Hi Mom and Dad,
Missing you both today and being there for Thanksgiving with everyone else! It’s beautiful here in the mountains and I had an amazing day visiting with children in the local orphanage – so many and yet so much happiness there! I will have dinner with my monk friends tonight who are my family for today. Dreaming of turkey and stuffing! Happy Thanksgiving!
There was the postcard still tacked to the board in my mother’s kitchen. Just looking at it reminded me of my special trip last year to northern India. Half way around the world it was Thanksgiving Day in America. On that holiday, families and friends gather together and eat a lot of food. It is also a time to appreciate all the wonderful things in life. Many try to put aside differences and get along in harmony (at least for a day!). Historically, Thanksgiving was a time when people gathered to give thanks for a generous harvest, safety and shelter for the village, and goodwill amongst all.
Last year I was high up in the mountains in a village perched in the rugged foothills of the Himalayas. So many Tibetan Buddhists live there and seem to give thanks every day in their normal life. As I stood in the kitchen, the memory of snow-capped peaks, of villagers strolling to the main temple, and the narrow streets with their many stalls came rushing back… I recalled groups of men and boys, gathered around the open fires to warm up from the morning chill, the hillside that dropped off steeply into the valleys below, the vertigo… And the contentment that was etched in the deeply lined faces of the elderly locals who bought hot steamed dumplings from the popular momo-seller. Suddenly filled with joy, I went to find my journal from that trip.
Journal notes on Thanksgiving Day in Dharamsala
Happiness – A school “bus” (a modified Jeep) arrived outside the hotel and picked up a few small children. It was packed with a dozen giggling laughing students with rosy cheeks all squeezed in sitting on laps. Everyone is so happy: kids, driver, mothers, even the little toddlers too young to go to school. The joy is so contagious that I start laughing too! Went down for breakfast at the corner café – local meeting place with plenty of international travellers too. I love to eat tsampa, Tibetan version of porridge. A donkey herder goes back and forth behind us carting loads of building materials up and down, up and down, up and down the narrow hillside lane outside our café window. Life feels simple today and I love to watch the Buddhist pilgrim faces. I hope when I am old that my deep face creases recall a happy life.
Contentment – Everywhere around me people seem at ease. It is such a contrast to my stressed-out friends back home. I hear that there is so much poverty here, but I see peaceful faces, ready smiles and (genuine) friendly service in the inns and cafés. With all these exiled Tibetans, they seem so satisfied in life. I am not sure why there is a difference; maybe our western pace is too fast and too complicated at home?
Family – in the morning we visited an orphanage and school where 3,000 uniformed boys and girls are together in a hilltop compound. It began decades ago for exiled Tibetan children and now includes local Indian children too. They learn languages, core subjects, and cultural studies. It is like one big giant family. We met an administrator and she grew up in this same place. She was the orphaned daughter of Tibetan rebel fighters who lost their lives in Nepal. I was completely humbled by her story and thought about how much I take for granted my own extended family that are alive and well. In the dormitories we saw little beds all lined up, each with (one) personal stuffed animal. I felt embarrassed that I have a dozen or more stuffed animals and dolls at home when they have so few. The little ones ran around excitedly showing off their beds and hugging us and dancing around in circles. Soooooo cute! I think some of them are orphans and others live here while their parents work in the valleys nearby. The caretakers are elderly women who are so calm and kind looking.
Fellowship – Dinner was at Tibet House with my friends here: a French journalist, a Theravadan monk visiting from south Asia, some Tibetan lamas from monasteries in southern India that come up north for regular teachings, and a local Rinpoche who turned up to join us. We ate family-style with a big selection of Tibetan foods, some with hot chili flavors. This was my Thanksgiving feast (a little spicy!) with spiritual friends and a common appreciation for Buddhist values and teachings. The monks chanted a prayer before eating. It was the next best thing to being back home. We were united as a “family” around the table tonight.Gratitude – I loved this day today – it felt calm and nice. I miss everyone at home, but the day was full of many good things. When I visited the children in their classroom and dorms today, I thought: Is their life a “hardship” without family, or are they really happy because they have so many buddies around them every day? What about the monks who also live away from their families? My life is so different. Trips like this make me think about who I am connected to. It also reminds me to slow down and be more mindful of everything that I may take for granted.