It is more than two years since I set foot for the first time in the “Jurassic village” of Ban Naudom,.
It actually seems yesterday to me when, as the first man that who walked the moon, I put my number 43 shoes on these very much rural roads of Thailand.
Of this very first moment I will never forget when a lady, who now I know being PaToo, started shouting “falang falang” once she saw me wandering with a drowsy face on these dusty roads.
Then my slow introduction to picturesque characters on which I sooner or later will have to devote one of these writings, visceral, natural, raw but undoubtedly genuine people.
One of the people who mostly struck me was not, however, one of these characters but a boy that sat on an old and rusty wheelchair.
The first time I saw him he was “parked” in Mrs. Peang’s garden. I was completely astonished when I saw that nearly one quarter of his head was missing, his cranial cap was totally deformed.
In my 15 years as social worker I have seen every kind of handicap but never I have seen something like this.
The boy wasn’t speaking, wasn’t moving, was not able to eat alone, actually he was like a small baby even though he could have been about 20 years old. He was dressed in orange clothes same as those worn by the monks, and this fact made me rather curious.
Then I discovered that Kon, this the young man`s name , is one of the four children of Porntip, who is one of my wife’s many sisters.
I consider Porntip a very beautiful woman, her face burnt by the sun, smoothed by the
wind, ruined by the daily work in the paddy fields and with an permanent smile which, however, is not enough to conceal a sense of sadness that can be noticed in her eyes.
If Issarn should have a face it shall be Porntip’s, the image of strength and brittleness of this woman that never stops working for the ones she loves.
Pornitp, four children, a grand son, an absent husband mostly devoted to drinking and women, always struggling with money and from dawn to dusk curved on the rice fields for almost her whole existence but a dream; that Kon could become a Monk
Kon, in fact, was her jewel, a rarity to these latitudes, he was not drinking, not gambling, he was a very quiet boy who decided to become a Buddhist monk for his whole life, not just for 3 month as is a tradition here.
In fact young men they live in the Temple for 3 months “for making merit” then when they go back to “normal” life, they recover the time lost in drinking and other kind of “Sanook”.
No, Kon, would have become Monk for all of his life, it was his deep choice. He did begin the school that would have helped him to fulfil his dream, he was a successful student giving much joy and satisfaction to his mother.
But fate decided otherwise. Four years ago, while he was returning to his temple with other 10 young aspirants young monks, the pick-up truck in which they were travelling fell off the road to avoid a drunken motorbike driver.
Kon hit his head and was severely injured, another young monk died while others 5 young men were seriously injured as well.
Kon was paralyzed for about a year lying in a hospital bed and artificially fed until he was brought back home. Everything had been erased from his brain, he completely lost his memory and he could not speak anymore.
Many injections kept him alive, kept him tied to the slender thread of his existence but were some traditional massages which brought life back his feelingless body.
Massage after massage, life slowly began to pulse again in his body.
When I first saw him two years ago, two years after the accident, I could not help but feel sorry for him and his family. With my western “rationality” I did think that he would have been better off dead, his poor family was not having enough money for his cares, “What can they do?” I thought.
At that time I wasn`t yet knowing that money is not the only mean of care.
In these two years I had a reality check, I humbly acknowledged how wrong I was.
I did observe and admired the sufferings of Porntip, the way she cared and attended his son, sometimes I also have brought them to Surin’s hospital (at about a hour from the village) where they would learn new therapy exercises.
I have seen Keaw, his small little sister, helping him and I have literally seen his nearly lifeless body blossoming again into a young man who now can walk (with the help of a walker), eat alone and even speak a bit.
Every time we meet in the small and dusty road of Ban Naudom, we both bring our right
hand to our forehead (imitating the army salute) and reciprocally we say “khapom”,
greeting each other.
When I am in my house working sometimes I can hear a “metallic” noise and I think:
“This is Kon, passing by with his walker.”
He now walks very often in the village’s roads, always dressed with his orange dress the colour
of his dream, he sometimes comes to my house to collect some old newspapers, empty bottles and cans that he then resells.
He never sits, always walking aroud, followed by the smile and the sad eyes of his mother, and sometimes with Kaew.
