quicker. At the top, we removed our shoes and reverently walked around the rim, randomly pantomiming out to scenes that caught our attention across the verdant landscape. Metal plates of scripted words circled the enshrinement. I wish I knew all the great religions mantras and scripted prayers. I think more so, I just wish I had some ruminating in my heart. Like my thoughts and mind musings were just strewn out on the back side of a page embossed with braille, so maybe they’d have some direction, falling into the rivets and dents of prayers as they move along the surface of my soul. That’s how I like to think of prayers and chants and meditations on holy texts. Something that gets at you. It creates cavities and gaps and textures on the exterior of your soul, so when traffic embraces you, as you mount the on-ramp to the freeway or you burn the blueberry lemon scones or a freak hail takes out your sunflowers in your garden, or planners and schedules and agendas become a thing, splashing and sloping against you, they can spill out of the channels and depressions carved by spiritual formation.
And maybe, just maybe, they’re deep enough to hold the weight and flow of our great sufferings through life, a shattered dream or life altering illness, or maybe even the loss of a loved one.
I looked back at young Buddha. A statue of a handsome man before he let himself go. We tried not to talk as we rounded the precipice. When we felt satisfied and holy enough, we gathered our shoes, and with delight, started the far less demanding descent. Extending meekly into the path was the limb of a cherry blossom tree. I reached for an opened bud, holding it loosely. Motioning to the flower, Gurung speaks, “Do you love, or do you like?” I was really proud of his English proficiency, though I’m not sure polishing the brokenness in his speech could still resonate with the same intensity of his non-verbals in this moment. Really, most of the time. I said, pausing extensively, as I often do, “I love it.” Which was true! After trying to internally tare various levels of admiration and worth alongside their adversative counterparts, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s quote: “The opposite of Love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
He replied, “Then you’ll let it be.” I smiled back in agreement. I don’t think beauty needs our ownership either, but our amazement.
We continued at a slow, appreciative pace. Reaching the bottom, we hummed away.