He has begun, once more, to learn to read and write, from my room window sometimes I can see him in Mrs. Peang’s tiang making reading exercises.
Kon’s history is probably similar to that of many other souls who came to this world
to suffer, symbolic however of the many unanswered questions about the meaning of life.
As usual there will be no proper answer but in learning Kon’s story I have found what is for me the essence of the Buddhism.
We are legitimate to wonder:
“If God exists (and I do believe so) why He allows these things to happen?
Why He allows that some young monks have to face such pain in their lives?
Why a brilliant young man such as Kon and not one of the so many stray young men who are drifting away in these desolate place?
Is this Divine justice? ”
And on the other hand, why monks should be “protected” from God?
Why nothing shall happen to them while it would be o.k. if something will happen to the ugly, bad and dirty ones?
Are we really thinking that there is a God up there that playing in such a way with our lives?
Isn’t this a bit too much childish?
Easy and reassuring to think this way but frankly to me it sounds really absurd.
I don’t believe that God is deciding our destiny, I believe that our fate is in our hands and in our actions.
God may show us the road, may send us some hints that we shall be able to recognize and
listen but the final choice I am certain is always ours.
How many of us went close to despair, close to fall in any kind of abyss at least once in our lifetime?
And then found the strength to rise mysteriously once again?
It happened surely to me and quite recently too.
Destiny? Karma? Once more is the only explanation for me.
Life is made of suffering, we are born in the suffering of birth and we exhale our last breath, mostly, in the physical pain of death.
Are we born to pay for past mistakes? Possible.
The suffering that life brings us has however a sense if we try to understand it, if we try to understand that life is not only and shall not only be a material experience.
If we allow our life to be a material experience only, then for sure we will not be able to understand and face pain and suffering but if we try to raise to another level, to a spiritual aspect then everything may be different.
The pain and the suffering will become part of a wider, vast and global experience.
I see life as a “Mandala” (I know many told the same much longer before me!), whose parts taken one by one have not much sense while in their whole togetherness they take a wonderful and beautiful shape.
As a “Mandala” life is fragile, a light breath of wind is enough to disperse it everywhere and as a “Mandala” it takes great patience and devotion to compose it.
But is surely worth it, and after having watched Kon and Porntip putting together once again the “puzzle” of their lives I really am certain about this!
Their lesson is priceless for me. With patience, acceptance, pain, joy and love and without other means that were not these they have succeeded in recomposing a mosaic that seemed totally wrecked.
A lesson for me and for everybody, to help us understand that in our existence the more precious things are the simple and essential ones and a further confirmation that man is unfortunately getting far away from the true sense the life, surrounded as he is by all useless and superfluous things
Our capitalist society has clearly altered and changed the common perception of life.
This “fast-food”, “fast-everything” society made us believe that life is like a perfect instant and digital photo, with all colours and details in perfect order, everything zoomed and in perfect shades.
An illusion that is making us unprepared when, sooner or later, we will be forced to realise that it is not like this, that life is not perfect, life is impermanent, that life is intrinsically filled with suffering and that things can also go wrong for us and not only to others.
Two years of life in Asia have brought me back to this basic reality.
I now see our existence for what really is: a difficult, complicated and jagged puzzle, mosaic or “Mandala”.
A puzzle to be completed with extreme patience, with no hurry, with love and
acceptance, with the understanding that every single part also the most meaningless or
apparently ugly it is important and vital, that without that small and ugly part our mosaic
would be never complete.
A mosaic to be completed with the understanding that will be enough a meaningless breath of
wind to destroy it and that this will mean nothing else that another beginning will be taking place in this eternal cycle.
Then again with patience, without hurry but with love we will start once again to put all pieces together and to form our “personal” Mandala one more time and who knows for how many times shall we repeat this?
How will be the future of Porntip and Kon?
Nobody knows, I only wish that Kon can continue to complete his personal “Mandala” and I wish that Porntip can keep on smiling and that the vein of sadness in her eyes will, one day, disappear.
Ban Naudom, Thailand, August 1st 2548
C / Copyright CLAUDIO ROMANO